The GRAND OPENING was attended by top management of Ferguson and an editor from SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES.

Newport News, Va.-based Ferguson Enterprises surpassed its commitment to open 50 stand-alone Xpress locations within the current fiscal year by opening 60.

Ferguson Xpress self-service stores are fully stocked with plumbing and light commercial inventory to supply small service and repair plumbing contractors. They perform the function of a warehouse from which plumbers can restock their trucks.

The stand-alone Xpress store No. 60 in Clearwater, Fla., held its grand opening in July. Ferguson's expansion of its Xpress operations “reaffirms our commitment to the small service and repair plumbing contractors for whom our business was founded over 50 years ago,” Chip Hornsby, president/CEO of Ferguson Enterprises and chief executive of Wolseley North America, said in a statement.

The new Xpress stores stock product based on six regional templates to cater to different geographic markets.

“We have the geographic templates broken out mainly around the division between plumbing markets vs. plumbing-and-heating markets,” said Jeff Harrell, national counter manager at Ferguson. “The Northeast, Midwest, and Northwest will need to carry hydronic heating supplies that the Southeast and Southern California will not need. We also allow for local market variances in product lines.”

Chip Hornsby, president/CEO (left) and John Stegeman, chief operating officer
The chief competition faced by the new Xpress stores has been local supply houses operating near the stores where contractors can pick up material, he said. “The new Xpress stores have not had a negative impact on the main (Ferguson) branches and have given us another point of contact with regular customers,” Harrell said. “This has enabled us to offer additional service capabilities to our customers.”

For the comfort and convenience of customers, all stand-alone Xpress stores are equipped with hot dog machines and televisions. They are encouraged to serve hot dogs at least once a week, he noted. The stores have televisions so customers can be kept updated on the weather or local/national news. In addition, supervisors are permitted to develop local promotions in their markets.

SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES asked Harrell what most surprised Ferguson in operating this concept store.

“My biggest surprise was how great a training ground the new Xpress stores are for some of our younger associates,” he answered. “When we opened the stores, the primary focus was on servicing the customer. What we quickly realized was this store allowed us to groom some younger associates by giving them opportunities to supervise others, develop sales skills, have responsibility for store operations, and gain additional product knowledge. This was an additional benefit.”

Left to right: Steve Petock, vice president/residential business group; Judy Ivey, communications/writer; Jim Wheeler, consultant and Supply House Times' columnist
Asked about the challenges faced in operating the new Xpress stores, Harrell responded, “The biggest challenge has been finding properties in certain markets with high occupancy rates. The challenge is finding the right-sized store in the right location at the right rent that happens to be available right now.”

Harrell was also asked to comment on the areas in which this concept has achieved the greatest success. “The greatest success has been the connection to the customer,” he replied. “As our stores have gotten larger and had to move further away from the city core to gain additional yard and warehouse space, we became inconvenient to the customers in the city to pick up material. By taking these stores back into the city, we can reconnect to them.”

A mock-up Xpress store has been set up at Ferguson's headquarters, to be used as a training facility. Dubbed Xpress Net University, its first class graduated this summer.

Ferguson plans to open 100 stand-alone Xpress stores in fiscal year 2006, which began Aug. 1.

Installation Services

SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES asked Ferguson if installation services might be provided in the future. Steve Petock, Ferguson's vice president/residential business group, responded, “Both Ferguson and Stock currently offer installation services. Ferguson installs products such as appliances and fireplaces, while Stock installs framing packages, windows, doors, stairs, etc. We see a focused strategy in this area continuing, but we do not intend to install plumbing or other products that would normally be installed by our core customer base. Most of these services are designed to serve the residential homebuilder and do not conflict with Ferguson's traditional customer base.”

The installations are done by subcontractors in some markets and by Ferguson associates in others, Petock said. For example, many of the wholesaler's locations have fireplace installation crews that are Ferguson associates, he said. Some branches have appliance installation teams on staff, while others subcontract those installations, he added.