I was fortunate to have the chance to spend a few days in Florida in mid-February this year, and while there, I had the opportunity to visit with a few ASA member wholesalers. They were all extremely gracious and enthusiastic to talk about their operations with me.

Randy Wool outside of his Sunrise, FL showroom and warehouse.

Wool Wholesale Plumbing Supply

I visited with Wool's President, Randy Wool, at their Sunrise, FL, location and was immediately impressed with the immaculate landscaping and exterior of his building. It's located in a business park in a city just west of Fort Lauderdale.

Once inside, Randy showed me around his showroom and warehouse facilities, and we spent some time talking shop. He told me that Wool Supply Company was started in the late '50s by his father, Carl Wool. Carl's start of Wool Supply was a true success story. Working out of the back of his station wagon, Carl would determine what items were backordered by local supply houses. He'd purchase the items needed from other suppliers during the day and deliver them at night, so the plumbers would have them when they opened the following morning. This was called 'over the fence deliveries' and Randy recalls going on those late night runs as a child with his father. Randy's own son, 25 year-old Jeff, a mechanical engineer, recently left his job in Washington D.C. to join the Wool Supply operation, carrying the company into the third generation.

Wool Supply's business is largely residential, although commercial plumbing does play a part. They deliver goods to the entire South Florida marketplace and beyond, even as far as Key West, where drivers make the 150-mile-each-way trek once or twice a week. And no, they don't charge for delivery!

Randy is active in the Southern Wholesalers Association, and is currently serving on its Board of Directors as well as on their Membership Committee. The company is a member of Affiliated Distributors, where Randy is Chairman of the Plumbing Division's Marketing Committee.

One of the fun tidbits that I learned about Wool Supply Company is that once a year, they close down all of their seven locations and take every one of their employees on an annual Caribbean cruise - 150 people in all! Randy says it does a wonderful job of rewarding their employees and maintaining a great morale. I wonder if I can get the ASA Board to consider the same for our staff!

Lawrence Plumbing Supply Co.

While in the area, I popped in to see Joe Lawrence, President of Lawrence Plumbing Supply, at his location in the heart of Miami. The building is on one corner of a very busy intersection and sports a lively mural of bright blue soap bubbles alongside the company name.

We spent a few minutes talking about the biz, but I really wanted to see the busy showroom that I'd heard so much about. We walked across the street to the “Lawrence Kitchen & Bath Showplace,” and once inside I was bowled over (no pun intended). Not only was it a beautifully appointed showroom, but there was quite a bit of activity going on, with what seemed like six or seven salespeople all busy with customers.

Joe introduced me to Romy Robau, his Miami showroom manager, who showed me around the relatively small space. It may be smaller than a lot of showrooms, but I would challenge even the best designers to fit as many attractive and effective displays into the same space. Romy told me that there are never fewer than four salespeople on the floor at any given time, and that it is their policy not to accept any appointments, lest the brisk walk-in customer traffic interfere with keeping those appointments. They make it a point to greet everyone on arrival and make sure they are well looked after if a wait is involved.

Before I left, Joe took me to lunch, where we talked about his involvement in Southern Wholesalers Association (he's their current President), and also ASA itself, since he's a member of our Board, too.

The restaurant served a delicious mix of Cuban and Miami-centric dishes that really reflected the combination of cultures and ethnicities that enrich the area. Joe, who grew up just a few blocks away from where his business is located, couldn't be happier about it. He's an irreverent and very positive kind of guy and loves what he's doing. The fact that he's so successful at it is just gravy.

Lawrence Plumbing Supply serves southern Florida, South America, Central America and the Caribbean out of its four Miami-area locations.

Castle Supply's Pinellas Park, FL warehouse.

Castle Supply Company

Prior to making my way down to Miami, I spent a pleasant couple of hours with Joe White at Castle Supply Company, SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES' 2005 “Wholesaler of the Year.” Joe has been a strong supporter of ASA and Southern Wholesalers Association for many years.

Joe showed me around their main facility in Pinellas Park, a few miles west of Tampa proper, one of Castle's nine (soon to be 10) locations in Central Florida. The site features a huge showroom, which is one of Kohler's very first Premier showroom locations. Unlike some other metro areas, the customer base in the Tampa area lends itself to a showroom policy that really works better on an appointment basis. “It really gives our salespeople the best chance to do the ultimate, consultative job with our customers,” says Joe. Of course they won't turn away walk-ins, but they do encourage appointments.

Back in the warehouse, there were mountains of pallets and product sitting just inside the dock area (see photo). This was just one day's worth of deliveries waiting to be put away, explained Joe. There is a tremendous amount of new construction going on in the area, and from what I could tell, it would appear that Castle is involved in a great deal of it!

I also met with Megan White, Joe's daughter, who is really making her mark on the company in the relatively short time she's been there. The employee recruitment and training program that she has put together is quite impressive, as is the “Emerging Leaders” effort she designed to identify and train existing employees looking to advance.

Megan's business card calls her “Systems Analyst,” but I can tell, even from spending only a half hour with her, that she's much more than that at Castle Supply. In fact, although I promised not to try to sell Joe anything during my visit there, I was able to get a commitment from Megan to help me with a program later this year for industrial distribution students at the ASA Convention. Based on her experience with Eastern Carolina University students and Castle Supply's internship program, this seems like a natural. Joe is a proud father, indeed.

Before I left, Joe handed me a $20,000 company check payable to the Karl Neupert Endowment Fund, adding to the already very generous contributions that Castle Supply Company and Joe and Joann White have already made. A proud father, and a great industry citizen - Joe White.