The first edition of Supply House Times was published in March 1958, with a provocative cover story titled, “The Rape of the N.O. Nelson Co.” It told of a distinguished plumbing supply organization dating to 1876 being driven to bankruptcy by a financial hustler who ended up in trouble with the SEC. (Remnants of N.O. Nelson later were rescued by WinWholesale co-founder Robert Kuhns Jr., and evolved into the Winnelson name that still denotes that organization’s plumbing supply affiliates.)
That first edition also contained this exhortation by founder Charlie Horton: MONEY (his caps), that’s what this book is all about. MORE MONEY for the plumbing, heating, and air conditioning wholesale trade.
More Money for each supply house in the industry. More Money for each individual therein … be he owner, partner, president, manager, buyer, vice-president, salesman, or counterman …
Everything we do, every position we take, everything we advocate, everything we oppose; every article, every picture, every last item will be oriented to just one word … MORE!
Old-timers who remember the late Charlie Horton probably have smiles on their faces evoking memories of his inimitable writing style and creative punctuation. Charlie was the greatest wordsmith ever to grace this industry, and one of its keenest observers ever. We’re going to give our readers a treat by resurrecting some of Charlie’s sterling prose throughout this Golden Anniversary year.
More important, though, is that we are going to head mostly in the other direction. We will look forward more than backward. The PHCP supply industry has changed profoundly since Charlie issued his clarion call 50 years ago, and he would be the first to recognize it.
The industry of his era was dominated by small independent supply houses, most of them operating out of a single branch. The N.O. Nelson Co. written about in that first issue was one of the industry giants of its day with 22 branches in 15 states and sales volume reported at a whopping $15-20 million annually. Back then the word “billion” never crossed any wholesaler’s lips and was as far-fetched as a trip to the moon.
Most of this industry’s companies were started by hardscrabble entrepreneurs who learned the supply business doing its grubbiest work. Computers were exotic devices just starting to get used by very large businesses, but almost none in this industry, where inventory and purchases were tracked on index cards stored in pullout metal trays. Plumbing wholesalers were just beginning to discover showroom merchandising, and contractors raised hell about it. Inventory control was epitomized by the saying, “You can’t sell out of an empty wagon.” Success pretty much correlated with how much product your shelves could hold. Wholesalers were the industry’s dominant marketing force, and trade magazines of the era emphasized salesmanship as much as anything else.
There’s much about today’s industry that our founder wouldn’t like. It’s a lot more corporate and less entrepreneurial. Consolidation at both the manufacturing and wholesaling levels of the channel would have put a lot of Charlie’s best buddies out of action or rendered them impotent to change policies that he abhorred. He would have butted heads with many of the new breed of MBAed managers.
But he never would have stopped wishing money to rain on everyone associated with this industry. Charlie’s MONEY & MORE MONEY mantra may come across as in-your-face greedy in today’s politically correct world. I’ll use the more genteel word “prosperity” to describe what he wished for all of us. It reflected his heartfelt belief that PHCP wholesalers are an indispensable and undervalued linchpin in our industry’s wheel of commerce.
That part of his legacy endures and guides us in commemorating this magazine’s Golden Anniversary with special attention to the challenges of today and tomorrow. In a few months you’ll see a new look for Supply House Times magazine. In April, our official 50th Anniversary issue, you’ll find an editorial package unlike any this industry has ever seen. It will focus on the top operational issues facing wholesalers today and be filled with useful information about state-of-art technologies and business practices. Throughout the year, each edition will feature at least one major article about those issues - beginning next month with “Best Practices In Master Distribution.”
In that very first issue, Charlie Horton also wrote: 1,000 issues of Supply House Times will be published over the generations ahead ... dedicated to our readers’ progress and prosperity; to their pride in calling; to their belief in the economic and social value of the wholesaler’s role in distribution.
We’re more than halfway there.