When Bob Cooper joined Southern California surplus house Daniel Smith Co., 20 years ago, he had a long-term vision already mapped out.
“The intention was to maintain the 50-year legacy of the Smith Company and take it to a new level,” he says. “My greatest ambition was to create a brand with the Smith-Cooper International name being well-recognized throughout the wholesale industry, aspire to be the best and always be open to new ideas.”
Two decades later, Cooper’s vision remains alive and well. Commerce-Calif.-based Smith-Cooper International has exploded into a 250-plus employee, four-distribution center industrial fittings and valves company that combines its strengths in advanced manufacturing and distribution to best serve its wide array of customers around the world.
“When Smith-Cooper International started we wanted to be more than just a master distributor,” Cooper says. “Our goal was to be an outsourced manufacturer for our wholesale customers. We aspired to bring the best practices of domestic manufacturers to our customer base. The advantage we bring is that we produce our own SCI- and Sharpe-branded products through the most capable manufacturing partners throughout the world, allowing us to be more focused on our customers’ needs.
“The primary obligation to our customer is to have inventory on the shelf. Our commitment is to have the right inventory, in the right place, at the right time to support our customers’ inventory needs. What sets Smith-Cooper apart is the breadth of product offering and value-added services that we have developed over the past 20 years.”
Asked what best defines his company, Cooper prefers to use the term producer when describing Smith-Cooper’s role in the industrial PVF supply chain.
“As a producer we are able to provide our customers with a broad offering of our branded and traceable products through strategic manufacturing partners,” he says. “We bring the highest level of service into every process within distribution complemented by value-added services that include packaging and finishing, as well as marketing services designed to help customers sell more of our product.”
Cooper is especially proud of the reputation Smith-Cooper has earned over the years, establishing the company as a trusted resource for high-quality, branded and traceable products. On that front, Smith-Cooper recently made a major investment in a sourcing office in Shanghai.
“We have individuals in China who deal directly with the factories. This is an investment that has taken the company to the next level,” Cooper explains. “We now have boots on the ground to do our own sourcing, factory audits, inspections and product testing before product is shipped to us in the U.S. We’ve taken the term producer to an entirely new level. We have our own engineers that produce and design factory drawings that meet all U.S. standards, and we invest in our own tooling. Our products are then manufactured to our specs through selected overseas factories. It’s a very bold commitment to our company and with that comes the legitimacy of inventory, traceability of inventory and quality product guarantee. All our products are traceable back to our brands.”
Smith-Cooper Vice President of Sales Frank Connelly emphasizes the company has a commitment to constantly guarantee its products meet and exceed various standards and approvals thresholds.
“It is our responsibility to secure third-party approvals as well as recognized industry approvals such as UL, FM and NSF that are indigenous to Smith-Cooper,” he says. “We are recognized in the industry because we are able to develop and produce our own tooling and patterns and secure those important third-party approvals. Things always are changing and it’s our obligation to our customers to stay ahead of the ballgame when standards are changed.”
F.W. Webb Senior Vice President Ernie Coutermarsh says Smith-Cooper has taken the mystery out of product sourcing concerns.
“Smith-Cooper solved a problem for distributors and end users that were wary of quality and traceability in the category of imported pipe fittings,” he says. “Smith-Cooper put integrity and trust in a brand. Their name is the assurance that F.W. Webb and our customers can rely on.”
Connelly echoes Coutermarsh’s take on import products. “Smith-Cooper has eliminated concerns associated with imported product,” he says. “We’ve done so through our 20-year history of consistently delivering high-quality and traceable branded product with the investment that we’ve made in our production and quality processes, and with the high level of due diligence performed. We want customers to hold us to a higher standard. They expect that from us because they expect that from themselves.”
The company’s evolution over the years also has included an ever-expanding product portfolio, which was further enhanced with the acquisition of the Sharpe valve line eight years ago.
“I can’t stress enough how diverse the company is,” Cooper says. “Our range of products has evolved over the years to where we now service, for example, end markets in residential, plumbing, commercial, industrial PVF, mechanical, chemical, process and fire protection. That plays into our ability to expand our distribution the way we have. It’s allowed us to move into more regions and to serve a broader end-market base. The increase in size and scale allows us to further invest in our product portfolio and value-added services. Our goal is to partner with our customers and help them to grow in their markets.”
The Sharpe acquisition proved to be a turning point of sorts for the company. “Smith-Cooper is now considered a valve company to many in the industry,” Cooper says. “Sharpe was the perfect complement.”
A variety of Sharpe branded industrial and high-performance valves are “assembled and tested in America,” Cooper points out. “These services have further secured our position as an approved producer of branded and traceable fittings and valves.”
Cooper adds the company, which sells only to brick-and-mortar distribution outlets, has enjoyed consistent double-digit growth the last four years and even had success during the darker days of the great recession.
“Before the recession, it was common for a wholesaler to have 60 days of inventory when inventory wasn’t a dirty word,” he says. “There was a period of time in 2009 when wholesalers were forced to live off inventory and what ended up happening is the need for a supplier such as Smith-Cooper. We were put in a position where we were expected to have that inventory. Now we carry such a broad range of product that it allows the independent wholesaler to buy a much broader line of products and maintain much leaner product levels. We are our customers’ extended inventory.”
Race to the finish line
And with customers placing high inventory expectations on Smith-Cooper, the company is continually looking for ways to deliver the highest and most efficient level of service possible. Smith-Cooper’s goal is to have more than 90% of UPS orders shipped out same day and it is committed to putting LTL shipments on the road within 24 hours of ordering, with the majority shipped the same day.
“We place tremendous expectations on our distribution channels,” Cooper says. “The speed in which we process an order is remarkable. Give us two hours and we will have your will-call order on the dock and that’s from the time you place the order until the time the truck is on the way for your pickup. We always are looking for ways to better expedite and better serve our customers. We are in the business of moving metal quickly and efficiently.”
Smith-Cooper’s standardized Pro Pack packaging system is another example of innovation that has turned into another service differentiator, so successful, Cooper notes, that many domestic manufacturers and importers have adopted it as the industry standard. “The intention was to come up with a packaging concept that allows us and our customers to carry 50% more product in 30% less space,” he adds. “We’ve standardized carton size and eliminated air in the box. We have integrated this new standardized packaging system into the majority of our products.”
Smith-Cooper’s packaging boxes and crates are intricately labeled right down to photos of the product appearing on the outside of the box, which helps with ease of processing on both ends of the transaction. “Our customers receive our product efficiently,” Cooper says. “Any warehouse operations person receiving the product can identify a variety of product lines by the color coding on the boxes. We are eliminating errors and their associated expense because of the way we pack and label our products. What would you rather have employees doing, receiving product or shipping it out? We are a strong partner in helping our customers realize those soft-dollar savings. We’ve redefined what our customer base expects from distribution.”
That high level of customer commitment extends to back-office operations where Smith-Cooper recently implemented a software tool that helps plan inventory based on a variety of statistical factors, including sales history, forecasts and customer input.
“It’s a platform that allows us to be a lot more analytical with how we plan inventory,” Smith-Cooper Chief Financial Officer George Bullock says. “This is another way we’ve embraced innovation to better serve customers. Innovation is something that runs through the company’s veins.”
And as Chief Operating Officer Jason Hild points out, the company derives competitive advantage not only from a flexible supply-chain structure, but also by working diligently to uphold the hard-earned reputation of a 20-year brand in the industry.
“We know our customers need it within 24 to 48 hours or they will get it from someone else,” he says. “At the same time we can’t compromise on quality. We have a nimble manufacturing partner base, but none of it works unless you have a strong brand name that speaks to 20 years of product quality. The Smith-Cooper name carries weight. It’s a brand recognized for quality and service, and it’s that service that brings the business model full circle.”
Expanding for the future
Two of Smith-Cooper’s four distribution centers throughout the United States have undergone expansions in recent years. The suburban Chicago location in Elk Grove Village, Ill., now houses 127,000 sq. ft. of inventory (including the Sharpe line), assembly, testing and office space.
Smith-Cooper recently moved into an expanded facility in Vancouver, Wash., doubling the square footage of that operation. Smith-Cooper also has locations in its home base of Southern California and Atlanta. The total footprint of its four DCs is more than 400,000 sq. ft.
“With these locations, our broad product range is readily available to a large group of customers,” Cooper says. “The focus is to serve the customer the most efficient way possible. That can be hard when you are shipping from Los Angeles to Florida. We now have strategically located facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver. Those logistical advantages put us in a position to effectively serve 90% of our customer base within two days. Customers asked and we are bringing them the metal.”
Smith-Cooper, with the support of its financial partners, also has heavily invested in talent. Hild and Bullock were recruited in 2013 to join the company in key management positions (both originally worked outside the industry), highlighting Smith-Cooper’s commitment to the long-range future of the organization. The average tenure of a Smith-Cooper employee is nine years.
“For a company that turned 20 last year, having an average tenure of nine years is impressive,” Cooper says. “I’ll put our tenure and expertise up against anybody’s in the business. Our employees are the most valuable asset we have. They add to the value we provide our customers and put us in a position to react quickly to our customers’ needs. If a field presentation or product knowledge meeting is needed, we have the ability to do that with our own people.”
One of Bullock’s main takeaways from his time with the company thus far is the level of employee commitment to the Smith-Cooper name. “We have an incredible culture of dedicated people who care about our customers and care about supporting their needs,” he says. “Bob always says right inventory, right place and right time. We have a unique service level. We always want to out-service customer expectations.”
Cooper says his innovative strategy for Smith-Cooper won’t shift out of high gear anytime soon. He sees a continued bright future as a producer of industrial fittings and valves.
“I see more products from us. I see a larger distribution footprint supporting continuous growth — double-digit growth,” he says. “Our customers will dictate a lot of what we do in the future. We aren’t afraid of adding new complementary products to our company portfolio of products. We will continually innovate and stay ahead of the industry.
“Some of the changes we employ today might not benefit us until five years down the road. It’s a challenge, but it’s an exciting challenge. We are in the service business and we back that up by bringing the best value proposition to our customers. Our continuous objective is to keep Smith-Cooper as smooth and as easy to do business with as possible.”