Despite some headwinds, WIT & Co. distributors finished 2015 on a positive note and are optimistic about 2016.

WIT Executive Vice President & COO Charlie Moorhead told Supply House Times during the buying group’s annual Distributor/Vendor Conference at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas that the group’s “same-store” volume was up 4.5% in 2015.

Moorhead noted it was a hard-earned 4.5% growth. “We had two longtime WIT distributors — Security Supply and Riback Supply — sell their businesses and leave the group last year,” he said. “In addition, the deflation we experienced with plastic and copper commodities created a statistical anomaly of sorts. Even though we showed increases with most of our commodity vendors when measured in pounds, our overall dollars were slightly off with key commodity product categories of copper, PVC and ABS. These product categories account for a significant portion of our distributors’ businesses.”

Moorhead said the depressed commodity pricing in the industry will continue to bear watching in 2016.  “As long as key commodities such as steel, copper and oil remain at their current price levels, I expect that we will continue to see pricing on many commodity products in these categories remain very competitive as distributors compete to retain or grow share,” he said. 

WIT is looking at overall growth in the 3% to 6% range for 2016, Moorhead noted. “While the majority of WIT owners grew their business last year, the growth among the owners was somewhat uneven,” he said. “Generally, the urban markets outperformed some of the smaller urban and rural areas, and the drop in oil prices impacted some of our markets more than others. Some areas were up double digits, while others showed much more modest growth. We see that trend continuing this year.”

Moorhead also feels the industry will continue to see selective acquisitions with both distributors and manufacturers and is aware of several WIT distributors who are looking at making possible acquisitions in 2016.

Looking ahead, Moorhead revealed WIT’s Technical Committee is working with a major software provider and WIT’s staff to enhance the group’s WIT-Net business model. “I’m convinced the easier we make it for our distributors to do business with our manufacturers, the greater value we bring to our vendor partners,” he said.

During this year’s meeting, which was the final one hosted at the Anatole before switching to the downtown Dallas Hyatt Regency next spring, WIT debuted a special vendor open booth session that allowed WIT owners to network with member vendor representatives during a four-hour time frame. The inaugural event attracted 80 manufacturers — three times more than what WIT had expected for the debut — and some 200 distributor attendees.

“The feedback on our tabletop venue has been outstanding,” Moorhead said. “Our distributors were able to see new products and visit with all the manufacturers exhibiting. The flow of our distributors was consistent throughout the afternoon and our vendor partners were pleased they had the opportunity to visit with distributors in a more relaxed setting. Overall, it was very effective and productive for everyone. We’re very pleased with the support we received, and we already are working on ways to make it even better next year.”

WIT introduced two new distributors at the meeting: Raleigh, N.C.-based Carolina Plumbing Supply joined Jan. 1, while Miami-based AM Distributors came aboard March 1.

During its general session meeting, WIT revealed its annual top distributor performer awards. In terms of top purchase volume, Oregon-based Consolidated Supply Co. again topped the WIT charts for 2015, followed by Goodin Co., Standard Plumbing Supply Co., Dakota Supply Group and Plumbing Distributors, Inc. Pinellas Park, Fla.-based Hydrologic Distribution Co. took home top honors for 2015 in terms of growth percentage, followed by Johnson Air Products, Brock-McVey Co., Dakota Supply Group and SOLCO Plumbing Supply.

On the vendor side, Seal-Tite was honored for 40 years of membership in WIT, while Anaco USA, American Brass & Iron, Moen, Sioux Chief and ThermaSol Steambath were cited for 25 years of service. For a complete list of WIT award-winners, read here.

This article was originally titled “Charging ahead” in the April 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.