More than half of the wholesalers contacted predict a sales increase in 2003.

Last year more than 70% of the wholesalers contacted for Supply House Times' Premier 150 survey expected sales to increase in 2002. Those optimistic projections for fiscal 2002 largely came to pass, with 61% of the wholesalers contacted reporting a sales increase and 10.98% maintaining flat sales. Only 28.05% had a sales decrease.

There was a slight improvement in the percentage of companies that had a sales increase of 10% or higher: 8.7% compared with 7.3% for fiscal 2001, as well as for those facing a sales decline of 10% or more: 5.3% compared with 8% reported last year.

Also, 25 companies jumped up 10 spots or more within the Premier 150 list compared with last year, and at least some of that movement has to be attributed to increased sales.

Plumbing and heating wholesalers overall had about a 1.5% gain in 2002, but the PVF sector was off. Both foreign and domestic steel pipe shipments were down about 10% in 2002, according to an industry source. Also, it's unlikely that the projected growth of valve shipments -- estimated at 1.9% by an industry group -- actually happened, the trade source said.

The volume of the total market of PHCP wholesalers in the United States and Canada was estimated at $54.2 billion for 2002, vs. $53.2 billion for 2001. These figures include refrigerant components and the portion of the PVF market represented by companies that offer exclusively PVF. These sales estimates are based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, analyzed and adjusted by an industry expert.

The Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating reported that total year-end sales for Canadian wholesalers exceeded the previous record set last year by an estimated 7%. CIPH also said the outlook for 2003 remains positive, attributed to a strong housing market in Canada, which is due to employment growth, increasing income and low mortgage rates.

Our 10-Year Anniversary

This marks the 10th year that Supply House Times has published its Premier 150 survey of wholesalers. In 1993 the top 150 PHCP wholesalers generated sales of about $16 billion, which accounted for about 40% of the total market. This year's survey found that the Premier 150 wholesalers reported 2002 sales of $29.7 billion, representing 55% of the estimated total market.

The first Premier 150 survey found that 47% of the firms listed were currently

involved in at least two of the three core markets (plumbing and hydronic heating; industrial PVF; and HVACR). This year's survey finds that 66% of the top 150 companies are involved in at least two of the core markets and 26% are in all three.

The number of companies with sales of $500 million and higher has doubled compared with 1993, to 12 wholesalers this year. In 1993, 32 companies had sales of $100 million or more; that number expanded to 47 for fiscal 2002. While 79% of the Premier 150 wholesalers had annual sales of under $100 million in our 1993 survey, this year's research found that 61% were in that category.

In the first version of the survey, W.W. Grainger was ranked No. 1 and Ferguson Enterprises No. 2, followed by United Westburne (U.S.); McJunkin Corp.; Hughes Supply; Hajoca Corp.; Familian Corp.; Noland Co.; Winwholesale; and Familian Northwest.

Grainger was removed from the list in the 1998 Premier 150 survey, when Supply House Times said it would stick to companies whose primary business was in PHCP.

Based on that thinking, this year's list no longer includes Alamo Ironworks of San Antonio, Texas, ranked No. 71 last year; Fairmont Supply Co. of Canonsburg, Pa., ranked No. 34 last year; TW Metals of Exton, Pa., ranked No. 13 last year; and Wallace Hardware of Morristown, Tenn., ranked No. 61 last year. A few distributors with small percentages of sales in the PHCP industry remain on the list this year because they responded to this year's survey.

Other companies missing from this year's list include Familian Northwest of Portland, Ore. (ranked No. 9 last year), which has been integrated into Ferguson (Newport News, Va.), and Joliet Valve of Minooka, Ill. (ranked No. 103 last year), which was acquired by McJunkin Corp. (Charleston, W.Va.).

PVF distributor Kelly Pipe Co. LLC of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., ranked No. 62 this year, acquired Pacific Pipe, an Oakland, Calif.- based PVF distributor, in 2002, so Pacific Pipe (ranked No. 134) will not be on the list next year.

Consolidation and economic woes have resulted in more deletions from the list. In 1998, 33 companies included in the 1993 Premier 150 were no longer on the list. This year, 62 companies that were on the list in 1993 are no longer in the ranking.

Welcome New Members

This year's Premier 150 list includes seven new members. Mountain States Pipe & Supply (Colorado Springs, Colo.) entered at No. 119; Wm. F. Meyer Co. (Aurora, Ill.) was No. 139; Universal Supply Group (Hawthorne, N.J.), Republic Plumbing Supply Co. (Norwood, Mass.), Torrington Supply Co. (Waterbury, Conn.), and C&L Supply (Vinita, Okla.) ranked Nos. 145 through 148, respectively; and Dealers Supply Co. (Forest Park, Ga.) was No. 150.

Still Optimistic

This year, of the 140 companies willing to make a sales prediction for fiscal 2003, 100 are projecting sales growth. The responses from 22 companies included percentage increase forecasts ranging from 2% to 13%, with the average being 7%. Only two companies said they expected sales to decline; the remaining 38 projected sales would stay the same.