Valley Supply Co.’s Rogers Earl Jr. is part of a bright industry future.
The path Elkins, W. Va.-based Valley Supply Co. CEO Rogers Earl Jr. took into the PHCP industry is an interesting and enriching one.
The 36-year-old Earl Jr. grew up in northern New York about 20 minutes from the Cornwall, Ontario/Montreal, Quebec borders in the town of Brasher Falls. Earl Jr.’s family raised cows, chickens and goats on a small hobby farm and his dad, Rogers Sr., doubled as a local contractor.
“My father did anything from masonry and chimney repair to installing copper pipes in barns,” he says. “I remember learning how to solder at the age of seven.”
Earl Jr. later studied at Canton, N.Y.-based St. Lawrence University where he earned his bachelors of science degree in behavioral psychology. His first position in that field was running behavioral programs for mentally challenged individuals. His specialty was violent behavior.
“My job was to help them communicate effectively,” he explains. “The people I worked with couldn’t speak and the way they communicate is typically quite violent. They lash out at themselves or hurt other people. My job was to find the underlying motivation, their wants and needs, and teach them how express that.”
Earl Jr.’s later stopped in Pittsburgh where he worked with mentally challenged individuals in group homes. While in Pittsburgh, Earl Jr. agreed to take a Latin ballroom dancing class with his sister, Verity, who lived there.
“At the last minute, she couldn’t go because of her master’s degree program,” he says. “Having paid for it, I ended up going.”
At the class Earl Jr. met his wife, Emily, whose father and mother, Patrick and Evette Lafayette, have owned Valley Supply since the late 1980s. Earl Jr. later went to work for the company, starting a journey that is turning into a productive career both at Valley and as a key industry steward.
Earl Jr. started working in one of Valley Supply’s warehouses. From there he moved onto special projects where duties included analyzing vendor lines for profitability, as well as helping develop a company hydronics program.
Earl Jr. later took over as branch manager of the company’s Elkins location and then hit a fork in the road when the economy took a south turn.
“With the major building collapse in 2009, the company had to make a decision,” he says. “Someone needed to work on developing a central
distribution center and someone needed to work on the daily operations, investing their time developing and growing the company. Patrick brought me into his office and said those were the two options if we wanted to grow the company. I told him I never had built a building before and he said he had. I took over running the company in 2010. It was a sink or swim event.”
Valley Supply, a member of the Embassy buying group, has taken many strides forward since then. For starters, a DreamScapes Bath and Home Gallery showroom was added to the Elkins location. “A showroom was something new to that market,” Earl Jr. says. “Before, there wasn’t a place where people could go to look at products. Now, we’re working on redoing the products in the showroom to match what the customers are currently buying.”
The biggest advancement for Valley has been the construction of its central distribution center in Clarksburg. That location also features a branch operation. Other branches are located in Parkersburg and St. Alban (outside Charleston). Valley’s Elkins location started in 1905. Valley is one of the largest and oldest independent HVAC, hydronics, plumbing and PVF wholesalers in West Virginia.
The 75,600-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art CDC features in-floor heating, six commercial loading docks and customer loading docks. Valley also recently invested in a tractor trailer that is used to make deliveries between branch locations. “We want to make sure our customers are well-taken care of,” Earl Jr. says.
Valley is predominantly a plumbing and HVAC operation and does most of its business in the remodeling arena. “There is not a lot of brand-new construction here,” he says. “Since 2008 and 2009, new construction has been very slim. It’s very difficult to get funding for new building. People are fixing and repairing instead of building.”
Earl Jr. was 31 when he took over the day-to-day operations of the company and when asked if he felt pressure being promoted to a key executive role at a young age, he is quite candid.
“There was an extreme amount of pressure,” he says. “I always have felt it and I still feel pressure. Even though I grew up in the industry with my dad being a contractor, being on the other side of the counter is different. I feel a lot of pressure because I’m always trying to prove myself. But, I think that is true of anybody.
“We have great people who work here and have been with us a long time. I want to live up to their expectations and the expectations of the Lafayette family. I want to do the best I can to take care of everyone. The family continuously invests in the company to help it grow. This allows management to take care of our customers the best way possible. I feel pressure to continue to grow the company and to give back to everyone I work with.”
Building the future
In addition to his role at Valley, Earl Jr. is active in the industry, particularly in the American Supply Association’s successful Young Executives Divisionwhere he is the current chairman. His main goal is to help attract as much new talent as possible into the industry.
“We as an industry need to generate the youth’s interest by reaching out to kids in high schools and vocational schools,” he says. “I feel we have a huge problem. We don’t have enough competent people out there doing quality installations. For example, HVAC technology has changed so much you almost have to have a computer degree to install it. If we don’t cultivate interested in our industry, there will be a great shortage of labor.”
Earl Jr. says associations such as ASA, buying groups and regional associations are the perfect platforms to get the message out. “You need these organizations promoting, through their members, our industry,” he says. “We can’t wait for a kid to stumble across us. We have to go to where they are. We have to get out there to job fairs and community events, and talk to these kids and teach them the opportunities they have in life. Don’t leave it up to the misconception that the only way to make money or succeed is to be the next Zuckerberg or to work on Wall Street. Talk to them about how viable a field we have and the opportunities our industry affords them.”
Earl Jr. recalls when the Young Executives Division was a small group where a typical Spring Forum (the YEs annual national event) would attract a quaint gathering.
“Now, our Spring Forum (this May in Charlotte) will max out attendance,” he says. “We’re teaching leadership, communication and business skills. Our industry realizes that without the younger generations and giving them the necessary skills to make sound decisions we will add to our labor deficit. The YEs and the Women in Industry groups fill this gap for our PVF, plumbing, heating and cooling world. We help people by providing training, opportunities to work on their skills and a platform for creating a supportive network. We let them know they are not on their own.”
Earl Jr. says the main thing he enjoys about the PHCP-PVF industry is its down-to-earth nature. “There are no hidden agendas in the background,” he says. “I never feel like I’m being looked down upon because I work at a small company. We’re all peers and we are all trying to make it happen. We support each other. That kind of a feeling is really nice. We’re all in this together. We’re here to serve people. If you want to serve people, that’s why you go into this industry. You’re here to help.”
And it’s that servant philosophy that Earl Jr. feels should be part of any pitch to prospective young talent considering working in the industry.
“We have a great industry with great people,” he says. “Our industry affords a plethora of potential for young people and their families. There is always room to grow because our industry isn’t going away. People always need pipe, running water, toilets, heating and cooling. The technology is going to change and we have to learn new things, but that’s like any industry. If you like to both help and work with good people, you always will have the opportunity to do so in our industry. We are here to help people.”