American Pipe & Supply
American Pipe & Supply grows in size and plans to open a new branch.
By Kat Zeman
Business doesn’t get better by chance. It gets better by change. That’s how John Howe sees it. In the past four years, since taking on the role of CEO at American Pipe & Supply, he’s made changes that have helped increase sales revenue by 60 percent.
American Pipe – a Birmingham, Ala.-based wholesale distributor of pipes, valves, fittings, plumbing supplies, fire sprinkler materials and underground utility products – anticipates to grow in revenue by another 25 percent each year. “We grew 24 percent last year and the industry was flat,” Howe says.
Changes made under Howe’s leadership include a shift in sales structure and a modification to responsibilities within the company’s sales department. “We restructured how we track sales activity and what we expect out of our salespeople,” he says.
Howe credits the company’s executive vice president, Harry Hays, a 40-year industry veteran, for helping to utilize the new system. The restructuring also included promoting Chris Cochran to director of sales.
Prior to American Pipe, Howe worked at Staples Inc. for 13 years as its vice president of supply chain for the southeast region. On arriving at American Pipe, he made a number of key changes in leadership, such as hiring a new director of operations and CFO.
Brant Watts, former executive vice president and CFO for 16 years at Birmingham, Ala.-based Jemison Metals, is the company’s new CFO. At American Pipe, he is responsible for finance, accounting and asset management. Matt Steigerwald, who previously worked at Staples Inc., is the new director of operations.
Howe believes that the company’s success hinges in large part on maintaining a favorable relationship with employees. To encourage this, the company revised how it measures success and conducts employee reviews. “We created an individual development plan for each employee,” Howe says. “We don’t rate our employees anymore. Instead, we ask them where they want to go and help them get there.”
Other recent changes include a new leadership group for high-potential employees, increased vacation time and non-escalating employee healthcare contributions. “Our goal is to pay above market to attract and retain the best employees,” Howe says. “When we give them a career path and show them that we are invested in their development, they tend to stay.”
American Pipe, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, recently expanded its facility in Nashville, Tenn. It moved into a new a full-service branch in Nashville in 2015 that allows for a bolstered inventory.
The facility features a five-acre pipe yard and expanded warehouse. This allows it to stock more recognized brands and products in piping, plumbing and fire protection materials. It also has an express will call service that enables customers to pick up previously ordered items in an expedited manner.
Its customers include industrial and commercial contractors, industrial manufacturing plants, underground utility contractors and fire protection and plumbing contractors. “The company has experienced significant growth and our Nashville-area customers benefit from this new expanded location and services,” Howe says.
American Pipe also has branches in Birmingham, Decatur and Montgomery, Ala. Each location features a full-service counter and a warehouse stocked with a full inventory of supplies and material. The Birmingham and Nashville branches also house fabrication shops.
“We’re also looking at expanding our fabrication offerings,” Howe says. “We are currently looking for property to build another branch.” This could become a reality by the end of 2017, he adds.
Partners and Products
American Pipe partners with more than 300 vendors. One of its largest is Tyco Fire Protection Products, a Lansdale, Pa.-based manufacturer of water-based fire suppression system components and ancillary building construction products.
“We don’t consider them just a vendor. We consider them a partner,” Howe says. “They have been instrumental in our growth during the past three years.”
Specifically, Tyco has helped American Pipe with employee training and development and improving customer relationships, he says.
American Pipe is also known for its diverse product line that numbers in the thousands. It sells hundreds of variations of pipes, valves and plumbing equipment along with a variety of tools, safety equipment, thermometers, gauges, drains and insulation.
Since 2001, American Pipe has been a member of Affiliated Distributors, the largest distribution network in North America. It is comprised of more than 350 independent distribution companies with over 5,000 locations, and carries its members’ products. American Pipe had the second-highest growth rate among Affiliated Distributor’s PVF (pipe, valves and fittings) members in 2016.
When it comes to charity, American Pipe employees have been known to give generously. The company raises roughly $10,000 annually for people suffering from multiple sclerosis by participating in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Walk MS in Birmingham.
“I’ve seen the effects of MS first-hand and I want to do all that I can to help find a cure and improve the lives of those suffering with MS,” says Howe, who was the corporate chair for the MS Walk in 2016.
American Pipe has its own fundraising group called Direct Affect. Established in 2005 to help raise funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina, it has since become a fundraiser for various charity events and local outreach programs.
Direct Affect has allowed the company’s “culture of giving” to take on a life of its own. It helped raise funds for Project Hope (an orphanage in Honduras), Habitat for Humanity, Crippled Children’s Foundation, United Way, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and PADS. In addition, the group mailed care packages to U.S. troops overseas and often participates in walk-a-thons for charity.
In 2015, it raised more than $3,200 for juvenile diabetes research programs by participating in a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk – a record-breaking employee attendance.
American Pipe also contributed to Operation Lakeshore, a $2.3 million project that consisted of constructing 10 cottage-style houses for wounded soldiers and their families in Homewood, Alabama. The company donated all plumbing fixtures and material for the cottages.
In addition, employees often contribute to local events like community blood drives, rescue missions and youth and children’s homes.