Family business takes on a new meaning when you walk into Addison, Illinois-based Porter Pipe & Supply. Visitors, longtime customers and brand-new team members alike say they feel a welcoming, family-like energy throughout the company’s locations — no matter which of its five branches you’re in.
As of November this year, Porter Pipe & Supply will be celebrating 45 years in business, three generations of family executive leadership, and now, taking home Supply House Times’ 2021 Supply House of the Year award.
“One big family” describes both Porter Pipe today and its humble beginning. Ralph G. Porter opened the first location in 1976 — with eight children at home. It didn’t take long for his sons, Jim Porter and Bud Porter, to join the business in 1976 and 1983 respectively. As Ralph retired in 1996, Jim and Bud bought the family business and opened a new 40,000 square-foot location.
Today, three generations of Porter family members are part of the team, including six of Jim Porter’s children and one of Bud Porter’s. In April of 2021, Jim’s son, Nick Porter, transitioned into the CEO role, while Bud remains president and Jim serves as chairman of the board.
Stephanie Porter, manager of marketing and brand initiatives and Bud Porter’s daughter, points out that there is more family involved in the company outside of the Porter family. “I’m extremely proud that so many Porter family members choose to come work for the family business,” she says. “But it extends outside of our family as well. Out of our now 230 team members, there are more than 30 family member connections outside of the Porter family name.”
Fun, family and faith
Porter Pipe and Supply was built on six core values — faith, family, fun, safety, integrity and excellence — and those principles continue to drive everything the company does today.
Tim Modesitt, an inside sales representative at Porter’s new Indianapolis location, says 13 years ago when he started with the company he knew right off the bat every employee was cared for and important to the executive team.
“The moment I knew the family atmosphere was real was when I got the chance to walk through the Addison location with Nick and Bud,” he explains. “Everyone I walked by was smiling. I’ve worked in multiple branches and seen many new team members come in and it’s clear that everyone genuinely cares for them and wants them to succeed.”
Indianapolis team member Whitley Howard agrees. “The first time I met the executive team they all gave me a hug and welcomed me in,” she says. “I immediately felt comfortable here, it’s different than any other work environment I’ve been in and it all feels very natural.”
Hugs are a big part of the Porter Pipe family, and Stephanie Porter points out that social distancing measures throughout COVID-19 were especially tough for the team. “Not giving our usual hugs was a real struggle through COVID,” she explains. “We eventually came up with a wristband system so that everyone could indicate their interaction comfort level.”
The hugs, genuine care and family mindset make for a company culture that employees struggle to put into words.
“I’ve been with this company seven years and it’s still hard to describe our culture in words,” says Chris Eisenmann, senior operations manager. “The feeling you get when you walk into this facility is a distinct energy. You feel known and cared for, and that makes everyone want to go above and beyond daily. All levels of the team know they are appreciated.”
Though this energy is hard to describe, Don Salemi, outside field rep, says it’s a positive, uplifting feeling.
“One of the ways we keep our family-like culture flowing is by staying positive every single day; whether it’s work related or personal life, we just let each other know that we’ve got your back,” he says. “This positive attitude makes for a strong work ethic company-wide. Everyone here is treated the same way — whether you’re washing the trucks or the CEO, and everyone in between.”
Stephanie Porter credits much of the company’s incredible culture to the family legacy it was built upon. “Many people in this company have seen the Porter family work together through tough times and take on the stress that comes with being entrepreneurs together,” she says. “That genuine family connection has been strengthened over years of hard work — the good, bad and the ugly — and it built this strong culture from values that transcend through our entire team today.”
President Bud Porter echoes the importance of the Porter Family legacy, pointing to the family’s faith as a pillar to the company’s success. “My father Ralph and his wife Lita were very strong Catholics, and they built their family and the business on The Golden Rule,” he says. “It really is simply about treating people how you’d like to be treated. This is a family business not because of the name on the building, but because of everyone inside the building who encompass what it means to be a family.”
Faith remains front and center at Porter Pipe & Supply, and Nick Porter says that’s a significant part of why the culture is so strong. “Our culture is all thanks to our faith, our values and the people who make up this company,” he says. “The Porter family only makes up 4% of the company’s team members, the other 96% are people who choose to be a part of our family, and it’s because of them that we all stay connected and work hard together towards the bigger picture.”
Porter Pipe and Supply began as "Porter Supply," a hydronics and heating distributor but since has branched into many other market sectors offering various services for its customers.
Bud says all of the company’s new ventures have come from listening to customer needs. “My dad used to tell us that your customers will tell you everything you need to do to be successful,” he says. “Every aspect of the company that we’ve grown into has come from suggestions from our customers.”
Nick agrees, pointing to the company’s growth mindset. “When companies have a growth mindset, you're always searching for opportunities to bring more to the table,” he says. “We have three groups of stakeholders in this company: The people who work here, the customers that we serve and the vendor and manufacturer community. If you're focused on serving those three stakeholders, you're going to naturally find ways to expand your business.”
Vendor partners of Porter Pipe & Supply can easily vouch for the company’s commitment to customer service. “Porter Pipe and Supply is a true partner in distribution. They consistently strive to maintain positive relationships with their suppliers as well as understand the products they offer. They are mindful of the needs of their customers and focus on creating a service offering that truly makes it easier for customers to be successful,“ says Jennifer Weed, district manager, Chicago for Viega. „They do an excellent job setting up events for their customers and suppliers to meet and exchange ideas. This sharing of knowledge helps create lasting relationships, feedback for future development and an overall stronger industry.“
Porter Pipe and Supply knows that part of continuous growth is investment. The company has made several key investments over the past year, including a full-service distribution center near downtown Indianapolis which opened in September 2020. Also in 2020, the company’s headquarters began its FASTLANE service — the fastest way for it to get product to customers.
The current Addison headquarters campus is now 330,000 square feet and fulfills thousands of line items daily totaling over $40 million. It includes in-house cutting, end-preparation and fabrication services, 24-hour service, on-site rental fabrication stalls, an onsite fitness room for team members and more.
“We want our people to feel like their workplace is an extension of their home,” Nick says. “We now have five different locations and the goal is to model each one after the Addison headquarters so that no matter what branch you’re in, you feel like a part of the family.”
Salemi points out that the company, specifically the outside sales team, invests in showing appreciation for its field customers.
“We strive to bring our family culture out to the customers in the field and to our vendors,” he says. “We’ll bring lunch to the pipe-fitters or plumbers, the general contractors and/or anyone involved in the project. Any little things we can do to show our appreciation not only for the business but for the friendship and partnership as well is really important.”
According to Stephanie, the team loves to gather around for a meal with its vendors and customers. “There's no better way to gather family than around a table or enjoying a meal. It’s just a small token of how we can be more impactful with that family element,” she says. “And ultimately around a table is where issues might be brought up. We can talk through things with our partners, hear new ideas, and from there we will take action to provide solutions.”
When discussing how the team has navigated the current supply chain disruption, Nick alludes to the company’s long-term investment in inventory.
“We've always gone to market with a major investment in our inventory. Because of this, our fill rate is a benchmark for service to our customer base. When you put priority and visibility into measuring your fill rate, making sure you have what your customer needs is a front and center focus for everyone from the purchasing side to the ownership and finance sides,” he says. “We didn’t deviate from this strategy at all throughout the supply chain disruption.”
Nick adds that the company looked at leading indicators and forecasted what was going on in order to be in the best position to take care of its customers.
Since the disruption the PHCP-PVF industry has been facing is out of distributors’ control, Stephanie points out that the company began releasing a monthly forecast statement to its customers and vendors.
“We have been dedicated to releasing a monthly forecast that our head of purchasing puts together along with industry experts looking at trends and predictions,” she says. “This is something that shows our level of dedication to transparency, ensuring our partners know what’s going on and it's not a surprise to them so they can plan accordingly.”
According to Modesitt, these challenging times have brought the Porter team even closer than they were before. “I’ve found the positive side of all of this by noticing how our team had grown stronger together,” he says. “We have more communication between departments now and that’s only going to help us tackle things moving forward and improve our culture even more.”
The positive mindset is prominent throughout the Porter team, as Salemi points out that the company truly shines during difficult times. “We’re involved with our teammates at work and outside of work,” he says. “The bottom line is we support each other and that makes our team stronger, setting us up to excel during trying times.”
Whether it’s sticking to its 98% fill-rate, onboarding new employees or connecting with customers, Porter Pipe and Supply credits it all back to the team.
Bud Porter says everything goes back to putting themselves in the customer’s shoes. “I like to think of us as ‘Porter Mechanical,’ and ‘Porter Plumbing,’ not just as a supply house,” he says. “Understanding the needs of all customers and striving to solve their problems differentiates us. And we can’t do any of this without our people.
I’m not afraid to share our mindset, values and strategies with the competition, because they can’t have our people; they’ll never be able to do what we do without the people we have.”
Hearing about the top-notch people that make up Porter Pipe & Supply makes anyone wonder how the company gets such great talent. According to Eisenmann, new hires tend to “click” with the team and culture. “We have more success with hiring someone based on work ethic, attitude and being a good fit with our culture rather than strictly focusing on experience,” he explains.
Team members in all departments and levels take pride in what they do and being a part of the Porter family.
Eisenmann says he’s proud of the company’s ability to stay true to its core values amidst the growth it’s achieved. “I'm very proud because we've always stayed true to our beliefs are core values,” he says. “No matter how big we've gotten, no matter the successes, the wins, we've always treated each other the same way we did from day one.”
“We’re a family business not because of the name on the building, but because of everyone inside the building working every day to achieve best-in-class customer service while encompassing our core family values."
— Bud Porter
Modesitt agrees, saying he’s proud of the company’s growth and ability to build a great team of people at the Indianapolis branch even through difficult times. “There are so many things to be proud of this team for,” he says. “We put the trust in each other not knowing what was going to happen through a tough year, succeeding in opening up this distribution center and filling it with quality, amazing people.”
In addition to being proud of the whole Porter team, Bud emphasizes what a great job Nick has done over the last year and a half as he transitioned to CEO. “Transition in any company, especially a family business, is not always easy. Nick has risen to the occasion. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t talk to clients or friends and point out what a great job he is doing, and I thank him for that.”
Nick says he’s humbled to hear each team member talk about the feeling they get when walking into a Porter Pipe location. “I'm most proud of the impact that we're able to make on people who come in contact with the company. I'm proud of us for being proud of our faith in God. I'm proud of the way we bring our values forward, and I'm proud of the role that we play in the different communities that we're part of.”