The Piping Connection, an industrial-PVF buying and marketing cooperative formed in mid-1997, has joined forces with C.L. Watt, its counterpart for plumbing, heating and air conditioning distributors. Of The Piping Connection's 17 members, 14 have joined 12 existing Watt members to form its new industrial-PVF division. The other three The Piping Connection members were already associated with similar organizations, said Ed Murphy, vice president and general manager of C.L. Watt.

The appeal of the merger to The Piping Connection members was C.L. Watt's history of successful vendor relationships and marketing strategies, said Kip Miller, president of The Piping Connection and of Eastern Industrial Supply, Greenville, S.C. Discussions of the merger began in February 1999.

"One of our concerns was administration," said Miller. "Everyone who served on a committee in The Piping Connection also runs his own company. Sometimes we needed guidance on what to do next and how to do it. Merging with Watt gives us 35 years of cooperative experience. Watt also has complete administration and operations abilities."

Miller also cited the networking opportunities offered by groups such as The Piping Connection. "That is being greatly enhanced by C.L. Watt membership. Watt also provides marketing programs such as quarterly newsletters to contractors, a customized brochure for members, private-label products, training videos -- all the things we were talking about doing in The Piping Connection, they already have."

On the other hand, Miller continued, The Piping Connection was able to offer C.L. Watt an opportunity to develop PVF programs, while Watt provided the expertise in national coverage that The Piping Connection was aiming for. "They wanted to move out across the country by signing up the best independents and grow the group in that direction. We see it as a tremendous opportunity."

Richard Reese, chairman of C.L. Watt and president of Standard Plumbing Supply in Salt Lake City, is also enthusiastic about the combined groups, particularly after attending The Piping Connection's meeting in late March.

"This merger allows C.L. Watt members to provide a one-stop shop for our customers," Reese said. "We'll be able to provide a greater breadth of product, and it will help solidify our position with our vendors. We'll also have improved networking potential with the additional members. This is one of the best things we've ever done."

The merger brings the total number of C.L. Watt members to 53. Besides the 26 members of the industrial-PVF division, the group has 40 members in its plumbing division. Thirteen companies are members in both divisions.