Eastern Industrial Supplies Inc.
Values are everything for Eastern Industrial Supplies Inc. (EISI), including living up to its promises to clients, President and CEO Kip Miller says. “We do what we do when we say we will,” he says.
Greenville, S.C.-based EISI distributes pipe, valves, fittings and commercial plumbing products. Miller notes that the company’s history goes back to 1980, when three partners started EISI after leaving their jobs at a competitor.
Today, the company employs a staff of 250 and serves the mechanical, industrial PVF and commercial plumbing markets, Miller says. EISI serves them from 16 locations throughout the Southeast.
EISI also provides multiple services. “We offer vendor-managed inventories, pipe cutting, threading, grooving, quarter-turn and linear valve automation, and a 24/7/365 national emergency [line],” Miller says.
The company also provides furnished trailers to job sites. “This eliminates labor costs to the contractor for sorting, receiving and stocking material at the jobsite and provides them with a secure area for jobsite essentials,” he says.
Miller has 35 years’ experience with EISI. He started in the company’s warehouse and learned the business from the bottom up, before taking the role of vice president in 1985.
“The owners of Eastern were great mentors for me when it came to running a business,” Miller recalls. “They provided me with valuable tools for successfully owning and maintaining such an organization, and I began thinking of how I would handle situations, if ever allowed to be the boss.”
In 1986, tragedy hit EISI with the death of its owner, George Bagwell. But before he died, Bagwell expressed his opinion in a meeting that Miller should be his successor if anything were to happen to him.
Although a major competitor was expressing interest in recruiting Miller, he chose to stay with EISI. “It was the memory of a meeting that really solidified my position,” he recalls. “Mr. Bagwell met with all the employees and informed [them] that in the event of his death, [I] had agreed to buy his stock. Of course, all I had agreed to do was accept the agreement that was an option to purchase his stock. The competitor’s offer was double my salary, but the people I worked with were my friends. When Mr. Bagwell suddenly passed, I knew that I could not abandoned my friends at the point in time.
“I was tasked with ensuring that George’s estate, the company, its customers, and its associates and families were taken care of, and I knew in my heart that I would stay,” Miller says. “I raised my salary just enough to cover debt payments incurred with purchasing George’s stock and made no more money over the next several years as I concentrated on paying down debt, growing the business and caring for our associates and customers.”
Strategies for Growth
During his early days of leadership, Miller implemented a three-pronged strategy to modernize its operations and help it grow. The first, he notes, included implementing a new computer system that could handle multiple branches and all growth parts of the business, including inventory, sales and maintaining accurate financial records.
His plan also included buying a location that would be EISI’s home branch and central operating center. The company ultimately bought land in 1993 that now operates as its Greenville branch and distribution hub, Miller says.
EISI also established a second location in 1995 that became its Anderson, S.C., branch. “We knew we needed to and wanted to expand, but also understood that we’d never [operate] remotely, and an adequate test facility was necessary before spreading ourselves too thin,” he recalls.
Miller’s initiatives also included establishing a support structure that enabled him to better care for employees and customers. As part of this plan, Miller began to assemble an experienced management team, which today includes Executive Vice President Kim Miller, Vice President of Procurement Alyn Judkins, Vice President of Operations John Snover, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Richy Milligan and Vice President and CFO Robby Davis.
EISI hired a consultant who initiated the development of the company’s “success plan” that it updates annually. “Ultimately, this strategic planning effort provided a much-needed road map that resulted in a smartly planned and timed business expansion,” he says.
The company also joined The Piping Connection, a buying and marketing group that increased its purchasing power and allowed it to pass on better pricing options to its customers. The Piping Connection later merged with a larger group, C.L. Watt, which ultimately became part of Affiliated Distributors.
Miller sat on Affiliated’s PVF board from 2000 to 2010. “We’ve had a tremendous ride with these organizations,” he says, noting that the memberships enabled EISI to create deeper relationships with select vendors.
“Plus, being a member of Affiliated Distributors has been an invaluable educational tool,” he says.
Eastern has a strategic plan and accompanying initiatives for every dimension of its business. Key areas include quality of life for associates, associate development, communication, measurement and accountability, expansion and acquisition, branch profitability, and sales and marketing.
In addition, the company continues to invest in system efficiencies focusing on operational excellence that produces predictable and repeatable outcomes.
Eastern invested in its fabrication services by adding 9,000 square feet to its distribution center and purchasing a threading machine, saw and grooving machine. This gives Eastern extra capacity to furnish a quick turnaround of any type of pipe modification needs, “with quality second to none,” Miller says.
Eastern also enhanced its 24/7 after hours emergency service by partnering with vendors and obtaining contact names and numbers. “Most of Eastern Sales Associates have access to Eastern’s ERP system at home and through Eastern’s Mobile App, called Eastern OE (order entry) Touch, a mobile App to meet customer’s needs remotely,” he adds. Eastern OE App is its on-the-go solution for customers and associates to price bids, check stock, place orders, view pricing and much more.
EISI is aiming for continued success, which is embodied by the phrase “PVF 150,” he says. “’P’ stands for ‘people,’ ‘V’ stands for ‘value’ and ‘F’ stands for ‘faith,’” he explains.
This represents the company’s philosophy of putting people above profits and establishes its goal to earn $150 million annually within the next several years. “Everything we’re doing is around our people, our values and our faith,” he says. “Those will carry us to $150 million and beyond.”