Prominent wholesalers share some insights about the business and where it's heading.

Supply House Times: How have PVF business conditions in your market been in 2001 compared with last year?

Tim Arenberg, president, Columbia Pipe & Supply, Chicago, and chairman of ASA's Industrial Piping Division: "Everybody is con- cerned about the economy. We see some signs of slowdown with industrial projects undergoing cutbacks and delays."

Bernie Wehrle, president, McJunkin Corp., Charleston, W.Va.: "We have seen a slight slowing of growth in the industry, but our core customers remain strong and we have not seen any major pullbacks. Industries such as steel and power generation have experienced financial difficulties, but that doesn't mean they stop buying our products, just a slowing in their purchases."

Dallas Garrett, president, City Pipe & Supply Corp., Odessa, Texas: "Sales are up over 2000. Some manufacturers are extending delivery times."

Paul T. Carroll, CEO, Mountain States Pipe and Supply Co., Colorado Springs, Colo.: "Business conditions are about the same as last year. We see a slight slowdown, but not much."

Supply House Times: What notable trends do you see in the PVF business?

Tim Arenberg: "We're in a transition phase of whether there is or isn't going to be e-commerce. My feeling is that it will be there, but the question is, how much commerce will be transacted that way? We're in between the dot-bombs and whatever comes next, which I believe will be progressive distribution businesses with an e-commerce capability."

Bernie Wehrle: "We are seeing two major trends in the industry: 1. A focus on total cost of ownership, and 2. Consolidation within industries.

"As companies are experiencing more cost pressures in the economy, we are seeing greater interest in reducing overall supply-chain costs. This includes material handling and people costs. As always, we continue to focus on meeting this need with innovative cost-management solutions. An example is our integrated supply solution, which has grown significantly over the last five years, making us one of the largest providers of integrated supply in this nation.

"The other trend is consolidation within industries. The consolidation in the oil exploration and refining market is obvious. More subtle is the movement of assets within the chemical and paper industries. We believe this is driven by companies trying to become more focused in their core business."

Supply House Times: What are the biggest problems you face, and do you see any realistic solutions for them?

Tim Arenberg: "The 1990s were the most robust period ever seen for our economy by most measures. Yet, I don't think the typical PVF firm saw the decade as anything to write home about. We must improve profitability by doing things differently."

Bernie Wehrle: "Interestingly, our biggest problem continues to be finding more qualified people. We work hard to find people interested in building a career in industrial distribution and services. We are focusing a great deal of energy in finding good people to help with the growth we are experiencing."

Dallas Garrett: "The biggest problem is finding qualified personnel. We are currently filling positions with temporary workers. We have an opportunity to observe their work habits and knowledge prior to offering them a job."

Paul T. Carroll: "The biggest problem is selling material for low margins. The solution is providing quality customer service."

Supply House Times: Any other comments?

Tim Arenberg: "The IPD is working on a program to drive cost out of the system. There's only so far you can go with pricing. We'll be looking at different business models dealing with supply chain issues and how to reduce total costs."

Bernie Wehrle: "We are cautiously optimistic about the PVF market. There certainly will be some adjustments and corrections in certain industries or companies, but our long history, focus on quality products and services, and nationwide presence will allow us to respond appropriately to the market and find the right opportunities."