May 28 is a date that has two important meanings for West Columbia, S.C.-based Cregger Co. Vice President of Sales Brendan Donohue.
That date happens to be Donohue’s wedding anniversary (he’s been married for 21 years and is the father of four daughters). May 28 also is the day that set in motion Donohue’s career in the PHCP-PVF industry.
“One of the girls in my wife’s bridal party, her father owned Thomas Supply,” Donohue explains. “He asked what I was going to do for a career. I said I figured I would look for a job in Atlanta or Charlotte. He told me to come see him after the honeymoon and he would keep me busy while I looked for a job. I was literally hired at my wedding.”
The 45-year-old Donohue, who is set to become Southern Wholesalers Association’s 65th president, held a variety of positions at Thomas, including truck driver, shipping and receiving associate and counterman. He left Thomas in 2000 for an Apex Supply branch on Hilton Head Island, S.C., before heading to Cregger in 2002.
“Once you get into this business, you are hooked,” he says. “It’s been real good for me. The people are great and there are the tangible rewards of seeing the progress of the projects you are involved with.”
Donohue started out at Cregger, ranked No. 50 in the recently released 2015 Supply House Times Premier 150 list of the top PHCP-PVF distributors, with operational responsibilities for the company’s coastal branches in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Whiteville, N.C. In 2008, Donohue became director of purchasing out of the Cregger headquarters and a year later moved into his current position as vice president of sales.
“Cregger is a family-owned wholesaler that sticks to its roots,” he says. “We take care of our people and our customers. The core values of the company are really what attracted me and have kept me here. We cultivate relationships internally and externally and work together to accomplish common goals.”
Building the business
Today, Cregger Co. has 30 branches and more than 200 employees in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The company’s distribution center based in Columbia services branches at least once a week. Company President Morris Cregger reports the company enjoyed a 20.2% same-store sales increase in 2014 (compared to 2013 numbers).
Donohue attributes the company’s continued growth to the autonomy branches are given in their local marketplaces. “There is a great spirit of
entrepreneurship and empowerment that allows the branch managers and salespeople to be creative in coming up with solutions that best help their customers,” he says. “We bend and adapt to different situations in our different markets. We create an environment that works well for our people and their customers based on specific circumstances.”
Donohue adds the company also greatly benefitted from a bold stance it took during the teeth of the economic downturn in 2009. “We sat at a table in 2009 when we were probably in the middle of the worst of that recession,” he says. “We decided to take on the Goodman (HVAC) line and opened five stores in 90 days (In 2013 Cregger was named Goodman distributor of the year). It was either going to be a homerun or a strikeout. A strikeout could put us out of business. On the HVAC side this diversified us because there was a huge change-out and replacement market. It eased our dependency on new construction to a large degree.”
These days, Donohue says a strong economy in the Carolinas has further helped move the dial to the right. “The last several years have been great with growth,” he says. “We’ve heavily focused on the multifamily and residential markets, which have been booming in our areas. “
Other recent business model adjustments include going into electrical in 2013 (Cregger has electrical branches in Myrtle Beach, Charlotte and Bluffton) and switching to being a Kohler distributor at the beginning of 2015. That switch to Kohler coincides with a host of showroom upgrades. The Bluffton showroom held its grand reopening in April. Cregger has eight showrooms (two offsite under the Design on Tap banner).
Giving back to the industry
Donohue has been on the SWA board of directors since 2010 and credits the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Modern Supply leadership team of Dottie Ramsey and Pace Robinson with getting him involved. “Dottie educated me on SWA and becoming involved is one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he says. “The networking opportunities this has afforded me have been great.”
He adds regional groups such as SWA are becoming more vital in an ever-changing marketplace. “It allows you to be with a group of fellow industry associates even though we all work for separate companies. We’re all facing the same issues,” he says. “SWA is a great sounding board and a great opportunity to share ideas and solve problems that will benefit the industry so we can collectively move forward. As they say a rising tide raises all boats.”
In terms of his upcoming presidency, Donohue says he would like to continue to see membership and participation numbers continue to rise not only in SWA, but in the group’s Leadership Development Council young executives arm. Donohue is the third LDC member in a row to rise to the association’s presidency following Coley Herrin (Plumbing Distributors Inc.) and Travis Elrod (DeVore & Johnson).
“We have the ability to improve and change the industry moving forward,” Donohue says. “There are a lot of outside pressures facing us such as Internet companies that are significantly impacting the wholesale distribution channel. We need to be able to adapt to a changing environment and come up with solutions that will improve the business channel and help us compete and get better and outperform the various channels of distribution that do exist.
“It’s an honor for me to be chosen and serve on the SWA executive committee. The list of people who have served as SWA president before me is impressive. My goal is to continue SWA’s growth and expand the professional network we have. It’s what we can pull from when faced with crisis and times of change to help us make directional and strategic decisions that will improve our companies and our customers.”
This article was originally titled “Industry Steward” in the July 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.