Murray Supply makes big gains by starting over and investing in its people
A new foundation
Te fact is simple: North Carolina-based plumbing wholesaler Murray Supply Co. made a strong surge in Supply House Times’ Premier 125 survey from 2011 to 2012. The explanations of this rise aren’t so simple.
With its headquarters in Winston-Salem, Murray Supply is in the midst of a rebirth. For 45 years, the wholesaler succeeded by the traditional ways and means of the industry. Then, of course, came 2008. It would’ve have been easy for Charlie Murray and his brother, David, to just rebuild the company as it was before the economic collapse and the housing bubble burst. But, the leaders of 97 employees and six branch locations saw the opportunity to redefine the company.
“We basically took the company apart and put it back together so we could handle the growth we anticipated in the future,” Charlie Murray says. “We moved from a strictly top-down organization to a bottom-up focused company. We moved people around, gave more people responsibility and pushed as much responsibility and accountability as far down the organization as we could. We needed a different environment. What we did in the past was perfect for the first 45 years of the company. It was the next 45 years we needed to have a different foundation for. It was an easy decision to make, but difficult to put in place.”
The biggest philosophical change made was to bring in George Yezbak as chief operating officer in 2008. “Having a nonfamily member being responsible for a lot of the day-to-day operations was a big change for us as a company,” Murray says. “It wasn’t always an easy process for David and I to turn over our traditional responsibilities to someone else. But George has been great, and he’s been the driving force behind making all of these changes.”
Young talent rises at Murray SupplyMurray really wanted to infuse the young talent at the company into its core operations. The company created a “steering committee” which has seven members - three under the age of 30. The committee includes Brooks Jester, Murray Supply’s director of purchasing. Jester says that it is impressive and exciting for Murray Supply to have so much faith in the younger generations.
“They let us operate very autonomously,” he says. “It’s allowed us to be more efficient. The people are onboard and better-trained.”
The extended rope executives give at Murray Supply has yielded positive results. “We set up the rules and let them play the game within those rules,” Murray says. “It enabled David and I to separate ourselves and focus on other aspects of the business. We get to work on the business instead of having to work in the business. The best thing we do is stay out of their way.”
Sarah Wright, Murray’s director of marketing, came to the company right out of college and loves the opportunities the company gives her. Wright does nearly all of the marketing including graphic design, which she didn’t have formal training in before coming to Murray Supply.
“From the very beginning, Murray Supply gave me the opportunity to essentially create my own position. It was remarkable that they gave me such a large amount of responsibility coming straight out of college,” she says. “This job gives me the ability to develop marketing programs and take them to the next level by incorporating our branch managers and sales associates. Our people are the reason our marketing programs are successful in the marketplace.”
Jester says that the company made major changes to the way it buys product from vendors. Before the changes, each branch location (Winston-Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh, Apex and Hickory) had its own buyer. Today, Murray has streamlined its policies by having one buyer at the corporate office making all the purchases for each location.
“It centralized the purchasing department,” he says. “It allowed us to take advantage of our buying power, manage our pricing and be more aggressive in the marketplace.”
For the first time, Murray is also bringing all its corporate workers into one location with its move to a downtown Winston-Salem office. Murray Supply believes that as it brings more young people into the company, their training and knowledge will be accelerated by having this one corporate location.
“It is a vibrant area, with new businesses opening up every month, full of young people and lots to do. There is an energy downtown now that we wanted to be a part of and contribute to in the upcoming years,” Murray says. “Having all of our corporate people together will allow better communications and cross-pollination of ideas. As we bring more young people into the company it will help speed their training and knowledge by being able to interact with everyone in one location. Having our training center in the corporate office will expose all of our people to the corporate staff and the culture of Murray Supply Company.”
Drawing people inWright joined Murray Supply right after she finished her degree at nearby Appalachian State University, which is also Charlie Murray’s alma mater. Wright has played a big hand in the company’s effort to recruit talent from Appalachian State. Murray has been an early advocate for the supply chain management program through the Walker College of Business at ASU. Currently, it’s a minor and has about 120 students in the program.
Also, Murray, which is a member of SWA, ASA and Affiliated Distributors, created the company’s Valued Education Partner program. The VEP is designed to not only strengthen Murray Supply, but in future years, it will help its vendors. A recruitment group consisting of four younger Murray employees - Wright, Jester, Matt Alspaugh and Forrest Adams - were trained on interviewing techniques and how to look for certain personality traits. Then, they went to the Appalachian State campus and worked the recruitment events held by the university. After going over resumes and interviewing qualified individuals, potential fits were given personality profile exams.
Sounds like a pretty standard recruiting program, right? Wrong. What separates the VEP from other programs is how vendors are brought into the fold. Vendors that partner with Murray Supply and commit money to the supply chain management program at Appalachian State are able to check out the candidates to see if they might fit their company.
“These kids are the best of the best that we’ve been able to identify,” Murray says. “If we can’t hire them all, we think our company ultimately benefits if we can get them in the industry. And our partners benefit by getting good people at a very low recruitment cost.”
When at Murray Supply, the selected graduates get to work in all the departments of the company and meet with the recruitment group on a regular basis for feedback.
“That is something that is necessary,” Wright says. “College students are used to some structure. The internal training program provides that structure. It keeps the students active and is a really good way to build product and industry knowledge.”
Murray Supply increased its overall head count by two employees in the last year and had an influx of new faces after some longtime employees retired. Murray thinks the company has set itself up strongly for even better results in the coming years.
“We have to invest in the business, so that means investing in people,” he says. “We think 2011 was just the tip of the iceberg for us growth-wise, so we have to have people to sustain what we’ve started.”
Trending upwardMurray says that the construction market in North Carolina has been flat, housing is almost nonexistent and commercial construction has been off considerably. Still, Murray Supply saw sales growth in 2011.
“I think that makes our results that much more impressive when you consider (the market),” he says.
Murray Supply didn’t really have any major projects in 2011, but the company believes its strong relations with local contractors spurred the growth of revenue.
“It’s a ‘flight to quality’ on the part of the contractors,” Murray says. “They know they can trust us to perform and deliver what we say we can deliver. They are under intense scrutiny from owners and general contractors as well, so they need to depend on their suppliers to perform. We think our history and record in the market and the level of customer service we have traditionally provided gives them comfort. They trust our work.”
Murray is happy with the numbers he’s seeing in the early parts of 2012. Murray says the company is running nearly 12% ahead of budget and he expects that the company will surpass its 2007 numbers – the best in the company’s history. “We think we’re going to continue the growth trend we started last year for the next several years,” he says.
What does Murray see further down the line?
“We believe we have a realistic chance at doubling the size of the company over the next four years,” he says. “The four major sales focus areas of our business (commercial plumbing, commercial mechanical, industrial PVF and multifamily MRO) are all doing well right now and exceeding our expectations. We have another major marketing program in place that will help keep us in front of our customers and help protect some of the share we gained last year.”
A recent meeting of the steering committee brought five new initiatives that Murray Supply approved for immediate implementation. It’s exactly the way Murray drew up the blueprint for his rebuilt company.
“Our people are leading us to this growth,” he says. “It’s not the executive team driving it. We’re just trying to provide the resources they need and then stay out of their way.”
For more on Supply House Times’ 2012 Premier 125, read here.