"Whenever there is a change in ownership of one of our customers, we look at the new ownership and decide whether or not to continue selling to the new owner," said Bob Atkins, president of Grohe America. "In this case we decided not to continue selling to Apex Supply's new owner."
Grohe notified Apex Supply of the termination of their relationship by letter, Atkins told Supply House Times. "Apex Supply has been our customer for quite a long time. We are still friendly. Any outstanding orders will be filled."
The manufacturer has a limited distribution policy and only sells to wholesalers, he said. "We don't sell to every wholesaler," Atkins said. "We have about 600 accounts nationwide. Potential customers have to complete an extensive application to become an authorized Grohe wholesaler."
When Grohe entered the U.S. market 25 years ago, a few decorative hardware companies were among its first customers and a few of them remain as customers to this day via a grandfather clause, Atkins said.
"We set our wholesaler-only policy over the last 20 years and have held to it," he said. "This industry has come under pressure by retailers and other companies over the years. Wholesalers have consolidated. But this is still a strong industry, and we will support it.
"We feel the wholesaler is the way we want to go to market, and that has been successful for us so far. The wholesalers have supported us 150%. More than likely Grohe has outpaced the industry in sales increases over the last four years, and that has come from the wholesalers."
Asked if Grohe would ever reconsider its wholesaler-only policy, Atkins said: "Never say never. We don't know what will happen in five or 10 years. We are only as good as our relationships with wholesalers. They support us, and if we give them the products they want, we will survive and grow."
Atkins declined to discuss Apex's reaction to the move. Jeff Rodbell, co-group manager/Plumbing Products division at Apex, also declined to comment.
"I commend Apex Supply for what they did," Atkins said. "The family decided that now was a great time to move in a different direction. We wish them the best of luck."