When Casper Schweitzer founded Northern Indiana Brass Foundry Works in 1904, one can wonder if he fathomed the possibility of it becoming what it is today. As a leader in the PVF sector, NIBCO has completed a couple of impressive acquisitions over the past few years: Webstone Co. in 2016 and Milwaukee Valve in 2019. Additionally, this year it received a 2020 American Supply Association (ASA) Safety Award.
Fourth-generation leader and current Chairman, Rex Martin, explains credit for these accomplishments starts with Schweitzer, who had the greatest impact in making the company the manufacturing powerhouse it is today.
Schweitzer’s son-in-law, Ross Martin, joined the company in 1917 as its seventh employee, and was named President in 1927. After 30 years as President, he passed things down to his son, Lee Martin.
“People may not think of it often, but my father Lee Martin completed his fair share of acquisitions back in the day; he bought Scott Valve out of bankruptcy, getting NIBCO into the commercial valve business, and later bought Pontiac Plastics, setting us up to be in the plastic fittings market,” says Rex Martin. “He energized NIBCO to be a low-cost, high-quality manufacturer, and we’ve been that way ever since.”
In 1986, after 11 years with the company, Rex Martin, Lee’s son, was named president. He has since served as CEO, and then Chairman since 1995.
Rex Martin notes the company’s core values — Safety, Integrity, Teamwork, Continuous Improvement and Philanthropy — are well-known and practiced company-wide.
“Those five principles have been around since the beginning, and any person who’s been with the company for any amount of time knows them in-and-out,” he says. “My family and I have had some good ideas along the way, but it’s the tens of thousands of people who have worked here over the years that make it successful.”
Senior Vice President of Sales, Ashley Martin, represents fifth generation Martin family leadership at NIBCO, and is paving the way for growth moving forward. She is a co-founder of the ASA’s Women in Industry division, which she started along with Katie Poehling Seymour, chief operating officer at First Supply. She says being involved in the association continues to help her personally and professionally.
“ASA has helped NIBCO build relationships throughout the industry. It helps with sales because we get to know our customers on a personal level,” she adds.
When it comes to recruiting the next generation into the industry, NIBCO holds a family advantage. The company has numerous multi-generational employees. Marketing Communications Manager, Sally Boyer is an example; she is a second-generation employee and her daughter now works for the company as well.
Approximately 15% of NIBCO’s workforce has been with the company for 25 years or more. “We just had an associate hit 55 years with us, and that makes us really proud,” Ashley Martin says.
Because of the great reputation NIBCO holds in the areas where its manufacturing facilities are located, the company greatly benefits from word-of-mouth when it comes to finding new employees.
Rising to the challenge
In addition to the labor shortage, the PVF sector is facing several ongoing challenges, none of which have been enough to hold NIBCO back.
President and CEO Steve Malm says the company was well prepared for the challenges the pandemic imposed earlier this year.
“Process changes that might normally take weeks or months to implement we were able to do in a matter of hours or days,” he says.
An example of this quick reaction time was NIBCO’s headquarters work-from-home initiative. Malm says the decision was made on a Friday afternoon, and by the following Monday morning, all headquarters positions were working from home, and they didn’t miss a beat.
“The biggest thing for NIBCO was how seamlessly we were able to respond to all of the changes and keep moving forward; it wasn’t a surprise that we were able to do this, but it was nice to see,” he adds.
With safety as one of the company’s core values, Malm explains the committees were already in place, prior to the pandemic, so all sites were ready to adapt and keep employees safe. In conjunction with its Continuous Improvement Teams, NIBCO’s safety committees were able to immediately focus on the tasks at hand, ensuring safety while keeping everyone working.
“It’s no surprise NIBCO associates rose to the challenge, and I’d say this applies to our industry as a whole,” Malm says.
With nine manufacturing facilities in the states, 90% of NIBCO’s products are made right here in the U.S. Ashley Martin explains this helps the company keep costs down and improve customer service.
“Manufacturing in the U.S. helps with tariff challenges; we’ve only had to take price increases on our few imported products. We can respond to demand quickly, and produce and ship products much faster when they’re made here,” she says. “In April and May of this year there were surges of product need in local hospitals and temporary medical facilities. In some cases, we produced 200 weeks’ worth of demand in just days for these facilities.”
Malm says the commitment to U.S. manufacturing comes from Rex Martin. “Rex made the decision to stay local years ago, and he’s held that commitment all along. He knew we’d have to get good at it in order to compete with the world, and he’s done a great job facilitating that.”
Fourth and fifth-generation plans
Even throughout the uncertainty of COVID-19, NIBCO has launched several new products; Press G copper fittings for gas and compressed air applications, Press ACR for air conditioning and refrigeration applications, and there are more launches planned before the end of the year.
Ashley Martin says a main goal for the company is to have 10% of its total sales coming from new products.
“This is definitely a high goal to aim for, but we know it’s what we need in order to continue growth for another 115 years,” she says.
Martin also notes that successful product launches during the pandemic can largely be credited to online training.
“Virtual training was so incredibly helpful; that capability was what we truly needed to be able to launch these products in a time where we can’t go see our customers face-to-face.”
NIBCO knows making things easier and faster is key when designing new products. “We’re so excited and focused on product innovation right now. Because of the labor shortage across the board, making things simpler and faster is vital. As we continue to innovate we’re thinking about making our customers’ lives easier,” Martin says.
Relationships continue to flourish
In addition to the longstanding family leadership, and the family-like atmosphere among employees, NIBCO’s success includes great distributor and rep relationships.
Ashley Martin says shifting distributor relationships to a virtual setting has worked well, and the support for online training has been great.
“Support from our distributors has been wonderful; they picked it up immediately and continue to ask for more virtual training, which is a great sign that we’re doing something right.”
This September, NIBCO launched its Partner mobile app, making ordering and checking order status easier for distributors.
Malm says the fifth-generation leadership has done some great things digitally to improve relationships industry-wide.
“Ashley’s group has done a lot of things to communicate in new ways,” he says. “We do a weekly newsletter to customers just to stay in touch. We’re getting messages out on social media and just being really proactive for our customers.”
Chris Gooding, president of David Gooding, a Brockton, Massachusetts-based rep, has been around NIBCO since he was 10 years old, and says the kindness towards colleagues, customers and friends is second to none.
“Our relationship is one that has been built and strengthened over many years,” he says. “We have represented NIBCO in our territory since the 1980’s and have been through both great times and challenging times with them.”
“In March when COVID-19 hit and lock downs were happening, people were losing jobs and businesses were questioning what the future holds, I got a call from Ashley,” Gooding adds. “She simply called to check-in and see how we were doing, and to make sure we let her know if NIBCO can help us during these challenging times. With all the uneasiness that was happening, Ashley made the time to check in on us.”
“Customers still tell me today the trip to NIBCO headquarters - the trainings, the tour and the hospitality - is the best manufacturer experience they have ever had.”