Now in its 100th year in business, VAMAC Inc. has found that a key to success lies in developing long-term relationships. “We are a family business and our associates, key vendors and customers are part of our family,” Senior Vice President Corbin Perry Ensign says.
Founded in 1915, the Richmond, Va.-based company was a well drilling contractor and supply business. The company was known as Virginia Machinery & Well Co. at the time. Charles F. Cole was the original owner, owned the majority interest and remained active until his death in 1973 at age 94.
Julian G. Perry started as the company bookkeeper in 1923. Julian worked in sales and became president in 1954, purchased VAMAC in 1973 and worked as Chairman of the Board until his death in 1988. In 1955, Kenneth M. Perry, Julian Perry’s son, joined the company and became president in 1973. Christopher M. Perry, Ken Perry’s son, joined the company in 1977 and became president and CEO in 1988. Corbin P. Ensign, Ken Perry’s daughter, joined the company in 1985 and is now serving as senior vice president and secretary. The fourth generation of the Perry family – Chris Perry and Ensign’s children – joined VAMAC in 2006.
Among its first vendors, VAMAC purchased from F. E. Myers Pump Company and still purchases products from them today. In the early 1930s, the company started in plumbing and heating distribution with Eljer Plumbingware and Burham Boilers. VAMAC installed its last well in 1955 and became only a distributor; water treatment products became part of the company’s offering and have grown over the years. VAMAC entered the septic/onsite business in the early 1990s since it had already been selling septic pumps and accessories for many years.
Over the years, Virginia Machinery & Well Co. was abbreviated to VAMAC Inc., and opened its first branch in South Hill, Va. in 1965. Two years later, a disastrous fire burned down its corporate headquarters that housed its branch operation, showroom and warehouse on Main Street in Richmond. With support from its customers, vendors and two competitors, we opened up a temporary site within 24 hours. One year later, the company moved its headquarters, central warehouse, branch operation and showroom to 4201 Jacque Street in Richmond.
Further branch expansion in Virginia was continuous, Ensign says. Locations include Fredericksburg in 1972 and Petersburg in 1983, which was VAMAC’s first self-selection branch and then copied to all other locations. The company then opened a new location almost once per year in Chesterfield, Norfolk, Woodbridge, Manassas and Warrenton, Ashland, Suffolk, Leesburg, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Culpeper and finally in Winchester in 2008. VAMAC began its online division or store – Plumbing on Demand – in 2012, Ensign says.
Today, VAMAC operates as a wholesale and retail distributor with 16 branch-counter operations, two distribution centers, one retail showroom, and one expansion center. The company serves parts of West Virginia, Maryland, the D.C. beltway, Virginia’s northern and Mid-Atlantic southern region and parts of northeastern North Carolina.
Changing as Needed
VAMAC has changed with the times over its 100-year history. For example, the company added plumbing products to our mix and expanded its septic/onsite business. “VAMAC has been a pioneer for many things and has adapted and changed with the times,” Ensign says.
The company was the first in its industry and its area to install a computer and to offer self-selection service to its customers. VAMAC has also pioneered many vendor products over the years. Myers pumps, Delta Faucets, TOTO Bathroom Fixtures and Alternative Treatment Units were among the many products VAMAC have introduced and expanded over the years.
“We strive to go the extra-mile for our customers, everyday,” Ensign says about what sets the company apart. “Our company environment is like a family. We work well together and complement each other. Our counters are like the television show ‘Cheers’ where ‘everyone knows your name.’ We strive hard to make it fun and rewarding for our customers to purchase from us.
“As a family run business, we have to be more flexible than our competition,” Ensign says. “We can and are competing with all the large competitors, so we put in the extra time and effort. We try to stay in constant contact with our customers and our vendors. We try very hard to do what we say we are going to do and continue to provide exceptional service.”
One of the ways VAMAC maintains relationships with its customers is by looking for opportunities to help them build their business. VAMAC relates directly to its customers because a lot of them are also family operated businesses. “Many of them we have been working with for three or four generations,” Ensign says.
VAMAC provides its customers training and specialized people for product and system information. “We help our customers grow,” Ensign says. “This in turn helps us grow and thus, we grow with our vendors. It’s a win-win-win scenario.”
By being technology focused, VAMAC is more efficient and can host webinars and in-house training sessions for its customers and vendors. One of VAMAC’s values is shared prosperity for its customers, associates, vendors and the community, Ensign explains. “We believe we are stewards in servant leadership for others,” she adds. “We offer our associates, our vendors and especially our customers ‘The VAMAC Family Advantage.’”