Empire State Associates
Empire State Associates’ product quality, experience and reach distinguish it in the plumbing and HVAC market.
By Jim Harris
Empire State Associates’ (ESA) principals are highly aware of the struggles facing the wholesale distribution companies it serves. “Our vision, which we talk about all the time, is to remain pertinent and relevant to the wholesalers, engineers and contractors we do business with,“ says Bill Frenzel, one of the three principal owners of the Ballston Spa, N.Y.-based manufacturer’s representative agency.
Product expertise is one way ESA remains relevant in the face of increased competition from big box and online retailers. “You can go to a [big box store] and see someone in their heating department who’s been there for maybe a few months,” he adds. “If you have a problem with a water heater sold in the store, you’d have to take it back and have it replaced, but we train our customers to troubleshoot it and fix it in place.”
The company employs two technicians who offer technical training for wholesalers, contractors and engineers on the plumbing and HVAC products it represents. ESA’s line card includes leading manufacturers of plumbing and heating products.
Representing the Best
Recent additions to ESA’s product lines include AO Smith water products, which the company added a few years ago. “We represent the premier lines in the industry,” Frenzel says. “There is no line that we represent just based on price and not features, quality and their benefit to customers; we pride ourselves on that.”
The addition of AO Smith to ESA’s line card enabled ESA to stock and sell water heater parts directly to its wholesale customer base. The company also stocks parts on the behalf of two other manufacturers.
Equipment sold by ESA is used in both commercial and residential settings. National distributors make up a portion of ESA’s business, with independent firms making up the balance. The company also works with engineers to get its products specified in projects including new construction, remodels and retrofits.
All of ESA’s customers can expect exemplary service from the company. “We preach to our staff that if you tell somebody you will do something you do it,” Frenzel says. “The things we do best are service, following up and representing quality products.”
The company continues to improve on its services and offerings. In recent years, ESA has updated its website to include links to training videos. “People today can go to YouTube and learn how to do just about anything by watching a video,” Frenzel says. “Someone installing a faucet that we represent can link from our site to YouTube for a how-to video. This is just one way we’re keeping up with technology.”
Decades of Growth
ESA’s history dates back to the 1940s, when Eric Wellisch, a New York City resident who often traveled to upstate New York to make sales calls, started the firm. He was joined in the 1950s by partner Greg Magratten, and the company became known as Wellisch Magratten Associates. In 1974, Wellisch sold his share of the company to Dale Norris, who had formerly worked as a territory manager in upstate New York.
In 1979 Jim Martin, a veteran of the wholesale industry who previously started his own agency, joined the company. Martin brought to the company – then known as Magratten Norris Martin Associates – several product lines, including Cherne and Fernco. Frenzel, who previously worked in the plumbing wholesale business, joined the company after Magratten’s retirement in 1986. The company the following year changed its name to Empire State Associates.
The company has quadrupled its sales since Frenzel joined the company. Today, ESA’s principal owners are Frenzel, who covers a sales territory that includes Syracuse, Binghamton, Watertown and Utica, N.Y.; Bill Norris, Dale’s son, who joined the agency in 1992 and manages a sales territory in eastern New York; and Adam Frenzel, Bill’s son, who joined the company in April 2006 and has covered the Rochester, N.Y., area since May 2009.
Frenzel says the company prides itself on attracting and retaining highly qualified sales staff and other employees. “When it comes to salary and benefits, no one in our industry does for their employees what we do for ours,” He says. “We don’t turn staff over, and people like working for us.
“I am very proud of the people who work for us,” he adds. “They get up every day and work hard for us until the job is done, and that brings tremendous pride to us as owners. We take satisfaction in seeing the people who work for us become successful, because if they’re successful, we’re successful.”