Metropolitan Industries has come a long way from its beginning days more than 55 years ago as a manufacturers rep operating out of a single house in the Chicago suburbs. The now 150-employee company has morphed into a diversified distributor and OEM manufacturer with the vision of being a single source for pumps, control systems and ancillary equipment serving many water and wastewater industries. Supply House Times recently sat down with President and CEO John Kochan Jr., in the company’s 100,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in the south Chicago suburb of Romeoville to talk about Metropolitan’s growth, investment in training and some of the new products it has developed.


What has led to the company’s recent growth?

JKJ:Last year was a good year for us. We’ve had a good growth rate because of the good people we have, the training we provide, product innovations and investments in research and development. We’re growing the business and expanding our product offerings. We stay in our bailiwick. We’re in the water business. We heat it, treat it and move it in the residential, commercial, municipal and industrial industries. Specifically, we’ve seen an increase in residential business because we have our own line of pumps, switches and controls.


What led you to get into manufacturing?

JKJ:It was a necessity for us. We needed to make a change. We were a manufacturers rep and decided it was time to go out on our own. We changed with the times. We created products that can be used in all the industries we serve. We can do it all in different areas and that gives us a little more of an edge. We’re very good with packaged systems, building housed booster systems, pumping stations, skidded booster pumps, boiler-feed systems, housed-boiler systems, just about anything. In the past, we dealt with larger companies and they would change management and then the new management wouldn’t do certain things any longer. When you were small and young, you had to do it out of survival. We learned this from the ground up.


How much of an emphasis do you put on customer training?

JKJ:Training is the key to selling. We just had 50 plumbers walk out of our training room and we had an engineering group in here before that. We train on everything we sell. We have a trailer for mobile training for residential products and we’re building one for all our control products so we can be on the road training engineers, wholesalers, municipal people and building engineers. If you pull up in front of a contractor, engineer or wholesaler’s office with a trailer full of products to demonstrate, the lightbulb goes on. You can put the literature in front of them, but they might not always get it. When it’s hands-on it becomes a case of, “I really like that,” or “I didn’t know you carried that.” You have to get out in front of your customers and show them what you do.”


What makes Metropolitan Industries stand out as a company?

JKJ:Our people. We have good people and good products because of it. We have a lot of longtime employees — one just celebrated 35 years and another 30 years. You can have the best products in the world, but if you don’t have good people you will not get anywhere. You need the combination of great people, great products and a great company. We’ve invested a lot in people. We have mechanical, electrical, software and telecommunications engineers working here now. We have no hierarchy. We all work together.


Do you sell through distribution?

JKJ:We sell through wholesalers for our residential products and through contractors for commercial work. We have training for our wholesale customers and that’s part of what we have in the mobile trailer. We’re expanding our line nationwide so that trailer is going to be on the road.


What new products are you most excited about?

JKJ:We introduced the next version of our Sumpro battery backup system. We also have two new controllers — the Ion Genesis and the Ion Endeavor. With the Ion switch, we can control the level of the water in the pit because we have a microprocessor in it. We can talk to the switch and adjust the parameters electronically or digitally instead of manually. With the Endeavor, you plug the pumps into it and it will read the current of the pumps and tell you if you are operating in Duplex or Simplex mode. It’s a plug-and-play self-diagnostic panel that allows you to run two pumps instead of one. We’re also excited about wireless monitoring with cellular modems. That adds different types of abilities to our present products that will allow communication through peoples’ smartphones and tablets.


What does the future hold for Metropolitan Industries?

JKJ:In the short-term, we’re going to keep on doing what we’ve been doing and that’s add new products and grow the business. Long-term, we’ll look for bolt-on acquisitions and new areas to move into in our core water business.