In my first column forSupply House Times(December 2008) I mentioned my grandfather, Albert Brown, who has been working at Metropolitan Pipe & Supply Co. for more than 40 years now. He is the third generation of Browns at Metropolitan Pipe. Seeing his passion when he speaks about the company he runs is inspirational. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Met-Pipe I’d like to share my greatest memories from my mere six years in the business.

My very first year everything seemed so new, I didn’t quite understand everything that was going on, but it was awe-inspiring just to look around and think that at some point I’d have to know what everything here was. It was overwhelming. I was still trying to wake up and adjust to the smell of the supply house.

One of the things I noticed was the “Metropolitan Pipe Counterman of the Year” awards.  I thought how great it would be to have my name up there someday. Unfortunately, by the time I made my way down to the counter, the “Counterman of the Year” was no longer awarded.

I packed orders my first year and by the end of the summer I was starting to have a chip on my shoulder. I could use the computer system pretty well, and I was interested in what each product was that I was packing. The greatest part of my first year was that at the end of it my grandfather gave me a list of products, some common, some not so common, and told me to go find them without the help of the RF gun or the computer system. Thirty minutes later I returned with a smile on my face and the chip still firmly on my shoulder. He was proud, but you could tell that my arrogance was a bit off-putting. Later that day, my warehouse manager gave me another list of uncommon items to find without the help of the gun or the computer system. This time, I was completely stumped. I found maybe one or two, and after that I started to ask around and try to use the computer. About an hour later I returned to Leo (the warehouse manager) with the products he asked for, but not the same arrogance I had shown a few hours before. That’s when my training at Met-Pipe really began.

My second year I came back with a certain sense of self-awareness that I didn’t have before. I felt more in control and ready to learn. I knew that full-time work was only a few years off. My second year was rather uneventful. I packed orders for the whole summer attempting to learn more. People I packed orders with the year before are now either gone or working at the counter. I believe in my second year I began helping out with more than just packing orders. If my manager or anyone in the office had any projects I would immediately volunteer, hoping to increase my knowledge just a bit more.

In my third year I really began to learn more about the business. I started the year packing orders. After a few weeks I was searching for what I could do to stray from the normal packing orders all day. That is when I began helping with credits. Helping with credits was one of the best things I could have done. I learned how to use the computer for order entry and gained some experience dealing with customers face to face. Even to this day the order packers have started to help with credits if our credit manager isn’t around to help.

It was also in my third year that I found an old copy of the“College of Product Knowledge.”I studied that book like my life depended on it. I would read it all day and then took it home to read at night. Finally at the end of the summer I got my first chance to work down at the counter. It was daunting, but I handled it for a few days a week for the last month of the summer. Unfortunately, I started to ask to be assigned to the counter too much and that’s when I heard some of the best advice I’ve gotten to date: “Keep your head down, and your mouth shut.” Basically, just go and work.

When my fourth year came around I had planned to stop going to school and begin working full time. I started in the receiving department and very quickly moved down to the counter full time. Actually, I think the reason I moved to the counter was because I broke my hand putting away pipe in the pipe shop. Either way, once I was down there, I was down there for good. I learned the most while I was down at the counter and it was thanks to all the people I worked with and all the customers I’ve helped. However, this was also the year when I started to have nightmares of doing something wrong during the day. I was young, so I was staying out at night and then in for work early in the morning. I barely slept and when I did, I was jolted out of bed by thoughts of an incorrect pipe order.

The fourth year is when I began my marketing career by creating a flyer for items that customers might not know that we have. It was one of those impulse buy experiments. It may not have worked too well, but shortly after, we began redoing the entire counter area in order to have an area where customers can grab some impulse-buy items.

My fourth year lasted much longer than my previous summers. When the weather started getting colder I again tried to see if I could better myself through learning more. That’s when I began learning parts. Even to this day I am confident enough to help out when the parts manager is gone.

The past two years have basically been counter, parts, catalog creation, marketing, and ultimately writing this column along with my marketing work. I’ve enjoyed my time at Metropolitan Pipe so much and it’s only been six years. There is an entire 69 years’ worth of history that I have barely begun to scratch the surface on. It is my plan to write a comprehensive history of Metropolitan Pipe that I will release in book form. So I thank you for reading my memories from Metropolitan Pipe. Next month we will return to what kinds of marketing can really help your company grow. Which do you think is best? Print, TV, billboard or radio? Find out next month.