Employee training is a key focus for Birmingham, Ala.-based American Pipe & Supply.

And over the last year, that focus has been ratcheted up even further thanks to the company’s involvement with the American Supply Association Education Foundation and its plethora of industry training resources.

Company CEO John Howe notes every employee is signed up to take at least one ASAEF-sanctioned course and 90% of employees are taking two or more training classes.

“Developing our employees is very important to us,” he says. “I don’t think there is anything that helps you keep employees and reduce turnover more than continuing to develop them and giving them opportunities to advance in the company. We’ve had 13 internal promotions in the last two years and we couldn’t do that if we weren’t providing training and development opportunities.”

American Pipe & Supply is one of many ASA-member companies with success stories related to their use of the comprehensive resources made available by the ASAEF, which, through the work of its dedicated staff and an army of committed industry volunteers over the years, has established itself as the premier resource in education and training services for the PHCP and PVF industry.


Sustaining success

Started in 1977, the ASAEF was funded in its early years through loans from ASA and revenues earned through the sales of its programs. Over time, it was determined the foundation could not succeed in the long-term with that particular business model in place and would need to look for independent funding.

Enter Portland, Ore.-based Consolidated Supply Co.’s Karl E. Neupert, who made a suggestion at a mid-1990s ASAEF Board of Trustees meeting.  “Karl put the ‘What if?’ out there,” ASAEF Executive Director Amy Black says. “What if we had this bank of money to help fund what we are doing so what we are doing will never stop?”

And from that suggestion the Karl E. Neupert Endowment Fund was established. The fund is managed by ASA-member volunteers who serve on the foundation’s Endowment Investment Committee and the endowment’s principal is secured in investments. Only the earnings generated by the endowment are available to spend on new program development and support.

“Karl set a goal of $10 million for the endowment,” Black says. “Everybody told him he was crazy. He wasn’t.” The endowment, established in 1998, hit that $10 million mark in 2006. Since its start, the endowment has reinvested $5.5 million back into the industry.

Financial stability, though, is just part of the foundation’s success equation. ASAEF Board of Trustees President Joe Maiale (InSinkErator) says dedicated leadership has helped move the foundation forward over the years.

“We have a strong board of trustees,” he says. “We’ve done a good job of making sure the entire industry is represented from small and large wholesalers to manufacturers and manufacturers reps.

“This is the first time all three national accounts — Hajoca, Ferguson and WinWholesale — are represented on the board.  We now have a buying group role on the board (Omni’s Bob Hoff). Our meetings always are lively and engaging. The trustees participate to a great extent and we’re seeing the return from their time and work commitments.”

Maiale also lauded Black’s efforts in fueling the foundation’s upswing. “We would be remiss not to mention Amy’s leadership,” he says. “She is fresh and energetic and came in with new ideas and strategies. Amy is willing to learn and then drive for the results.”

Black stresses the work of ASAEF staffers Amber Auge, Doug Dillon, Diane Lamyotte and Chris Olsen, along with ASA Executive Vice President Mike Adelizzi, has been equally critical to the foundation’s success.


Covering all bases

In terms of content, the ASAEF continues to increase its training offerings, as well as the support system it offers member companies. Black and Maiale note ASAEF sales have nearly tripled since the late 2000s.

Since its rollout in 2009, the foundation’s ASA University has provided online and traditional learning options for all levels of employees in a company from a warehouse new hire to C-level executives. The program is broken into five specific colleges: sales management; purchasing/inventory management; warehouse management; leadership/executive management and business management. All ASA University content is available online.

“We’ve made training employees easier than ever for our members,” Black says. “Not only can we customize training to meet a company’s and individual’s needs, but members have full access to our staff. The turning point of our engagement was establishing a support role instead of just a sales role with what we offer.”

Howe likes the wide-ranging course options that are available to American Pipe & Supply employees.

“What ASA offers is unique,” he says. “They provide such a wide range of training. You can never emphasize enough how important product knowledge is in terms of being successful in this industry. ASA provides training to give you a good start in developing and forming that product knowledge that would be tough to go get elsewhere.”

Staten Island, N.Y.-based Coastal Plumbing Supply has been using ASAEF services for about three months. “We have 68 employees and finding the time to get them all though training is a difficult task,” Coastal Brand/Marketing Coordinator Chris Spinella says. “Simple warehouse safety courses have been a big help to our guys. ASA University has made a significant impact on our company. We’re able to make specific training tracks for people. A course on how distributors make money shows the added significance of an employee’s job, whether it’s moving material, human resources or shipping. It shows our employees they are part of one company rather than just individual moving parts.”

Beyond the educational courses, ASAEF offers its ASAU Advisory Service that provides member companies with a variety of support functions from answering simple questions to helping a company develop and roll out a customized training program. Maiale notes the service has been utilized by more than 150 member companies at various levels.

ASAEF is not resting on its laurels. The foundation has myriad new initiatives in the pipeline, headlined by the recent rollout of the Master of Distribution Management certification program. The eight-point program (broken into five phases) focuses on competency areas such as strategic decision-making, improving communication, managing conflict, and building trust and gaining commitment.

The foundation also is working on providing multilingual educational courses, developing training specifically aimed at manufacturer companies and a program that will see ASAEF work with ASA’s Vendor Member Division to identify additional ways to support members in training.

Union City, Calif.-based WHCI Plumbing Supply Co. President and CEO John Mills is no stranger to the foundation’s offerings, having used its educational resources for more than two decades.

“In the last eight years they have totally overhauled their offerings in many ways,” says Mills, the incoming ASAEF Board of Trustees President. “They have a huge, ever-growing library of content, more than most people know. It’s easy to plug someone into a two-year training track and let them run with it. From top to bottom, there is something at ASA that everyone can use.”