IMARK Plumbing and Luxury Products Group held its summer invitational in Marco Island, Florida in late July. This was the group’s second in-person event since the onset of the pandemic. Members and suppliers gathered at the JW Marriot Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa for group updates, industry insights and networking. During the event, IMARK Group’s Vice President of PVF Scott Bardreau announced the launch of three new verticals for its members: PVF, irrigation and waterworks.

Bardreau is new to IMARK, but not at all new to the industry. He began his career prior to college with an independent distributor in upstate New York. Since that time, Bardreau has worked on both the distribution side and manufacturing side with companies such as Watts, Matco-Norca and Midland Industries.

Bardreau says joining IMARK in December 2020 was a natural fit, and he has great plans for the three new verticals. Supply House Times sat down with Bardreau to chat all things PVF and waterworks, as well as goals for IMARK Group’s new endeavors.

SHT: Tell us about your background in the industry. How did you get started and what makes IMARK a great fit?

SB: My background in the industry started prior to college, working for an independent wholesale distributor in upstate New York, The Hunting Co., a company later acquired by Irr Supply. There I was taught many of the skills I still retain today. The importance of customer relationships, product knowledge and personal accountability. Later, after college, I returned to the plumbing industry managing a different supply house, building on the early lessons, and putting to use the personal and practical skills that involved working with contractors, manufacturers’ representatives and factory suppliers. The opportunity to be part of the sales team for a major manufacturing and distribution company serving both the U.S. and Canada came along when I joined Watts. Throughout my career I have been blessed to be in the company of many true leaders, men and women that were dedicated to not only to their companies, but to building a culture of excellence. People that invested in me as a person, that provided leadership development and in-depth product training. I was blessed to have leaders that mentored me and helped me develop critical thinking and planning skills.

As I went on to more senior sales roles at Matco-Norca and Midland Industries. Again, I was surrounded by great leaders that were approachable, accessible and available. Exposure to the national chains played a big role in my progression, but moreover, the members of buying groups, the independent wholesale-distributors — large and small — shaped me as a member of this great industry. I have been honored to serve on Supplier Advisory Boards for buying roups and as a Network Facilitator. In both roles, insight into how distributors and suppliers think and behave brought additional experience and knowledge. Whether in a ditch with a backflow dumping water on us or in a conference room negotiating an opportunity, the people I have met made the difference.

Coming to IMARK was a great fit because like other experiences I have had, our fundamental purpose is to help independent distributors thrive in their respective areas. Sharing innovative marketing programs and resources while embracing our family-first culture with profit-minded distributors is a perfect fit for me, my experiences and my desire to continue building relationships.

SHT: What went into IMARK’s decision to add the waterworks, PVF and irrigation verticals? What is your plan and strategy to grow these segments of the market?

SB: The decision to expand IMARK’s scope into irrigation, PVF and waterworks came as the result of listening to member feedback, soliciting the support from IMARK board members and taking action. The plumbing distributors' desire to grow and scale their business is taking them into new markets and new verticals. Also, industry consolidation has had a big impact on how members in these verticals gain a competitive edge. They are searching for and finding at IMARK, relevant programs and resources that enhance what they do to increase sales, profits and market share.

As with any blueprint, the plan going forward is to move into each of these new verticals upon a thorough review of the distributors, suppliers and organizations that participate in the market, their degree of involvement or commitment and a review of their existing relationships. Understanding the distributors' needs or a supplier’s ability to service a market is paramount. So are the relationships or commitments a distributor may or may not have with their supplier network. Many manufacturers or suppliers today are very elastic, they offer a wide array of product. My mission is to ensure IMARK is positioning itself with the best suppliers possible to meet the need of our members. Moving sensibly, not necessarily at warp speed, and reviewing our progress in each vertical as we grow.

SHT: The waterworks and PVF sector are facing some challenges — commodity pricing, freight and fleet price inflation, etc. — how can distributors best prepare for and work through this disruption?

SB: Without question, COVID-19 pandemic has made life infinitely more difficult for everyone regardless of the vertical or channel they serve. Serious disruptions continue to be compounded by high demand for product and shipping channel delays. The industry is dealing with bidding wars on containers, container availability as well as major labor shortages, and it is affecting every sector. Distributors should keep their eyes and minds open to vendors who may have the products they need.

There is no silver bullet solution for this, but we see great strides being made with distributors and suppliers alike that are addressing the communication component. At our summer invitational, we saw groups of distributors talking together about their real needs. Distributors are trading product back and forth in order to satisfy contractor demand. The best advice I can give is to communicate your needs as much as possible, whether it is in a group networking environment, with suppliers and manufacturers' reps.

Programs such as VMI enable distributor and manufacturer or supplier partner to sync with each other as it relates to real usage and availability. But not everyone can take advantage of this, so it goes back to strong lines of communication for the sharing of information between distributors and supplier partners. At IMARK we have seen social media playing a much bigger role with members reaching out to each other through sites such as Facebook to communicate needs when looking for inventory to satisfy customer demand.

SHT: How do you think the recent infrastructure bill will affect the waterworks, PVF and irrigation markets?

SB: The recent bipartisan approval of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill to rebuild the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges will have a positive impact on our nation’s economy. Anytime you have people on both sides of the aisle working together to improve our nations roads, bridges, and developing high speed rail, it puts people to work. And that’s a good thing.

The $55 billion to fund clean drinking water initiatives is sure to bring a wave of opportunity to our waterworks and irrigation industry, while the $11 billion in transportation safety programs, and $66 billion, $25 billion and $17 billion for Amtrak, airports and ports, respectively, all would ensure a steady stream of new business in the PVF market.

SHT: How has the PVF sector changed over the years you’ve been involved? What changes do you expect to see over the next 5-10 years?

SB: Thinking back over the years, in my opinion, tariffs have played one of if not the largest role in the PVF Market. And while that topic continues to be on the back burner as we as an industry deal with product availability issues and our president’s reluctance to support the domestic oil and gas production, optimism is prevalent as interest rates remain low, affording the PVF distributor to carry more inventory when they can get it. Speaking more toward the product side of things, at the recent IMARK Invitational meeting in Marco Island, members shared the increased demand for actuated valves of all descriptions and butterfly valves as direct replacements for gates and globe valves.

SHT: Speak to how the irrigation vertical crosses paths with the plumbing side. Should plumbing distributors consider branching into this market? Why or why not?

SB: Today’s wholesale plumbing distributor is seeing the residential and commercial irrigation industry going through a major change. As a number of independent wholesale irrigation distributors across the country are being acquired and or bought out by a select group of larger entities, irrigation contractors are choosing to source many of the products they purchase, from plumbing wholesalers. This includes traditional items such as backflow preventors, PVC pipe and fittings, solvents and cements and drainage products. What we see happening now is our members scaling into the irrigation market, adding long handle tools, sprays, rotors and controllers while some of the more progressive IMARK members are taking it a step further and reinventing their business to include outdoor products like grills, smokers, landscape lighting and even outdoor audio.

SHT: How does adding these three new verticals help IMARK members?

SB: IMARK Group has built a common platform where independent distributors thrive through networking, business development tools and best practice sharing. We are a progressive, ethical, dynamic, family focused and spirited group. The vast majority of members are either building a legacy or a part of one. This new group of member distributors, IMARK Irrigation, Waterworks and PVF, specializes in creating membership experiences that are best in class for wholesalers of all sizes, in all verticals.

Our unique and innovative marketing programs and resources are designed to spur greater collaboration between our member distributors and IMARK suppliers to increase sales and profits. By expanding into these new verticals, we look to attract more like-minded companies and supplier partners.

SHT: What are your goals for the new verticals? What can members expect to see from IMARK in regards to these sectors of the PHCP-PVF industry?

SB: IMARK members are seeing an influx of business and demand for product in waterworks, irrigation and PVF. Our goal in creating these three new verticals is to expand our base of suppliers to better serve these markets. We want to facilitate growth and ROI for existing IMARK members, as well as reach out to independent distributors who are not associated with a group to offer them the value proposition IMARK provides. Buying groups are not just about rebates anymore, it's about cost-saving options: Our 401K offerings, healthcare programs and marketing services are examples of this. The group's goal is always to provide the greatest ROI and cost-savings possible.

My goals are simple ones, with the support of IMARK members and suppliers, the IMARK PVF, waterworks and irrigation sectors will become a well-recognized force in our industry. Our ability to share resources is unlimited and we are going to make great things happen.