Legend Valve goes to great lengths to provide superior customer service.

Legend Valve’s new 151,000-sq.-ft. headquarters facility in suburban Detroit features a very-narrow-aisle system. Photos courtesy of Legend Valve

Legend Valvecontinues to evolve since its founding almost 25 years ago. The Michigan-based manufacturer recently relocated to a new 151,000-sq.-ft. headquarters and warehouse facility in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills, designed to further add to its commitment to superior customer service. Legend’s senior management team of President and CEODavid Hickman, Executive Vice PresidentWalter Jannand Director of OperationsLarry Emmerttook time recently to talk to Supply House Times at its new headquarters about a variety of topics, including its customer service philosophy, no-lead legislation and the future of the hydronics market.

Supply House Times: What are some of the key features in the new Auburn Hills facility?

LE:We wanted to make the building as energy-efficient as possible. We installed motion sensors, the windows are specially treated and there is a snowmelt system under the brick pavers outside the building. Our own VersaTherm radiant snap-fit floor system is installed over 18,000 sq. ft. of the building. We took the opportunity to put our new radiant panel technology in our own commercial environment with every type of floor covering possible.

Our warehouse has less clear height than is typical. Although this makes it easier to heat and cool, it also means we need to be more efficient in our use of that space. We have installed a very-narrow-aisle (VNA) system in the facility with aisles only six-feet wide. Our material handling equipment runs on a low-voltage wire system which provides guidance for the equipment and allows the operator to move at high speeds up and down the aisles without risk of veering into the racking itsel

Legend Valve CEO David Hickman (left) and Executive VP Walter Jann.

Supply House Times:Training and testing are two major company staples. What advancements have been made in recent times on those fronts?

WJ:We strongly embrace product development and thorough testing of our products. We do not believe in putting any product into our line that has not gone through extensive testing. We make sure we maintain a line of high-quality products that perform to or exceed the listed specifications when purchased. If a product comes back from the field, we get it into our laboratory and complete a thorough analysis and report. Quick resolution of field problems is a common complaint of wholesalers and contractors. Handling issues in a timely manner and supporting our channel partners in these situations is a cornerstone of our customer service commitment.

On the training end, we are doing more and more with contractors, wholesalers and end users. For example, one of our support technicians is a certified master plumber. He teaches Michigan plumbing code update courses in our classroom facilities. We are currently constructing a replica 2,000-plus-sq.-ft. residential home as a training area so our customers and end users can learn more about our new products and about radiant heating and cooling.  Customers will be able to get hands-on exposure to the vast array of exciting products that we offer.

DH:Training and product development are core competencies of our organization. As a consequence, our people are prepared to support our customers on a wide range of issues from first point of contact. Legend has gained an excellent reputation for customer support and that can only be achieved through extensive training on an ongoing basis. Technical issues are handled by a dedicated team of technical support personnel with a combined tenure of approximately 75 years. They are supported by two degreed mechanical engineers with more than 44 years of engineering expertise. Legend works very hard to protect our brand while offering unparalleled customer support. In part, this is what enables us to offer our iron-clad service and product guarantees.

Legend’s VersaTherm radiant snap-fit floor system is installed over 18,000 sq. ft. of the company’s new facility under numerous types of floor coverings. Photos courtesy of Legend Valve

Supply House Times: What does customer service mean to Legend?

DH:Everything. To say our organization is focused on customer service is an understatement.  Everyone at Legend knows the customer is the only reason we are here. Every person here strives to exceed our customers’ wishes with each and every interaction. We will never shift the burden of doing business to our customers. All our business processes are designed around increasing our customers’ efficiencies, even at the cost of our own. At Legend, customer service is an obsession. Our people are the key. They know that in the end, customers have a wide range of choices and Legend wants to be their partner of choice.

WJ:Our customers call us two, three or four times a month. It’s extremely important to us to make sure every customer service interaction is exemplary. A wholesaler’s biggest expense next to overhead is inventory cost. They stock millions of dollars worth of products. Our job is to guarantee we ship accurately with a 100% fill rate in 24 hours, allowing our customers to carry less inventory and better service to their customers.

Supply House Times: The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act goes into law Jan. 4, 2014. How do you see this affecting the wholesale industry and how is Legend preparing for this change?

DH:This is a major transition for our industry. There are really too many issues to mention here, but suffice it to say, all of us must work closely together in order to mitigate the potential downside associated with this change. Most importantly, the supply chain must purge the leaded alloys in a timely manner so no one gets caught with unsalable inventory.

Jann sees more designs in the hydronics marketplace using best-of-breed solutions independent of a system solution from only on supplier.

The no-lead mandate can be exacerbated by several issues, but one primary issue is many products have dual uses. Consider the cost of manufacturing with no-lead alloys can be as much as 50% higher than with traditional leaded alloys. When contemplating that a ball valve can be used with several different types of media such as chemicals, gases, steam, graywater or any number of nonpotable applications, there likely will continue to be a market for leaded products in nonpotable applications because of this cost differential. So, how many do you stock and how do you differentiate the same product for two different applications? This may be solved if we see economies of scale with eventual parity in the cost of the alloys, but we aren’t there yet. Therefore, communication between business partners throughout the supply chain is going to be critical.

As a consequence, we have set up a dedicated no-lead website atwww.legendnolead.com, which is a depository of information for our customers.

Supply House Times: Where do you see the hydronics market headed in the next few years?

WJ:Hydronic designs are getting more complex and efficient as technologies improve.  Wholesalers and contractor designers are getting better at accommodating these designs with in-house technical support. Thus, they are more willing to design best-of-breed solutions independent of a system solution from only one supplier. For example, our VersaTherm system allows thousands of square feet of floor space to be installed in a fraction of the time required by other labor-intensive systems. It offers an extremely high Btu output, is self-insulating and water-resistant. That’s an example of an excellent solution for retrofits or basement applications that cannot be addressed by existing solutions in the market. Our strategy of offering labor-saving or high-efficiency components that may not be available from their current supplier addresses this trend.