Park Supply Expands Beyond Plumbing

Park Supply was founded as a plumbing supply company in Huntsville, Ala., in 1963, which was all they aspired to be for their first 50 years of existence. Then they hooked up with House-Hasson and the rest is hardware history.

With House-Hasson’s assistance, Park Supply has added a 3,000-square-foot hardware store in the back of their 8,000-square-foot plumbing showroom, opening up all sorts of new possibilities. Since the company operates as a plumbing wholesaler, they also have an 82,000-square-foot warehouse in the back.

“In the past if we needed some hardware items we’d buy them from a local independent hardware store. We had some retail, about 20 SKUs, and wondered if we could become more of a one-stop shop for our customers,” explains James “Jimbo” Saunders, who is in charge of marketing and purchasing as one of three co-owners.

They have been buying from House-Hasson for 18 months, and find it easy to do business with the company. “Anthony Grizzard is our sales rep, and he along with Taylor Hasson and Rick Walker have all helped us a lot,” Saunders says.

The remodeling work started in March and they spent a lot of money to redo the counter in the back, which previously was used by plumbing contractors to order products. “We are just now getting settled with this new approach to business. There are a lot of opportunities in hardware, and we’ve just scratched the surface,” Saunders says.

“House-Hasson suggested the assortments, but we were able to pick and choose what worked for us,” he adds. “They were suggesting housewares—maybe someday, but we’re looking for companion products now.”

So far the response from customers has been tremendous, according to Saunders. “They say, ‘Wow. We just love what you did.’ Whenever you polish something up it creates a new level of excitement with your customers and your employees,” he says.

Guys like coming in the back hardware section while their wives look around the showroom. And Saunders notes that plumbing contractors like to physically touch products to fit things together.

“We have experienced, conscientious, knowledgeable people,” says Saunders. “For a lot of products in the showroom we have to work at selling, but if we can keep meeting people’s needs with our hardware product mix then that’s what we want to strive for.”

 

Maintaining a Tradition

When James Park Sr. started the company 51 years ago, he believed the key to success was building relationships with people. The company has stayed true to that philosophy ever since.

Saunders, Rusty Dinwiddie and Mark Stephens were all long-time employees when they collectively bought the business from the Park family in 2008. Saunders has been there 18 years; Stephens has been there 35 years and handles sales, while Dunwiddie has a 30-year tenure and handles the financial side as president.

“Mr. Park opened a showroom when that was not common. We were influenced by him to think on down the road,” Saunders points out.

Thinking outside the box, they now can offer customers entirely new categories of products such as flashlights, knives, hunting products, tape measures and gloves.

“Pipe valves and fittings provide very low margins, but there’s no quoting and haggling with hardware items,” Saunders points out. “It’s new money for us, selling items we never would’ve without House-Hasson’s help.”

Their sales ratio is now 70 percent wholesale/commercial and 30 percent retail, and they want to continue growing the retail side more. They opened up the end of the showroom so they can flow more traffic to the retail counter.

House-Hasson has helped Park Supply with its prices, which is all part of their learning curve with the retail side, according to Saunders. “Park Supply is the dominant player in plumbing in our market, but we like to stay below the radar so the big-box home centers don’t pay much attention to us. We want competitors to think we’re a sleepy little supply house, but we’ve found we can be very competitive,” he says.

Saunders notes that they have customers asking for products like work lights, and since they get a truck delivery every week they can respond right away. “On the plumbing side it might take four to six weeks to be able to make an order that is priced right,” he says.

He likes the ease of ordering with Etoolbox and their next initiative is to take advantage of House-Hasson’s e-commerce program. “We’re already set up for it with a large warehouse and sophisticated technology systems,” Saunders says.

Expanding into hardware has opened their eyes to new possibilities in retail. “We would love to duplicate what we’re doing here in another market,” Saunders says. “The trend is working toward smaller, one-stop shops. In smaller markets you can offer a general merchandise store that still emphasizes plumbing. We think we could be successful with that.”