One pandemic-year later and it’s time again for the annual Supply House Times Premier 150 distributors list. The list is based on a survey conducted by Supply House Times and BNP Media Market Research. BNP Media is the parent company of Supply House Times. The Premier 150 list ranks the top PHCP-PVF distributors by their reported sales for the past year. This year’s survey is based on sales for fiscal 2020. Individual company sales are never disclosed, and in some cases, editor estimates are used if companies did not respond to the survey, which is made readily available through a number of different industry channels and partners at the beginning of each year, including via the American Supply Association, PHCP-PVF buying groups, regional distributor associations and via Supply House Times’ various digital platforms.
With good reason, surveyors had mixed reviews when speaking on 2020 sales and performance; some finding silver linings and some stressing the impact COVID-19 had on business. No matter which end of that spectrum a distributor is on, it is safe to say everyone would agree that as one industry source put it, “It was a wild ride!”
BIG PICTURE NUMBERS
In 2020, 66% of distributors report a sales increase while 26% say they experienced a decrease in sales. The implications of 2020’s challenges are evident here, as these percentages last year (referring to fiscal year 2019) were 84% and 10% respectively.
Distributors remain optimistic about pandemic recovery — which is thankfully already on the rise as of April 2021 — as 90% of them expect sales to increase in 2021.
Many acquisitions closed throughout 2020. The survey respondents account for 152 total acquired companies, and so far in 2021 the industry has seen a handful more reports of consolidation.
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This annual PHCP survey, conducted by Supply House Times, ranks the top plumbing, heating, cooling and piping wholesalers and distributors by their reported sales for the past year. The 2019 Premier 150 Sales Trends are as follows:
Sales Trends for 2020 Premier 150
(Year-To-Year Comparison And Projection)
*Totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding
Source: Supply House Times/ BNP Media Market Research 2020
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GROWTH THROUGH ADVERSITY
Several distributors from various demographic areas were able to achieve exponential growth in 2020, despite its challenges. Some even report the highest sales year in the company’s history.
Mike Plasier, CEO of Sioux Center, Iowa-based Plumbing and Heating Wholesale, says the company’s conservative approach during the height of the pandemic paid off.
“In 2020 we prepared for the worst and worked hard to serve our customers through unprecedented times,” he says. “The results of those efforts created one the highest growth years in our company’s history. We are excited for 2021 and expect to see continued but slow growth. We are budgeting for high single percentage point growth in 2021.”
Josh Aberman executive vice president at Florida-based Lehman Pipe and Plumbing Supply, shares a similar experience saying, “Even with the impact of COVID, we had pretty significant growth. Fortunately, we are a tax-free state with decent weather which helped contribute to our economy.”
As noted above, some distributors were even able make acquisitions and/or open up new locations during 2020. Lexington, Kentucky-based Masters’ Supply opened up two new branches. “We had a great sales year,” says President Jack Bell. “The first and second quarters in 2021 look to be strong and we are some large projects gaining traction for Q3 and Q4. We are also adding a distribution center to our portfolio in June of this year. This will solve operational issues we have had since adding the two new branches.”
A few respondents referred to sales in 2020 as a “pleasant surprise.”
“Our sales growth during 2020 was a pleasant surprise considering the pandemic-created obstacles we encountered and were forced to overcome,” says Kenny Pipe and Supply Vice President of Marketing Patrick Kenny. “We have an amazing team who faced those challenges and we expect to see continued growth in 2021.”
Roanoke, Virginia-based CMC Supply was also pleasantly surprised by sales last year. “As a company we overcame all of the daily challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis,” says Frances Bowman. “We are proud of team and our customers for overcoming these obstacles. We are expecting continued growth in 2021.”
Adaptability was key through the challenging year, and respondents note the essentialness of the PHCP-PVF supply chain reigned prominent.
“Last year we all learned the plumbing and HVAC industries are truly essential,” says Alex Rodrigues, COO of Texas-based Shearer Supply. “We expect to be even more essential in 2021.”
Springfield, Illinois-based American Metals Supply reported record sales in 2020, and East Windsor, Connecticut-based The Collins Companies achieved growth throughout the last four months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Last year’s Premier 150 report contained many comments of uncertainty from respondents — the country was in such a state of unknown that it was nearly impossible to make projections for the remainder of 2020.
Uncertainty still looms, but this time around distributors are relatively certain that 2021 will be leaps and bounds better than 2020.
Bob Mucciarone, COO for Bedford, Massachusetts-based F.W. Webb, says, “2020 was a challenging year. We had to adapt to a new way of doing business in order to keep people safe, remain open and be profitable. Many expenses had to be cut to match the decrease in budgeted sales and profit. We look forward to a very profitable 2021. As the economy recovers, there is much money on the sidelines to be spent. We look for outstanding growth over 2021.”
When looking ahead, there is a trend of conservative optimism and slow growth among many distributors’ responses.
"The past year was the most prolific in the 42 year history of our company,” says Morris Cregger, chairman at Washington, DC-based Cregger Co. “We were fortunate that COVID-19 did not affect our customers' business and new construction. We are projecting another year of mid-to-high-single-digit growth — which is somewhat conservative — but after two years of sales growth in the high teens, we have taken a conservative position for the coming year.”
Wilson Teachey, president at Fayetteville, North Carolina-based Hubbard Pipe and Supply, emphasizes the importance of listening to the customer. “Our team did a remarkable job in 2020 serving the changing needs of our customers by being flexible and sourcing inventory,” he says. “We believe 2021 will level off at some point and we will be able to identify a new normalcy. Until that happens we will continue to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and solve issues as they arise.”
Price increases and long lead times are issues distributors faced throughout 2020, and continue to tackle so far in 2021.
Justin Freidman, president at New Jersey-based General Plumbing Supply, says it’s challenging to keep up with elastic demand. “The last 12 months have been as challenging as any we have faced over the past 20 years — the ups and downs of demand in the first half of the year, coupled with the unparalleled levels of demand created an extremely turbulent environment,” he explains. “On the vendor side, distributors have faced ongoing availability issues from the effects of COVID and unseen levels of demand from the market resulting in larger than usual price increases in several key categories.”
Jackson, Mississippi-based Central Pipe Supply also brought up price concerns. “There is pent-up demand for manufactured items and we are seeing new projects this year,” says President Sheriee Townsend. “Costs have really gone up and some items have long wait times. We hope this will not stall some of the projects that should be happening throughout 2021.”
Despite these challenges, many distributors say they expect positive momentum for the remainder of 2021.
Denver, Colorado-based Lohmiller and Co. President Tim Brooks says with a focus on communities returning to commercial buildings, and a continued focus on the home, he expects strong opportunities in 2021.
Maury Williams, director of communications at Winsupply sums things up nicely. “Our local companies and our support services teams overcame an enormous challenge with the pandemic; local owners with local autonomy made all the difference in the world to our collective achievements,” he notes. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to our core business philosophy of helping capable, hard-working individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit. We remain bullish this coming year and we see the economy continuing to grow.”
To view more Premier 150 breakout charts, visit SupplyHT.com.