Rosen Plumbing Supply Co. knows that its customers have no shortage of options when it comes to procuring plumbing and heating supplies. The Tacoma, Wash.-based company distinguishes itself from big-box stores and other distributors by being the most knowledgeable in its region and meeting its clients’ needs. 

“I think we have a cohesive team that really understands that the customer is the key, and customer service is how we will separate ourselves from the competition,” Managing Partner Adam Rosen says. “Everyone can buy the same items and at the same price, so what we try to do is be the best at service. We’re big enough to buy correctly, but small enough to react quickly, which is a good combination that has served us well.”

For one of its customers – a large mechanical contractor – the company developed a staging process that involves separating and staging pipes and other plumbing supplies for multistory office and residential projects by floor and by room. “We worked together with our customer to build a delivery system that allows them to work and receive materials more efficiently,” he adds. 

Like many tables across the country, dik Bolger’s table is covered with college brochures, jewelry catalogs or healthcare information packets. The difference is that the marketing materials on Bolger’s table aren’t delivered in the deluge of daily mail, but are his own products. 

Bolger is the owner and CEO of Bolger Vision Beyond Print, a Minneapolis company that is one of the major players in printing and customized technology services. As he thumbs through the finished products, Bolger is not just reading the information; he’s checking the image quality and feeling the texture of each page. It’s a sensation that cannot be replicated by a smart phone or a tweet, and one that continues to make print a viable part of the digital future. “Print has an intrusive quality that makes it a critical part of any marketing campaign,” Bolger says.

BlackHawk Industrial CEO Bill Scheller admits the company’s rapid growth in just five years of existence may seem extraordinary to many of his peers in the industrial distribution industry. “If you look at our space and what we’ve been able to accomplish, I’m sure there are people shaking their heads wondering how we’re doing what we’re doing or asking if we have some sort of secret mojo,” he says. “To me, that kind of mystique is good, and is a validation of what we’re doing here.”

Founded in 2010 by Scheller with backing from Brazos Private Equity Partners, the Broken Arrow, Okla.-headquartered company has established a footprint across North America through a geographically focused “buy and build” strategy. Since its inception, the company has acquired a number of small, regional distributors, which it then provides with the scale, resources and capital they need to grow. “The Graingers and Fastenals or other big boys in the space make up maybe 25 to 30 percent of total marketshare, with the balance consisting of more than 100,000 independent distributors,” Scheller says.  

A network of independent distributors and manufacturers of construction and industrial products, AD strives to facilitate growth for its members and suppliers. The organization helps independent distributors to compete against national and international chains, and it works with manufacturers so they can build and protect their brands, introduce new products and diversify their channel strategy.

AD includes more than 550 independently owned members, spanning 3,605 locations, seven industries and three countries. Together, they have collective annual sales in excess of $31 billion. The organization’s member distributors may be independent, but they are also the independent market leaders within their local communities. 

Able Distributors’ president Michael Bleier describes the heating, cooling and ventilation market as mature and saturated. “There’s not a lot of blue in the ocean,” says Bleier, who has worked for his family-owned business for 22 years.

Able Distributors is a heating, cooling and venting supplier that serves Chicago’s professional contractor community. The company carries approximately 50 product lines and has established a reputation as a supplier that puts contractors first, Bleier says.

For Bleier, the question becomes: what can he do to position his mid-sized, Chicago-based company for success in the future as the landscape of the marketplace begins to change? 

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