Alpena Supply Co.

IMG 4176Alpena Supply Co. distributes plumbing, heating, cooling, piping, industrial and janitorial products to portions of the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.

When Michiganders want to explain where their town is located, they hold up their hand flat like a mitten and point to the spot on the hand – which is roughly the same shape as the lower peninsula of Michigan – where their town is located. For Alpena Supply Co., its three branch locations are mostly around the “fingertips” in a fresh, unspoiled portion of the state.

“We cover part of the upper peninsula as well as the lower peninsula,” President Bill Kelly explains. “We’re pretty active in close to 24 or 25 counties that we’re serving into the upper northern  part of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern side of the Upper Peninsula.” Alpena Supply’s territory extends roughly down to the knuckles on the “hand.”

Alpena Supply Co. distributes plumbing, heating, cooling, piping, industrial and janitorial products from its headquarters in Alpena, Mich., and from two other branch it has acquired and renamed Great Lakes Pipe and Supply in Petoskey and Gaylord, Mich.

“When we bought those stores in 2002 and 2003 from competitors that were struggling in the industry, we wanted to start one generic name,” Kelly says. “Since Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes, we thought we would  add these branches and have one common name. The idea was to transition Alpena to Great Lakes at some point, but we didn’t feel the need. We were so embedded with the name of the town as part of our company name that we thought we would leave it right where it’s at.”

Kelly attributes Alpena Supply’s 73-plus years in business to “the ability to meet our customers’ needs, resulting in their commitment to continue doing business with us. We’ve been able to last this long by treating the customer fairly and being able to provide what the customer needed.”

Transfer Trucks

The company’s distribution center in Alpena measures approximately 40,000 square feet, with 18,000 square feet in Petoskey and 16,000 square feet in Gaylord. Alpena is the main branch location, and the company runs transfer trucks among branches for shared product orders.

“If it’s a commodity where it takes a truckload to bring it in, we’ll buy on a truckload basis, bring it to Alpena and split loads to other branches,” Kelly says. When possible for bigger product lines, the company has the products shipped directly to each branch so the load does not have to be broken down and shipped to each branch. Alpena Supply

When Alpena Supply shuttles products back and forth among branches, it always tries to have some products brought back to fill the backhaul. To achieve this, some products are shipped to one branch so they can be distributed to the others on backhauls.

“In between all of this, we’re delivering to customers as we go between branches,” Kelly says. “So [we] provide service to customers and branches as the trucks moves down the road. We’re trying to maximize our fleet use including our regularly dedicated truck routes. It’s a coordination of efforts trying to make an efficient process of bringing the product to market.”

Each branch has its own market that it serves with a particular mix of products. “The main branch in Alpena will have a heavier inventory of all products, and branches like Gaylord might not have as much of one commodity, but they will be stronger in the piping because that branch is at the center of the state,” Kelly says. “That is where our main pipe yard is.”

Alpena Supply Co.can ship 21-foot-long steel pipes. “That is the hardest thing to handle,” Kelley maintains. “It’s nice if you have a central point to ship out of. So that makes sense to bring it here and reroute it to various branches as needed.” Two of the branches utilize  overhead cranes.

Forklifts are used for material handling, and some products are stored outside the branches , such as plastic and steel piping. “We try to keep as many products inside as we can, but we have such a variety that we do end up with a fair amount outside,” Kelly concedes. “That doesn’t hurt us. We rack bigger-diameter steel pipe outside because it’s typically going to be used outside.

Inventory Depth

Alpena Supply Co. has live inventory at all its branches. “We tend to stock a little heavy so that our customers don’t have to worry about us being out of stock,” Kelly says. “We definitely want to maintain an effective level of assurance that they can place  their orders and inventory will be there for them.”

Each location has its own fleet of trucks and delivery vehicles. Kelly estimates that the company’s total fleet numbers approximately 14 vehicles.  Transfer trucks are 26 feet long and make branch transfers and customer deliveries to distribute the cost over multiple applications. Those trucks usually make branch transfers three days a week.

Kelly credits Alpena Supply’s employees and vendors with the company’s success. “We have been fortunate to have a good support network of manufacturers and rep agencies in providing us with the right tools to succeed in getting their products to market,” Kelly says. “As a company, we’re very proud of our workforce and the success that they’ve brought us by their efforts.”

Alpena Supply’s 39 employees have approximately 500 years of combined experience with Alpena Supply. One employee has worked for Alpena Supply for 44 years, and several have worked there for 30 plus years. The company also is actively recruiting younger workers.

Kelly is grateful to the company’s customers. “We wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for our customers,” Kelly stresses. “They desire to continue to do business with us. That’s the result of earning their trust, doing our job and meeting customers’ expectations. Our best sales tool is service  –along with  competitive prices and  quality established products.. Our commitment is not only in the inventory and bricks and mortar, but in the people that take care of the customers’ needs, who are very technically capable people.” 

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