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Van Marcke Trade Supply

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Van Marcke Trade Supply prides itself on being a convenient stop for plumbers and other customers.

By Wholesale and Distribution International Staff Editor

Plumbers in the Southwest who need supplies but are short on time can find what they’re looking for at a Van Marcke Trade Supply location. “What 7-Eleven is to Kroger, we are to plumbing wholesalers,” the Phoenix-based wholesale distributor says. “We are the convenience store for professional plumbers.”

The company operates 23 locations in the Phoenix, Ariz.; Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth markets. Each location is organized in a manner similar to a retail store, with rows of plumbing and HVAC supplies displayed in gondolas and wire baskets, end caps filled with commonly used products and walls lines with water heaters and pipe racks. Customers take their purchases up to a counter, where a staff member checks them out. “Someone can get a water heater and a pan and be out of one of our locations in three minutes; it would take them 30 to 40 minutes to do the same thing in a traditional wholesale house,” the company adds.

Van Marcke Trade Supply believes in placing its locations close to its target customer base. “Our goal is to be within 15 minutes of any market we serve, and to have our customers be able to get in and out of that store within 15 minutes or less,” Van Marcke Trade Supply says.

The vast majority of the company’s store sales – 95 percent – are to business-to-business clients, who are generally service plumbers. “During the recession, new home starts went from 66,000 to less than 6,000 a year. Our sales were flat, but everyone else was down 50 or more percent,” it adds. “We don’t chase new construction or large commercial projects – we serve the plumbers who are on the job every day.”

A Friendly Atmosphere

All Van Marcke Trade Supply locations are staffed by counter personnel who are knowledgeable in each of the products stocked in the stores. “Our guys at the counter know what this stuff is and know how to talk to plumbers,” the company says. “Our customers generally like doing business with us. There are relationships between the plumbers and the guys behind the counter because of the interactions that take place here daily.”

Counter staff build relationships in part by maintaining a friendly atmosphere in stores. This includes having a pleasant demeanor as well as offering perks such as free coffee and soda or free lunch once a week. “The No. 1 job description of anyone in my stores is to be liked,” it adds. “Saying ‘good morning’ or ‘hello’ may seem old fashioned, but we can take a stopwatch and go to other stores and find out that it takes 15 minutes to be greeted. We want to make the experience of shopping in one of our stores pleasant and almost fun.”

In addition to in-store service, the company offers shop replenishment and truck stocking services. “We can know what our customer keeps on their truck and are able to replenish that truck from any of our locations,” it says. “We can also set up stocks at our customers’ shop and provide them with a month’s supply of items once a week, so they won’t run out of something.”

Growth Plans

Van Marcke Trade Supply’s reputation for friendly service has helped it grow steadily in recent years. “Every day we hear someone talk about how they hate having to go to another wholesale supply house, but they like doing business with us,” the company says.

Growth has been an ongoing theme throughout the company’s history. The company was formed in 1981 after Belgium-based Van Marcke Group purchased Phoenix Pipe and Supply in Phoenix and Universal Pipe and Supply in Tucson, Ariz. Phoenix Pipe and Supply dates its history back to 1959, while the Van Marcke Group itself has been in business since the 1920s.

The company was known as SAN Plumbing Supply until two years ago, when it changed its name to reflect its expansion into HVAC products. Van Marcke Trade Supply further diversified its offerings last year when it purchased Phoenix-based International Filter, a company that was one of Van Marcke’s largest customers. International Filter’s products include water softeners and filtration products. “This acquisition gave us the product knowledge behind their products, which we had already carried in our stores, and the ability to customize those products for any customer,” it notes.

Van Marcke Trade Supply continues to grow its footprint. This includes tripling the size of a distribution center in Phoenix that serves all of its locations as well as opening new stores. The company in July opened its fifth store in the Dallas market since entering the market in 2015. The company plans to eventually open 16 stores in the Dallas area.

Expansion within the company’s existing markets is also a priority. “We have plans to eventually open 100 stores, which will take us the next eight to 10 years to accomplish,” it says.  

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