Eastway Supplies

Eastway 12 copyEastway Supplies distributes plumbing supplies, pipes, valves and fittings and offers a builders division that installs closets and retail entrance glass.

By Russ Gager

Maintaining unique niches inside the business of distributing plumbing supplies has kept Eastway Supplies prospering for 45 years while it serves central Ohio. President Gary Glanzman attributes the company’s success to its dedication to the Columbus, Ohio, market. “We’ve got plenty of competitors that went regional or national and got sold out, but by staying local and expanding locally, I feel like that was our best bet, and that was what we did.”

One of Eastway Supplies’ niches is high-volume apartments. “You’ve got to know the marketplace and we have to know our position or our role in the marketplace,” Glanzman says. “What we are really strong with are the high-volume residences like apartments, and we do a good job with commercial pipe, valves and fittings, and plumbing fixtures for commercial buildings, schools and hospitals. We really work on knowing our place in the markeplace.”

Eastway Supplies diversifies its offerings with its builders division, which fabricates and installs special systems for buildings such as shower doors, mirrors, closet organizers and storefront glass. “They have their own area – a big section of our building where they prefabricate glass, aluminum and door and window frames,” Glanzman explains. “We’ve got a prefabrication area that cuts all that. That’s very unusual. It’s pretty unique to us in town or around the country. Not many plumbing wholesalers are doing that.” Eastway box

The builders division fabricated and installed a special glass entrance to a Victoria’s Secret store in a  mall. “The entrance is very customized glass that almost looks like stained glass,” Glanzman says. “The customers have a unique look they want on the front of their store, and they have created a specification for it. A lot of times, they even provide the material. We send out our crew that are experts at glazing and putting the glass in and building metal onsite to their specs for the storefront. It’s a very niche-oriented thing. We might even go out of state to do something like that.”

‘Let’s Build This’

The builders division was established nearly 25 years ago by Glanzman when he saw a side business that an employee had started fixing fiberglass bathtubs and installing shower doors on them. “I liked what I saw and I didn’t want him doing it on company time, so I said, ‘Let’s build this up,’” Glanzman recalls. From that one employee, the builders division now employs 22 people. “It’s very labor-intensive compared to regular wholesaling,” Glanzman points out.

Approximately 18,000 square feet at the company’s headquarters in Columbus is devoted to the builders division. It also has four special Sprinter trucks that have racks on the inside to carry glass. In total, Eastway Supplies has approximately 15 vehicles in its fleet that also includes box trucks and flat beds.

Approximately 60,000 square feet is devoted to Eastway Supplies’ distribution center, office and support space. In the distribution center, a manual picking system gives employees the bin location of the product to be picked. Forklifts are used for material handling, and a crane lifts steel and copper piping up to 22 feet in length onto trucks. Eastway Supplies delivers its products mostly to construction sites.

“It’s mostly around 20-foot-long pipe in standard bundles,” Glanzman says. Trucks drive into Eastway Supplies’ building for loading. “We designed and built the building in 1998,” he continues. “There are two rows of pipe and an aisle down the middle where the crane operator walks and two loading doors. It’s very functional.” Glanzman owns Eastway Supplies’ 8-acre site and recently constructed a new building there to join the company’s four other structures.

Pioneering Products

An emphasis on new products drives Eastway Supplies’ growth. “We’re always looking to take on a line,” Glanzman says. Years ago, the company pioneered in central Ohio the flexible natural gas pipe that connects appliances to their gas supplies. Glanzman says the company also pioneered polybutylene water lines in the 1980s. “We feel like we’re one of the companies that puts a new product in inventory and is willing to take a chance on it,” he declares.

A product Eastway Supplies is pioneering now is Aquatherm, a clean piping system whose green pipe is said to be completely free of heavy metals and toxic chemicals and is designed for drinking water and food processing. “We have a buyer trained on it and he trains contractors, so it’s pretty specialized,” Glanzman says.

Eastway Supplies provides extensive training at lunch-and-learns. Glanzman himself used to do training for the company. Near the company’s parts counter is a training area with a 480-volt line so equipment such as steam generators can be demonstrated and their operation and maintenance taught in accredited classes with the aid of manufacturers’ representatives.

The company’s workforce has extensive experience, but it also is recruiting younger workers. It has a program to mentor its millennial workforce. “We have seven strategic planning people on our basic management team, and each one of those people had to choose a younger person from the workforce to mentor,” Glanzman says. “We’re going to have a mentorship discussion as a technique to bring younger people into the workforce.”

Family Business

Eastway Supplies is family owned and managed. Glanzman’s father, A.J. "Bud" Glanzman, founded the company in 1971. After Glanzman joined the company, he gradually bought out his father’s partners. “It was a friendly buyout, not like a takeover,” he emphasizes. Eventually, he also bought his father’s stock to become Eastway Supplies’ 100 percent owner.

Glanzman has been working on a succession plan for his children, Mike, who is a residential sales manager, and Vanessa, who has worked for the company for 20 years in finance. “I had a guy who gave me some advice on that,” Glanzman relates. “When talking about a family business, sell your kids some stock, give them some stock and leave them some stock. So we’re not trying to do this all in one fell swoop. It’s kind of painless. I own the five buildings and real estate, and I’m using that as my retirement. I rent that to the company. That’s pretty common in our industry.”

To aid in the transition to the third generation, Glanzman is stepping back from the company and delegating more responsibility to others. “I have developed a team concept and just tried to empower the employees to give them the ball and let them run with it within reason,” he says. “You can’t have a great company without great people. We’re not a giant of the industry, but we’re very dedicated to what we do. We just try to offer good service.” 

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