A few years ago, the WIT buying group held its fall owners meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah — a neat area of the country if you have never checked it out. Part of the event involved a tour of member Standard Plumbing Supply’s impressive headquarters operation in nearby Sandy. To say what Standard has going on at its corporate compound is innovative/progressive/anything but standard, would be an understatement, and I’d run out of room here trying to describe it all (converting its sprinkler stores into Christmas light stores during the holidays, the Standard hardware store concept and its phone app parts ordering system would be a few quick examples).
Anything but standard.... That’s close to the actual “Nothing standard about Standard Plumbing Supply” phrase Standard founder Dale Reese used to keep his company, founded in 1952, fresh in his customers and potential customers’ minds. “From the beginning he was thinking about unique ways to do business and advertise,” says Jacob Reese, who works in sales and operations at Standard and is the third generation of family leadership. “He would hand out bumper stickers that go on the plumbers’ trucks that said, ‘Don’t sleep with the drip. Call a licensed plumber.’”
Jacob Reese’s father, Richard, Standard’s owner and president, has kept the innovative tradition going and then some — as evidenced by that WIT field trip. “Dad had shirts made for the plumbers that said ‘Plumbers are hot,’ and it shows a plumber hugging a water heater. My dad enhanced that idea from my grandfather.” And now Jacob Reese is getting involved in the Standard unique ideas game. Reese recently posted a note on LinkedIn talking about the Standard Thunder Bucket the distributor has for sale in its nearly 100 locations in nine western states.
“How many buckets do you have in your garage and how long have you had them?” he asks. “I have had a 5-gallon bucket in the garage my whole life. If someone sees a novelty bucket in the store, they will usually buy it.” As far as the name of the bucket? Look no further than the Urban Dictionary online for a full definition and a hearty chuckle.
Reese notes in his research Home Depot sells more than 20 million of those buckets every year. “The bucket is very affordable and the customer is going to spend more money filling it instead of just buying a product in a box and taking it home,” he says. “The bucket has Standard on it with that little play on words. It’s an inexpensive concept. We just ordered a truckload more of them and are going to launch a new design shortly.”
But a novelty bucket doesn’t tell anywhere close to the current-day innovation story at Standard. How about setting up consigned inventory warehouses at its customers’ locations with a Standard employee on site? Six of those are currently in operation with more on the way. “One of our competitors was doing this through Home Depot,” Jacob Reese explains. “I called upstairs to Richard and explained the concept and asked him if we wanted to do this and give it a chance. He said don’t lose money and hung up the phone.
“We have been able to sell to customers we have never been able to sell to before. We are changing the way we work with customers. We are reinventing ourselves, but still using the same business practices of sincerity, honesty and doing what you say you are going to. We’re modeling ourselves to meet the demands of current times. We’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but what matters is how you learn from them.
“Think about a good plumber charging 100 bucks an hour,” he continues. “He says he saved 10 bucks by going to this particular distributor to get a ball valve. That’s great, but you just lost the company $10,000 in productivity during the year by doing that all the time. These are plumbers. They don’t need to be parts runners. We found price isn’t always the answer. If you provide a better solution, they will save on time and efficiencies.”
During the throws of the pandemic, Standard took a calculated, safety-first approach by keeping stores open. “It was a little scary, but we are in the people business and people depend on us to get parts for customers so they can continue to do their jobs,” he says. “We ended up setting up a lot of new customer accounts. My dad always says we are in the people business. ‘Setting the Standard’ comes down to core values of striving to think outside the box and coming up with the next and greatest things. We have a cool dynamic going on here.”