Murray Supply Co., a North Carolina-based wholesale plumbing distributor, had been involved primarily in the commercial and industrial construction industry until its owners decided to expand their residential plumbing business by opening kitchen and bath showrooms under the name The Fuller House.
“Historically, only 20-25% of our business was in residential; today that segment has grown to 25-30% and we’re shooting for approximately 40%,” says Charlie Murray, president of Murray Supply Co.
This increased emphasis on residential plumbing sales led to the acquisition of The Fuller House, a small boutique kitchen and bath showroom in Cary, NC, in 2005, and the remodeling, expansion and renaming of the Winston-Salem showroom last year.
“We just about doubled the size of the (Winston-Salem) showroom and have since moved the Cary Fuller House showroom into a space almost three times as large as its initial location,” says David Murray, vice president.
“We had strong commercial vendors, but they were not industry-leading consumer brand names,” according to Charlie Murray. “We needed brands in the showrooms that the consumer/homeowner would recognize.” The company aligned itself with brand names in the residential market, including Brizo, Elkay, Hansgrohe, Wellborn Cabinets and Corian countertops, culminating in a partnership with American Standard. The Fuller House in Winston-Salem has been named one of the only American Standard Gallery showrooms in the state of North Carolina. American Standard also has a strong commercial offering, which should assist the commercial side of the business.
ChangesMurray Supply Co. entered the showroom business knowing this market was drastically different from the commercial and industrial arena. As a wholesaler, the company’s business model has been to sell from inventory and only support the lines it actually carried in stock.
“Today this dynamic has changed,” says Charlie Murray. “Our vendors would rather we devote our dollars to a wider range of displays and to expand our educational and training efforts than to put that money into inventory dollars. We obviously can’t inventory every product a vendor makes, so knowing we would concentrate our sales efforts on what we had in stock first, the vendors have made it easier for us to support the entire breadth of their product offering. We still inventory the more common items and most in-wall products, but we don’t have idle dollars sitting in inventory.”
Now the showroom consultants can sell customers products that fit their personal style because they are no longer forced to sell only the items in stock. “This system allows us to give our customers exactly what they want, as far as styles and finishes are concerned,” comments showroom consultant Hope Carroll.
CompetitionMurray Supply does not view Home Depot and Lowe’s as competitors. “They have actually helped our showroom business by educating consumers/homeowners and helping them regain control over their homes. They now know they have options,” says Charlie Murray. “They broke down barriers for us,” he adds. “Our challenge is, how do we improve upon what they have done?”
The wholesaler points to competition from small boutique-type showrooms with limited inventory but exceptional service, larger chains and some successful independents with broad product offerings and good service. In response, Murray Supply has opted to carve its own niche in the showroom arena.
The wholesaler learned from its showroom customers that they wanted professional and personal help, and the ease and convenience of one-stop shopping. It responded by offering a superior selection of bath and kitchen products from high-quality vendors, adding a complete line of kitchen and bath cabinets; quality, high-end countertops; and decorative door and cabinet hardware. The showrooms also feature a number of working units, complete with a functional showerhead display.
In order to better service the consumer, The Fuller House has three full-time showroom consultants in both the Winston-Salem and Apex locations, all of whom have years of experience in the building industry.
“If someone wants to match a faucet finish with door hardware, we can do that here,” says Charlie Murray. “Other than lighting and appliances, flooring and paint, there is not much that we don’t carry.”
When the wholesaler learned from its customers that they hated having to make appointments for showroom visits, it opted to keep the showroom open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. It is closed on weekends.
Adds Charlie Murray, “We try to make it easy for people to do business with us. If someone needs to make an appointment after hours, we will gladly accommodate their needs.”
Commercial Vs. ResidentialYet another difference at Murray Supply is how it applies its commercial experience to the showroom business. On commercial projects, the wholesaler prepares submittal packages for approval by the architect and engineer on the plumbing fixtures they propose to supply on the project; it now offers that service for residential products.
“One complaint we heard from plumbers and builders was that showrooms upsell the homeowner on products that they don’t know how to build around or install,” says Charlie Murray. To address this, the company creates submittal packages with rough-in diagrams and installation instructions for higher end residential projects.
“Our thinking is, if we’re willing to do a submittal package for a $10,000 restaurant, why couldn’t we do one for a $25,000 house?” Charlie Murray explains. “We want the homeowner, the builder and plumber to know exactly what they are doing and how to do it and for everyone to have a good experience.
“We are in the solutions business - plumbing supplies just happen to be the vehicle we use to provide those solutions,” he adds. “Everyday we try to provide solutions to problems that our customers sometimes don’t even know they have.”
Company HistoryCraig V. Murray Sr., founder of Murray Supply Co., began his 40-year career at Atlas Supply Co. during the 1920s. He served in a number of roles, including executive vice president. In 1963 he left Atlas Supply, contemplating an early retirement, but was driven instead to open a plumbing supply business of his own. With his son Walter, Murray decided to name his business Murray Supply Co. In 1965 the father and son opened their first branch in Charlotte, NC.
In the early years in Charlotte, Murray Supply Co. thrived, due to the growing building and construction market, coupled with a shared commitment of hard work and determination from the original core group of employees.
Five years after its founding, Murray Supply decided to move its headquarters to Winston-Salem, NC, under the management of Walt Murray. The facility was opened in 1970 with a new warehouse and multiple offices, and the first showroom was opened in the early 1980s.
In 1984 Murray Supply Co. acquired Moore Supply in Raleigh, NC. The majority of Moore Supply’s associates continue to work for Murray Supply today. It has remained primarily a commercial construction-focused branch.
Over the years Murray Supply has continued to expand. It opened a branch in Hickory, NC, in 2001. In the Raleigh market, the company saw a need to focus on the residential side of the business, as it was increasing at a dramatic pace there during this time period. In response, a facility was opened in Apex, NC, in 2004, which was a prime location for residential growth.
The company acquired The Fuller House, a kitchen and bath showroom in Apex, NC, in July 2005, then completely remodeled and expanded its existing showroom in Winston-Salem, which was reopened under the name The Fuller House in March 2006.
Brothers Charlie and David Murray are the third generation to run the company.
Other families have also played an important role in the company’s success. At a recent employee recognition dinner, 57 of the 95 full-time employees were presented with five-year or longer service awards.
“This is a family-owned company,” Bill Moellendick says. “That sets us apart from a lot of our competition here and we feel like it gives us an advantage.”
Now the wholesaler is trying to attract more young people and has been recruiting on the college campuses of Appalachian State University and East Carolina University.
“We need to bring in young people, keep them motivated and rewarded,” Charlie Murray says. “This industry is a viable career option for a young person.”
Builders, Plumbers And Memberships“We realize the plumber put us here today,” says David Murray. “We don’t intend to cut them out of the distribution channel. But we also realize that in today’s construction industry the builder/designer and homeowner are the main decision makers regarding the products installed in high-end homes. We are a wholesale supply house, but the showroom customer is a retail customer and we have to change our way of thinking to service this new customer base. We are actively engaged in establishing relationships with custom builders and interior designers. These are the ‘new’ product specifiers, and in cases where they don’t actually specify the product, they certainly have an influence on what the homeowner buys, or where they go to buy it. We are creating a separate sales force to meet the needs of this new customer group.”
The Fuller House showroom sales consultants participate in a number of builder- and designer-based associations in order to generate business from these markets.
The company has become an active participant in the local home builder associations in both the Winston-Salem and Apex markets by attending local membership meetings, displaying products at Associate Product Nights, as well as participating in the 2007 HBA Home and Garden Show in Winston-Salem. Different staff members serve on various committees for the Home Builders Association. For example, showroom sales consultants Allie Nesheim and Hope Carroll serve on the Women’s Council and the Associate Members Committee, respectively.
In addition, the company has joined the American Society of Interior Designers and the Interior Designer Society. The Fuller House has hosted multiple monthly meetings for both of these associations and the company also participated in the IDS Hot Summer of Cool Designs trade show during 2006.
Murray Supply is also a member of Affiliated Distributors and the Forte buying group. The Fuller House had already been a member of the Forte buying group when Murray Supply acquired it, so that membership was retained.
“It’s helpful to interact with people who operate large, high-end showrooms,” David Murray says.
“We have been associated with buying groups long before they were in vogue,” says Charlie Murray. “We were in C.L. Watt, and we are actively involved in and supportive of Affiliated Distributors.”