“Strong growth through uncertainty,” is how President of Utah-based Mountainland Supply, Joseph Liddle described fiscal year 2021. And his comment reflects the general consensus among respondents, as well as the actual reported sales numbers from this year’s Premier 150 Distributors Survey — sales in 2021 grew leaps and bounds over fiscal year 2020.

The annual list is based on a survey conducted by Supply House Times and BNP Media Market Research. The Premier 150 list ranks the top PHCP-PVF distributors by their reported sales for the previous year. This year’s survey is based on sales for fiscal 2021. 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, including via the American Supply Association (ASA), PHCP-PVF buying groups, regional distributor associations and via Supply House Times’ various digital platforms.

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To no surprise, 100% of survey respondents reported an increase in sales from 2020 to 2021. 97% of respondents say sales will again increase in 2022. According to the survey, there were 142 acquisitions completed in 2021.

Record-setting sales numbers are reflected when comparing last year’s top 150 list to this year’s, as many companies made large jumps upward in the rankings.

Inflation fueling growth

Numerous respondents cited inflation as a key factor in their company’s overall sales number and performance.

“We experienced growth of 27% over 2020 driven by a robust economy within our industry. OF course inflation contributed at least 10% to this growth,” explained Morris Cregger, chairman of South Carolina-based Cregger Co. “It was a year unlike any I have ever experienced in my 57 years as manufacturers, distributors and contractors struggled with supply chain issues including labor shortages, inflation, delivery issues and lack of material. We are excited what 2022 has in store; we anticipate double digit growth for the fourth consecutive year.”

Doug Riley, CEO and president for Virginia-based Thos. Somerville Co. agreed, “Growth and Inflation led the way. We will see more of the same in 2022.”

A few respondents noted that delayed projects from 2020 came to fruition in 2021. “We benefited in 2021 from delayed 2020 projects, high demand and inflation,” said Todd Ford, CEO and president for Central States Industrial Supply. “The global economic and political landscapes facing us in 2022 could slowly begin to erode sales and margin in the second half of this year.”

Ben Curwin, corporate HVAC director for New York-based VP Supply Corp. agrees, saying built up work translated to sales growth in 2021. “Built up work, good retail demand, strong housing construction and inflation will help growth continue through 2022.”

Speaking on inflation, another industry source from the survey said: “With inflation, sales dollars are increasing far more than sales units. In 2022, we expect to continue to see inflation affect sales numbers for a good part of the year, but eventually it could slow. We will likely be affected by supply issues, so there is speculation that sales trends could start strong and weaken at some point.”

Exceeding expectations 

Despite the consistent challenges facing the supply chain, plenty of PHCP-PVF distributors reported major accomplishments from 2021. 

Joshua Rogers, marketing executive for Tennessee-based Wholesale Supply Group said: “2021 was an amazing year for Wholesale Supply. We were up double digits in sales and profitability, we increased our outside sales team, completely remodeled our corporate showroom, and are opening a new store in Waynesville, North Carolina.”

Masters’ Supply out of Kentucky also made major gains square-footage wise. “We added a 80,000 square-foot distribution center to our operations, allowing us to grow the company in the next few years,” said President and CEO Jack Bell. “We anticipate another strong year in single family residential. We also expect our commercial work to be strong for the coming fiscal year.”

Michael Abeling, president and CEO for California-based Consumers Pipe & Supply celebrated the company’s move to an ESOP. “2021 was a very good year for Consumers Pipe & Supply; December 31, 2021 we became 100% employee owned.”

Another industry source said: “We had a banner year in 2021 — best year in company history, and we are projecting to top it in 2022. All of this while we have been seeing record-long lead times for product.”

In most cases, respondents say the record growth won’t stop in 2022. Kip Miller, president and CEO of South Carolina-based Eastern Industrial Supplies said: “Sales for fiscal year 2022 are anticipated to increase by double digits.”

It’s always important to recognize partners who helped you achieve record growth. “We enjoyed a strong growth year, but it wouldn't have been possible without our supply chain and purchasing leaders, as well as our manufacturing partners, who continue to go the extra mile to keep our customers well supplied,” said Patrick Kenny, vice president of marketing and eCommerce for Tennessee-based Kenny Pipe & Supply.

Alabama-based American Pipe and Supply’s CEO John Howe says the company grew 22% year-over-year in 2021, and it expects similar growth from 2022.

Brian Tuohey, president of Connecticut-based The Collins Companies says 2021 was a fantastic “bounce back” year for the company, and he expects more positive return in 2022.

Jabo Supply out of West Virginia too had a good “bounce back” year, according to Jay Bazemore, vice president of sales and marketing. “We expect growth to continue in all of our major markets,” he adds.

Some respondent mentioned specific markets being areas of growth. 

“Demand for residential and multifamily housing remains very strong in all markets we serve.  Commercial opportunities are also in demand,” says Mike Plasier, CEO of Iowa-based Plumbing & Heating Wholesale. “Industrial opportunities will remain strong in some markets for both remodel and new facility construction.  Hospitality opportunities appear to be coming back strong as well.”

Bryan Rose, general manager for Kentucky-based Toole & Rose Supply agrees. “2021 was a great year for large industrial construction projects. 2022 will follow the previous year.”

Consistent challenges

All of the talk about growth did not come without mention of the persistent challenges PHCP-PVF distributors navigated in 2021: low supply, high demand, lack of labor, COVID-19 and price fluctuation.

Sam Williams Jr., chairman of Gateway Supply Co. out of South Carolina, summarizes the top challenges well. “2021 was a challenge for all of distribution,” he says. “Getting and keeping qualified people to work, obtaining material and keeping up with price increases was difficult. Quarter one of 2022 looks be a mirror of 2021, but maybe with even more challenges.”

Wilson Teachey, president of Hubbard North Carolina-based Supplyhouse says the challenges prompted leadership to get back to the core of who they are. “Last year was a comeback from COVID year and a get to know the new norm year,” he says. “The transition was a bit tough for our team.  Our leadership and management team has gone back to the core of who we are, focusing on core values to hire and promote the right people to the right seat.”

One industry source put it well, saying, “2021 was a constant battle between keeping up with growing demand and managing with low supply.”

Jeremy Trimpe, assistant controller for Missouri-based American Metal Supply Co. mentions price increases as a continued area of concern. “We saw significant price increases across the board in 2021,” he says. “We project sales volume to be consistent in 2022, but the price of materials with have big impact on total sales and profit dollars.”

Despite the unknowns, Drew Roberts, CEO for South Carolina-based ProSource Supply is encouraging, noting the industry is sure to keep growing. “While there are certainly many unknowns such as the impact of interest rates, gas prices and the Russian invasion, we still expect a strong year in 2022. I would expect that the dramatic sales increases we all experienced last year might moderate some, but I do expect the industry to keep growing.”