On paper Bedford, Mass.-based plumbing, heating, HVAC and PVF distributor F.W. Webb Co., hits home runs virtually every time it steps to the plate.
Celebrating an impressive 150 years in business as a family-owned entity, F.W. Webb, ranked No. 14 on the Supply House Times 2016 Premier 150 distributor rankings, over the years has exploded into an East Coast powerhouse that features more than 90 locations across nine states spanning from Maine to New Jersey, not to mention a massive, nearly 1 million-sq.-.ft. central distribution facility being built in New Hampshire (see below).
At some point later this year, Webb will eclipse the $1 billion mark in annual sales.
On paper, that’s through-the-roof impressive.
But it’s that special $1 billion benchmark that lends insight into one of the real reasons Webb has enjoyed sustained success and has earned the sterling reputation it has among customers, vendors, reps, its own employees and contemporaries in the industry.
While that upcoming monetary benchmark was mentioned by several company executives during Supply House Times’ summer visit to corporate headquarters in suburban Boston, President Jeff Pope was quick to point out that 10-digit number had not yet been officially logged in the accounting books.
“We’ll be there, but we still have work to do in order to get there,” he says.
Operative words being “still have work to do.” Rather than focus on its many superlatives, F.W. Webb, the recipient of the 2016 Supply House Times Supply House of the Year honor for a third time in company history (it also was honored in 1979 and 1997), is steadfast in its philosophy of zeroing in on areas where the company can become stronger and finding ways to increase those strengths while keeping one thing in mind — the prosperity of its customers.
“Even if you think you are good at what you do, there always is room for improvement,” says Pope during a one-hour interview with Supply House Times. “We consistently evaluate areas where we can be better to better serve our customers.”
Cover all the bases
The term “one-stop shop” is a fairly common one in the industry. Distributors strive to have businesses where their customers can obtain most if not all their supplies under one roof. F.W. Webb is living proof of this.
Pope points out as recent as 1997, F.W. Webb was involved mainly in the plumbing, hydronic heating, HVAC and industrial PVF markets — four key areas.
Nearly two decades later, the 2,100-plus-employee company has its hands firmly in 15 different business segments, including the likes of specialty areas such as fire-protection systems and fabrication, thermoplastic piping, process controls, high-purity process components and its newest venture, waterworks.
“We are able to grow because we are so diversified,” says F.W. Webb Senior Vice President of Purchasing Ed Welch, a 43-year veteran of the company. “If one discipline happens to be weak for a certain time because of certain economies, but other disciplines are doing well, it all balances out. We constantly are improving market share in all our disciplines. We always ask ourselves, ‘Are we up in certain disciplines and what do we need to do to improve in those disciplines?’”
F.W. Webb’s foray into waterworks (that occurred earlier this year through a key acquisition) represents a huge step forward, says company COO Bob Mucciarone, a 32-year employee. “When you have the right opportunity you always want to get into it,” he says. “There is huge potential here. Most of the older cities in the Northeast have archaic sewer systems that need to be dug up and replaced. Now, F.W. Webb has everything in a building and house – from the street to the rooftop. We always are willing to try things out of the box and see if they work. Our track record in that regard is pretty good.”
Senior Vice President of Industrial Business Development Ernie Coutermarsh, an industry icon who was honored at the recent NETWORK2016 convention in New York with the American Supply Association’s IPD Award of Excellence, stresses the 15 disciplines give the company a high level of “relevancy” when sitting down with customers.
“Twenty percent of all energy is consumed in America by pumps and that is why Webb added a commercial and industrial pumps division,” he says. “When we sit down with a customer we can talk about each segment of our business and we can talk globally. We can get more products to their jobsite and become more relevant to both them and our manufacturing partners. As we make logical additions that give us greater capabilities, we can provide overall solutions to meet our customers’ global needs.”
Getting involved in such a wide swath of industries means having the manpower and knowledge to further push forward the company’s mantra of “Every customer counts.” Thus, Webb recently hired six corporate sales leaders who have technical expertise in the various company disciplines. “This has propelled us into new dimensions,” Mucciarone says. “In addition, we’ve made a huge investment in hiring skilled employees with technical knowledge who can answer our customers’ questions. When we sell something to a customer we want them to have a positive experience every time. It’s an easy calculus, but it’s not done everywhere in the industry.”
That commitment to those disciplines hasn’t gone unnoticed among Webb’s vendor partners. “F.W. Webb services an incredibly vast number of markets,” Apollo Valves Executive Vice President Cal Mosack says. “They’ve impacted our focus to fully understand the importance of offering a broad breadth of product to adequately service these various market segments.”
Webb, a longtime ASA member and member of the AD buying group, also has made a recent push into taking its 40 Frank Webb’s Bath Center showrooms to the next level. “F.W. Webb has invested significantly in its showrooms, both in terms of physical space and marketing,” Director of Marketing Alicia Criniti says. “Over the past five years, we’ve expanded, remodeled and/or
opened 15 showrooms, including our first standalone showroom in Needham, Mass., which is a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility.”
Criniti adds the showrooms are attractively arranged with many live working displays geared toward homeowners, contractors, architects and interior designers. The company employs a full-time construction crew to rotate among the active and planned showroom renovation projects to keep things fresh and trendy, she notes.
“We always have had strong relationships at all levels of F.W. Webb’s organization with all the LIXIL brands,” LIXIL Water Technology Americas Northeast Region General Manager Steve Malley says. “They see the value our executive team and local sales teams bring to them throughout the Northeast. We work jointly to develop individual marketing plans and sales strategies for each brand to maximize all opportunities. It’s not a one-sided conversation on what one of us wants. Their local branch locations always are open to ideas to drive business and they see the value working with partners that will help them achieve their goals. This teamwork allows us to plan properly to meet all our mutual needs. This collaboration has allowed strong sales growth each year.”
Behind the Webb curtain
Information technology also plays a key role in Webb’s operational success. “IT around here is not a backroom, don’t-ever-see-it type of thing,” says Senior Vice President of IT Michael Michaud, who notes the company uses its own legacy computer system. “IT is an integral part of the business and essential to our growth. We want to be smart with technology and what we do with it and how we integrate all the different programs we have.”
One recent initiative has been the advancement of the Webb e-commerce platform. “We’ve rebuilt it to the point where it’s not just ‘place an order and see what we have in stock.’ It’s now an all-around customer-service tool for both our internal customers (Webb employees) and our external customers,” Michaud adds.
That new e-commerce platform includes inventory replenishment capabilities, enhanced mobile applications and a mobile-friendly search engine. “Customers have a lot of specific requirements. We will go to the branch or the warehouse and see where the customer pain points are and use that data to improve our services,” Michaud says. “We must make sure we have systems in place that allow our employees to have the data to make sure they have the best interests of the customer in mind.”
Michaud lauds the Webb executive team for its willingness to continually invest in the growth of the IT side of the business. “The Pope family and Bob are not afraid to spend if it is the right thing to do and if it will improve systems that benefit customers,” he says. “We have ownership that gives us the flexibility to do something like that. It makes a big difference.”
Roger Urell of Watertown, Mass.-based manufacturers rep firm Urell Inc., adds: “They always are the company striving to be on the cutting edge of technology and process of systems to make things better. The last 10-15 years, they have been on a roll and are doing a great job with that. Webb is all about people and process. They are very good at it and always are improving.”
Two more growing sales channels of the Webb business include its Riverbend Home online store, as well as a dedicated overflow call center based out of the company’s current central distribution center in Amherst, N.H.
“With Riverbend we asked ourselves if we could play against certain competitors and e-commerce sites considering all the inventory and products we have,” Pope explains. “The key is we have to make sure this doesn’t collide and collapse with our other distribution channels.”
The call center, just like the “every customer counts” slogan, is a product of Webb’s Good to Great Council (comprised of executive staff members, branch managers and operations managers) that has met five times a year for the last decade. “We throw out ideas and see if we can implement them,” Pope says. “We’re in markets that we haven’t been in before because of the council. The call center is designed to alleviate the load from our inside sales force taking product orders so they can answer more questions and help more of our customers. It’s worked great.”
And Webb is continually working to enhance its physical branch locations. Since 2011, 22 building expansions or branch openings have occurred and seven more are on the books through next year. “I’m a big customer-service guy,” says Tom Blades, general manager of the company’s extremely busy Boston location, one of the new facilities built over the past five years. “This is a huge customer-service-oriented company with people who bend over backwards for the customer. How do you succeed in this business? By knowing your customers.”
Preparing for the future
Senior Vice President of Human Resources Ruth Martin doesn’t miss a beat when talking about another key ingredient in the company’s long-term path to providing customer-service excellence. “Our people are our future,” she says. “We have a very no-nonsense, common-sense approach here to take care of people whether that’s F.W. Webb employees or customers.”
David Gooding, founder of Brockton, Mass.-based manufacturers representative David Gooding Inc., has worked with F.W. Webb since 1976 and sees firsthand why the distributor continues to blossom. “F.W. Webb has grown its business through hard work, service, integrity and the caliber of employee it has,” he says. “F.W. Webb is one of the finest companies we deal with and its growth is directly related to the quality of company and employees.”
And to that extent Webb is relentless in making sure its employees are provided the highest levels of training and opportunities to grow within the company. Webb’s CIP management program has been a major hit in preparing employees for a career with Webb by providing a comprehensive program that exposes the trainees to all facets of the business.
“We bring in existing employees or recent college graduates and train them in our operations and culture,” Senior Vice President of Operations Brendan Monaghan says. “They start in the warehouse picking orders. We want trainees to work closely with their home-based general manager and operations manager and to network amongst themselves. We also assign them to projects in other locations. This gives them the opportunity to see different management styles and different branch operations. When they become a store manager or operations manager, they will have a vast network of resources and knowledge to apply to their new role.”
The CIP program was started 20 years ago and Monaghan says the retention rate is “remarkably high.”
“It’s their commitment to people,” says George Simas, president and COO of Randolph, Mass.-based manufacturers representative Emerson Swan. “In this competitive race to find, hire and develop talent, F.W. Webb strives to be a leader. Over the past few years, especially at the general-management level, they have developed a succession plan that has taken a major challenge and achieved major success. F.W. Webb is a company committed to a continuous improvement process that drives its people and systems. This process challenges each one of us serving F.W. Webb to be the best of the best at what we do.”
Pope says future growth is on the horizon. He mentions the possibility of one day adding a second CD if volume and locational growth warrant it. In terms of more acquisitions (Webb has made eight acquisitions since 2011), he’s open to that as well. “We will expand. We are always open to the possibilities,” he says.
Pope, a former ASA president, admits the company’s recent growth has been impressive, something he shares with his father, John, another Webb industry icon who remains a presence at the company’s Bedford headquarters. “We’ve had steady and measured growth. We’re building on the expansion strategy implemented under my dad’s leadership,” Pope says. “We’re continuing to made strategic leaps to grow the company and serve the customer.”
And Pope is thrilled to be able to continue on his family’s legacy that started back in 1933 when his grandfather, Roger Pope, purchased the company.
“One hundred fifty years means previous iterations of this company have done what we’ve always strived to do — take care of customers,” he says. “Dad always says you have to earn the right to sell to customers. We do that. We’re still a quiet and humble company. I’m not a big blow the horn or make a lot of noise person. In my eyes we’re still a small company that strives every day to earn a customer’s business. We’ve always strived to be the biggest little company. We’re able to do that because of our people. We have good people and we’re diverse. We offer our customers many options and locations that have it all.”
Supply House Times’ Supply House of the Year Previous Winners
1959 — Robertson Supply
1960 — Noland Co.
1961 — EMCO Ltd.
1962 — Raub Supply
1963 — Atlas Supply Co.
1964 — A. Y. McDonald
1965 — Horne-Wilson
1966 — Taylor Companies
1967 — Palmer Supply
1968 — J. Levitt
1969 — Kiefaber Co.
1970 — None
1971 — None
1972 — None
1973 — Hajoca
1974 — Ferguson Enterprises
1975 — Standard Plumbing Supply
1976 — CSC Inc.
1977 — Trumbull Supply
1978 — Harry Cooper Co.
1979 — F. W. Webb Co.
1980 — Slakey Bros.
1981 — RAL Corp.
1982 — Familian NW
1983 — Moore Supply
1984 — Apex Supply
1985 — Noland Co.
1986 — Familian Corp.
1987 — Hughes Supply
1988 — Davis & Warshow
1989 — LaCrosse Plumbing Supply
1990 — A. Y. McDonald
1991 — RAL Corp.
1992 — Columbia Pipe & Supply
1993 — LCR Corp.
1994 — Ferguson Enterprises
1995 — Hughes Supply
1996 — Familian NW
1997 — F. W. Webb Co.
1998 — Apex Supply
1999 — Torrington Supply
2000 — Wolff Bros.
2001 — Lehman Pipe & Supply
2002 — Todd Pipe & Supply
2003 — Davis & Warshow
2004 — WinWholesale
2005 — Castle Supply
2006 — Red Man Pipe & Supply
2007 — Standard Plumbing Supply
2008 — Wilson
2009 — Robertson Heating Supply
2010 — Rampart Supply
2011 — Modern Supply
2012 — Coburn Supply
2013 — Southern Pipe & Supply
2014 — Ferguson Enterprises
2015 — Winsupply
2016 — F.W. Webb Co.
F.W. Webb excited about forthcoming, nearly 1-million-sq.-ft. central distribution facility.
One measure of F.W. Webb’s growth is as easy as looking at the evolution of its central distribution facility.
Webb opened its first CD, a 130,000-sq.-ft. facility, in 1979 and later moved to its current location, a 420,000-sq.-ft. building in Amherst, N.H., in 2004.
“I remember standing on the mezzanine level when Amherst was first built and we were using 20% of the space,” says Greg Bodlovick, general manager of central distribution. “I said, ‘No way will we ever fill that.’ Here we are 12 years later and we have more than filled the building and are leasing space in town to hold us over. In this current building we thought it would last forever and then it doesn’t last forever. It’s not a bad problem to have.”
That holdover is until fall 2017 when Webb’s new massive nearly 1-million-sq.-ft. CDC will open in Londonderry, N.H., near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. The new building, which also will continue to house the company’s successful CD Sales master distribution arm, will give Webb more than twice the space it currently has.
“The CD gives us a lot more opportunities,” Senior Vice President of Operations Brendan Monaghan says. “We can do much larger buys and opportunity buys and we can increase volume as long as the demand backs it up. The new building will sustain our growth for at least the next 15 to 20 years.”
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in late August and Webb officials say all employees at the Amherst facility will be retained when the company moves to the new facility. It’s those employees who have helped Webb grow another ultra-important part of the business — inventory and fleet management.
Monaghan points out the CD, which will balloon to a capability of around 100,000 SKUs when the Londonderry facility is up and running, has increased its fill rates significantly in recent years thanks to a rigorous commitment to providing the highest levels of service possible.
“If it’s not a 100% fill rate it’s a failure,” Monaghan deadpans. “We measure ourselves honestly. Customers remember mistakes. If they want 10 of something, they need 10 of something. When we are short on something or not timely, we’re not providing the best service we can. We don’t fool ourselves. Some people might say 9 out of 10 is OK because the customer has enough of them. An order missing one fitting might stop a job. That one fitting is a big deal.”
That customer service includes Webb’s fleet of thirty 18-wheel trucks and 25 truck drivers that make deliveries to the company’s 90-plus locations throughout the Northeast. CD Fleet Manager David Balch notes 166 separate routes are run during the workweek. Balch is proud of the fact his fleet has driven six million miles with only one minor fender-bender accident on the record over the past year. Webb trucks burn an average of 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.
“This new CD will keep us centralized,” Monaghan says. “The majority of our stores will be two hours from here. You can’t challenge this department enough to find ways to keep up with increased sales and new customers. We love the challenge. The atmosphere created by ownership has encouraged us to be proactive and not reactive. We continue to raise the bar because at the end of the day, it’s all about customer service. F.W. Webb is a customer-service machine.”
F.W. Webb Numerically Speaking
3 — F.W. Webb has been named Supply House Times Supply House of the Year on three occasions (1979, 1997 and 2016).
$1B — F.W. Webb is nearing the $1 billion mark in annual sales. The company operates more than 90 locations in nine states.
14 — F.W. Webb checks in at No. 14 on the 2016 Supply House Times Premier 150 distributor rankings.
2,100 — F.W. Webb employs more than 2,100 people.
15 — F.W. Webb is involved in 15 different business segments to best serve its customers. In 1997, that number was four.
100,000 — F.W. Webb will have the capability to stock around 100,000 SKUs when its new Londonderry central distribution facility is up and running.