Jeff Bezos once said, “Life is too short to hang out with people who aren’t resourceful.” As it celebrates 80 years in business, one can bet that the Oakland, California-based Rubenstein Supply team members are forever thankful that three brothers had the intuition to be resourceful during The Great Depression.
In 1943 Henry Rubenstein, Morris Rubenstein and Bob Rubenstein, began salvaging plumbing fixtures from their father’s building demolition business. The three brothers went on to build and operate a plumbing distribution company for forty years together. Still family run today, Bob Rubenstein’s son Craig Rubenstein has owned and operated the business since 1986. The original building is still located at 28th and San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, but the company has grown to boast four wholesale locations in the Bay Area along with a new retail showroom with one of the largest TOTO displays in California.
Since 1991, President Matt Laiolo has led the company and says the fundamental of its success is rather simple — treat others the way you want to be treated. “This goes for team members, customers and vendor partners,” he says.
As an active member of the American Supply Association (ASA), Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC), Western Suppliers Association (WSA) and The Commonwealth Buying Group, Laiolo invests his time ensuring the business is engaged in the industry and is always investing in relationships.
“Plumbing distribution is a great business, an honest business and a people business,” he says. “I’d like to do a commercial about the plumbing wholesale business to show it’s more than just selling toilets or driving a forklift. It’s so much more.”
Vice President of Operations Chris Walther agrees, saying the business is all about trust. “It’s not just about the product or service; it’s about the shared experience of supporting each other. Friends buy from friends,” he says. “I feel our exceptional customer service is by going above and beyond to meet our customers’ needs and sets us apart in a crowded market.”
FAMILY, ‘CAN-DO’ CULTURE
In its eight decades, Rubenstein Supply has seen a few major turning points internally and plenty of industry-wide changes. According to San Jose Showroom Manager Heath Vaught, Laiolo coming on board has been one of the company’s most notable turning points.
“The addition of Matt has been one of the biggest turning points,” he says. “Along with that, the addition of a luxury showroom in 2015, Rubenstein has continued to find more opportunities to meet the needs of our customers.”
Laiolo strongly believes in the power of diversification. “Diversification has been a key driver to the success of Rubenstein Supply. Our showroom that opened nine years ago has really performed well for us,” he says. “We’ve always been a plumbing service and repair-oriented company but dabbling in other markets like HVAC and new construction helped us experience growth in recent years.”
No matter how much growth the company enjoys, the team agrees it’s vital to remain true to the family core values and commitment to service it was built upon. When describing the company culture, every team member brings up the word, “family.”
“In a family business; our employees have a much closer, more personal connection with the owner and decision makers. Rubenstein Supply values work-life balance and understands that employees have lives outside of work. We prioritize employee well-being,” Walther explains. “We have a culture that invests in our teammates’ growth and development and are committed to their long-term success.”
San Pablo Manager Dave Cronin is a perfect example of this internal growth. “I am most proud of the company’s family culture. I have been with Rubenstein’s for over 25 years and started out as a counter person and now am manager of the San Pablo location,” he says.
Outside Sales Rep Josh Nickelsberg agrees, pointing out that Rubenstein Supply is one of the last family/independent distributors in the area. “Being a family-owned business, all the employees treat each other like family and as a result we have great employee retention,” he says. “Our reputation and word of mouth from employees has found us excellent additions to the team. We have retained most of our employees for many years because of our culture, perks, salaries and acknowledgement of a job well done.”
Vaught summarizes the company culture well saying the feeling at work is more of a family environment than a workplace. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep that small ‘family’ feeling when your company is growing, but the open-door policy that allows us to see and talk to the ownership and upper management keeps that family vibe alive,” he says. “It makes me very happy when I see Matt walking around the warehouse and saying hello to everyone. He goes out of his way to shake hands and connect with team members. Leadership showing that they truly care is huge and greatly appreciated.”
Laiolo says the company lives by the mantra, “What you put in the pot, you get out of the pot.”
“What brings me the most joy is seeing our associates grow within the company. We have a ‘can do’ culture and we are always looking to elevate our associates.”
Looking back on the family history of the company, Vaught says it ground him, and the sense of pride company-wide is contagious. “I feel it’s important to never forget where you came from and how you got to where you are today. It gives me incredible pride in knowing our history, our origin. That sense of pride and respect is contagious, and our customers feel and appreciate it too.”
Walther agrees, adding that lessons learned from previous generations shape current practices. “The history of Rubenstein Supply contributes to our sense of identity, and provides more of a connection to the area we live and work in.”
EMBRACING THE NEXT GENERATION
Rubenstein Supply fully embraces technology and the next generation of customers and employees. “Our Marketing Department is involved in our social media campaigns every day. Our website offers B2B and B2C participation,” Laiolo says. “We see it as another tool our customers can use to access our services.”
San Rafael Branch Manager, Brian Walther agrees, saying the company never wants to be stagnant when it comes to technology. “We embrace technology in the supply chain, and because of that we have ways to communicate with our customers that we didn’t before. We are always looking to try new technology that can help improve our business and also make our customers jobs easier,” he says.
I feel it’s important to never forget where you came from and how you got to where you are today. It gives me incredible pride in knowing our history, our origin. That sense of pride and respect is contagious, and our customers feel and appreciate it too.
— Heath Vaught
Although technology is a useful tool for embracing the evolution of business, it does present some challenges, such as making it easier for manufacturers to sell direct to customers. Laiolo says it’s about focusing on what you can control.
“Some manufacturers are going direct to the customer, and it’s only gotten worse in recent years. They’re expecting us to handle returns, rebates, etc. and they’re creating national accounts and builder programs which are taking us out of the equation. We’re looking to partner with manufacturers that aren’t going to take sales out of our hands in the long run,” he explains. “The internet will play a bigger role as we move through this century. We need to make sure we keep up and stay focused on what we can control.”
As the company sets up for another successful set of decades, organic and geographic growth are top goals — all while remaining true to the customer service level its partners are used to and the family-like culture its team enjoys.
“We look forward to enhancing our offerings, expanding our current geographic footprint, and continuing to make our employees our No. 1 priority,” Laiolo says. “Since day one, it’s all about the people. We continue to have loyal, passionate and talented associates. It makes Rubenstein Supply a true family business.”
When it comes to customer service, Vaught recognizes that any reputable company is going to boast about having the best customer service.
“What separates us is how much we care. We care about providing the type of customer service that we ourselves expect and appreciate. We care about every one of our employees and their families. We care about the manufacturers we represent and the products that we sell. We care about the team of people representing those companies as well as all the people working to make and ship that product.
And we care about our customers. Not just the orders that they place, but we care about them and their families on a personal level. They deserve to have great customer service, but they also deserve to be seen and heard. We take great pride in making sure we are actively listening to their needs, and we will continue to strive towards ensuring their project is completed to their satisfaction.”