The Omni buying group is celebrating its 35-plus years in business with a gala celebration in Hawaii in early February.

And while the Ohio-based cooperative has plenty of history to look back on, it has even more reasons to celebrate thanks to some recently implemented member/vendor-focused initiatives that it feels will cement the group’s future for years to come.

“We look at our members’ needs and we look at the programs that fill those voids and best help support them in their businesses,” Omni President Bob Hoff says.


Eye on the future

One of those member needs was satisfied several years ago through the creation of the Fill It Now website that allows member distributors to search fellow Omni distributor inventories and purchase desired products.

“If a member is looking for a pink toilet, they can go to the Fill It Now website and type it in the search engine and see which member has one,” Hoff explains.

With an eye on the ever-changing health-care situation in the country, the group recently developed Omni Advantage, which provides an opportunity for distributor members to offer health-care benefits to its employees through this group-sponsored captive.

Omni also is actively pursuing the addition of other PHCP-PVF verticals such as HVAC and irrigation. “These are support programs that have come out of member requests,” Hoff says.

Mark Michels, of Nampa, Idaho-based Robertson Supply, says the recent rollout of an online member discussion board offers yet another positive touchpoint for Omni members. “Omni always is looking out for its members and their business requirements,” he says. “Their all-inclusive mentality helps keep all our buying-group requirements under one roof.”


A definite luxury

Major inroads were made in the showroom arena when Omni formed its Luxury Products Group arm six years ago. “Knowing the value of a buying group and working with Omni, the logical thing to do was create a decorative plumbing and hardware buying group for our members,” says LPG Executive Director Linda Hoff, who has been with Omni for more than 30 years.

LPG has quickly burgeoned to 111 showroom members with 224 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Of the 111 members, 95 also have Omni membership (16 are independent showroom dealers). Linda Hoff says many vendors have enjoyed double-digit increases with the group and many have doubled or even tripled their volume with LPG showroom members since joining the group. LPG was on track as a group to purchase $56 million from member vendors in 2015, which would be an 11% increase above 2014 levels, she notes.

“Members make LPG vendors their ‘go-to-first’ suppliers and use vendors not in the group only as necessary,” she says. “Offering a select line of vendors gives showrooms different vendor options they might not have known or considered before.”

Tonya Martin, of Greenville, S.C.-based ProSource, says LPG’s creation provides a benefit for the salespeople in the company’s five showrooms. “Our showroom salespeople are able to participate in the industry and have a voice in the products we sell,” she says. “It creates brand loyalty and at the same time the feeling of being more vested in their careers.”

ProSource conducts a contest each year among its showroom salespeople and the person with the highest sales through LPG vendors attends the LPG annual meeting.

LPG Committee Chairman Don Smith (Central Arizona Supply) agrees:  “LPG makes it easy and encouraging to send our showroom personnel to attend the yearly conference where they also can see why LPG vendors are where our purchases should be made,” he says.


Embracing history

Omni was born in 1980 after several members of an existing buying group decided to branch out on their own. Less than a decade later, Omni’s member numbers grew when it purchased the Solidarity buying group. Bob Hoff, who started in the industry working for water-heater manufacturers A. O. Smith and Bradford White, came aboard in 1985. He says around the time he started, the group was doing in the neighborhood of $50-60 million in sales through Omni vendor members, a far cry from the more than $1 billion the group produces in member vendor purchases today.

Omni, which has close to 245 distributor members in more than 545 locations, is headquartered in Aurora, Ohio. In addition to the Hoffs, the Omni staff includes: Jennifer Filippi, Barb Marinelli, Stephanie Palmer, Ann Travarca andHarvey Wasserman.

Hoff notes the group’s key turning point occurred in 1994 when it became member-owned. At about the same time, Omni created a member participation policy. “We said in order for a member to get more from the group, you have to step up and do certain things to help us grow,” he says. “That was the driving force that helped us really start moving forward. In 1994 we were about the same number of members that we are today, but now we’re doing a lot more business.”

Today, Omni’s Frequent Buyer Incentive (FBI) program rewards members for their active participation for making purchases through Omni vendors. “Everything we do is geared around getting members involved with the vendors within the group as well as maintaining their purchases with the vendors that support us,” Bob Hoff says.

John Broedell, president of Jupiter, Fla.-based Broedell Plumbing Supply, has seen the FBI program help many member companies turn the corner in their businesses. “The more you participate with Omni vendors the more you get out of it. It’s transparent,” he says. “Vendor incentives and opportunities produce better sales and rebates, plus it helps the small guy all the way up to the bigger guys.”


Vendor importance

Both Omni and LPG are proud of the vendor rosters they have assembled over the years and the continued support they receive from those manufacturers and service providers.

“When we started LPG in 2010 a number of vendors took a chance on us not knowing if this new venture would be a success or not,” Linda Hoff says. “Our current LPG members are happy they took that chance. Vendor reps also have been a big help. Our members tell the reps they’d buy more, but they are not an LPG member. You can bet the reps get word back to headquarters. Over the last five years we’ve improved on and built new relationships to take us into the next five years and beyond.”

Mark Whittington, VP/GM traditional plumbing channel at Elkay, is appreciative of Omni’s flexibility in dealing with the kitchen and bath product manufacturer. “Even as we’ve added to our portfolio, Omni has supported us and gives us the opportunity to provide Elkay’s full line of products to its members,” he says. “Both sides have worked hard on building a partnership that contributes to the mutual benefit of both organizations.”

Bradford White President and CEO Nick Giuffre adds: “The Omni members are extremely committed to the vendor members of the buying group. That commitment has bred a tremendous level of loyalty and respect between the manufacturers and the independent wholesalers that belong to Omni.”

Joe Maiale, vice president of wholesale sales at InSinkErator, loves Omni’s business conditions survey that is released every six months. “It’s remarkable how accurate those surveys are,” he says. “That’s a valuable forecasting tool to InSinkErator.”


The value of networking

Omni holds two key meetings each year. The spring meeting, which this year is being held on the Big Island in Waikoloa Village, brings members and member vendors together for multiple days of business meetings and networking opportunities. In the summer, Omni hosts its vendor invitational that features around 50 Omni platinum members (the highest level a member can attain in the FBI program) meeting with a yearly rotating list of Omni vendors (the group has about 130 vendor companies).

“The vendor invitational is two hard-hitting days,” Bob Hoff says. “It’s a review process where our members who have risen up to the top level of our participation policy interact, discuss and review relationships with invited vendors.”

Zoeller Pump Co. Marketing Manager Mark Huntebrinker enjoys the ability to interact with Omni’s roster of various-size distributors at the meetings. “The spring meeting provides a great mix of business and social networking opportunities with members and other vendors. It provides a solid platform for us to better understand our customers’ needs.”

LPG’s annual meeting occurs prior to Omni this year in Huntington Beach, Calif. The gathering offers members the opportunity to interact with vendors that set up shop in full product display booths. “It’s not just us talking about our company,” says Michael Berger, of Gurnee, Ill.-based Barclay Products. “We have LPG members talking about us to other members. LPG runs a nice cooperative event. They go out of their way in supporting their vendors.”

While the meetings have a distinct business component, Omni and LPG members alike place a high value on the networking opportunities.

“The immediate benefit was on the purchasing side. Getting better discounts and purchase rebates made a big impact on our profitability,” says Jay Hults, of Warren, Mich.-based Progressive Plumbing Supply. “As time went on, the relationships we developed with Omni members and vendors proved to be the most valuable aspect and it continues to be. Omni’s programming creates incredible networking opportunities and we have learned so much as a result from our vendors and especially from our fellow distributors. We consider our relationship with Omni a critical part of running a profitable operation.”

Mike Plasier, of Sioux Center, Iowa-based Plumbing and Heating Wholesale, says Omni allows his company to compete with larger regional and national distributors. “Without the benefits of our Omni relationship, Plumbing and Heating Wholesale may not have survived as an independent distributor,” he says.

Bob Hoff, who is slated to retire in the near future and is in the midst of executing his succession plan, sees a robust future ahead for both Omni and LPG. “Omni and LPG will continue to grow with new thoughts and new ideas,” he says. “This is an exciting time.”


This article was originally titled “Plenty to celebrate” in the January 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.