Supply House Times recently interviewed Ward Manufacturing President Pete Guidi and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tony Favilla in their offices in Blossburg, Pa., about issues facing the plumbing and piping industry.
Guidi joined Ward 21 years ago and was vice president of manufacturing before taking on his current role in 2006. Favilla held a number of sales and marketing executive positions in the industry before Ward hired him in October 2013. Ward’s product line includes malleable-iron fittings, pipe nipples and its WardFlex line of corrugated stainless-steel tubing.
Supply House Times: In what market segments do you see the most business opportunities for Ward and your customers?
TF:We see business growing across all market segments, although we believe our greatest impact opportunities lie within the commercial construction and HVAC markets for WardFlex and the fire protection market. Accordingly, we have augmented our sales support staff to be able to target these markets – but we need new products to make us truly successful.
PG:We’ve come up with an umbrella approach so we can start to add new products to our basket for the plumbing, heating and HVAC industry. In that basket, we have our staples, which are fittings, pipe nipples and CSST, and we’re going to migrate into fire protection. Our goal is to continue providing leadership in the industry and to add items under our umbrella that meet the needs of our customers.
Supply House Times: What innovations in Ward’s product line excite you the most?
PG:When we introduced CSST to the U.S. market in 1996, as manufactured here in the United States, it was an innovative product. It came from Japan originally. Now we distribute it not only in the United States but in Canada, Central and South America and Europe as well. The product has become a global product for the distribution of gas.
TF:What excites us the most are the opportunities in new product development and our focus on mergers and acquisitions to support our current product offering to become a more valued supplier.I am not sure we can make a higher-quality malleable iron fitting, and we feel the technical benefits of our CSST product line lead the industry.
Supply House Times: Are you seeing any trends for Ward products?
PG:The trend I’ve seen is the U.S. consumer wants to go back to products made in the United States. We think we’re going to see a resurgence of malleable and cast-iron fittings based on the market demanding U.S.-made fittings. It’s a quality issue, a delivery issue and a service issue. This market is very difficult to service from a long way away. Our advantage is the way we produce and distribute our fittings and how we maintain our inventories throughout the United States. We’re the next step away from the end user, so we are able to service them very quickly with a quality product.
Supply House Times: What attributes brought Ward Mfg. to the point where it recently celebrated its 90th anniversary?
PG: The quality of our people and products has allowed us to thrive for 90 years in a very competitive market, where today the biggest competitor is imported fittings. We are still producing domestic fittings in the United States on the same plot of ground where we started 90 years ago. The quality of our workforce has driven all the decision-making to remain and expand in this part of the country. And we’ve always produced quality products that are second to none. The industry supports the quality of our fittings.
TF:We’ve stayed very true to our distribution channel. Even as we’ve made changes to our logo and to our marketing initiatives, the underlying values of what the brand means and how we go to market have remained the same and will for many years.
Supply House Times: With Ward’s 90-year heritage, why did you feel the need to redesign Ward’s logo and website?
PG:It was time to step back and reposition ourselves to clearly articulate who we are today. This isn’t just about a logo or website, it’s a complete rebrand of our company. We updated out logo to reflect that we are more modern in our marketing, product development and distribution. Our umbrella branding approach gives us the ability to show our customers all the product lines that fall under the Ward name. We have evolved and will continue to evolve.
TF:We are creating the right communications vehicles and marketing tools that will help our customers do their jobs better. These include our more robust website (www.wardmfg.com), the new Wardflex mobile app and online marketing channels.
Supply House Times: What is the relationship of the Ward brand to your customers? What do you want them to know about you?
PG:We need to make them know that our whole structure for the brand revolves around them – it’s based upon our customers’ needs. Most companies talk far too much about themselves. We want to make the emotional connection that every good brand must have in order to maintain any relevance. To do that, we’re starting with customer needs and working back from that position. We want them to know we are structuring our products and services accordingly.
TF:Part of the rationale for our new logo and brand treatment is to offer an umbrella that not only covers all that we do today but is accommodating to future innovations and product introductions. And, perhaps even more important, this new message should serve as a focal point for our manufacturers reps and wholesalers so they have a clear and powerful idea to work with in selling Ward.
Supply House Times: When your customers look at Ward, what is their perception of your company?
PG:Throughout the industry, the Ward name is known as a quality product that has good service and good reliability. That is what they expect, and that is how we compete in the marketplace. We don’t sell on price.
Supply House Times: How important is Ward’s relationship with the distribution channel and what has the company done in recent times to strengthen that relationship?
PG:Our primary goal is to support our distribution network. That’s the pattern we want to use and we want to strengthen it by adding what we can from our side with our website and other improvements we make. We have reorganized our national sales team to better serve the end customers and to be more strategic in what they do to help grow the distribution side of our business. That change will be a real enhancement for our distribution channel. We’re going to give them a more focused group that will help them do their jobs more successfully.
TF:Our ability to develop joint growth plans with our distributors will determine our rate of success. Our wholesalers are looking for us to inform them about market changes and growth opportunities. Our new culture ensures that our activities provide value.
Supply House Times: If you had one message to give to distributors, what would it be?
TF:Our future plans call for growth through new product development. Whether through R&D or acquisitions, we will strive to manufacture what we offer. That is a major challenge as we do know that there are products that do not fit that model and we are cognizant of that fact. We prefer to take the difficult path here.