Contractingbusiness 2306 Wholesalermorrison

Don’t Mess with Morrison

May 17, 2013
How do you keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in a 96-year-old company that has grown to become one of the largest HVACR distributors in the Southwest? By hiring new entrepreneurs who are eager for the opportunity to run branches like a business while providing them with the expertise, product diversity and buying power of a large company.

This is what keeps Ft. Worth, Texas-based Morrison Supply Co. in a state of expansion and development. There are 92 branches in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kansas – and the plan is to keep growing. “In HVAC, we want to double our size over the next four to five years,” says Stan Allen, president of Morrison Supply. “We want to reach a billion dollars in sales by 2017 as a company.”

Morrison Supply was founded in 1917 by J.T. Morrison, W.L. Armstrong and R.P. Turbeville as Forth Worth Pump & Windmill Co. In 1920, the company changed its name to Fort Worth Supply Co. to reflect a new focus on plumbing supplies. By 1926, it had become Morrison Supply Co. in recognition of Morrison’s leadership. From there, the business expanded throughout the region.

As a leading wholesale distributor in the Southwest, Morrison Supply specializes in plumbing, HVAC, PVF, waterworks and oil and gas supplies. In addition to their branches, Morrison Supply has retail showrooms that supply plumbing fixtures, door and cabinet hardware, accessories, lighting and appliances. Such diversity of products and customers as well as its ability to maintain a low cost base helped Morrison Supply survive the economic downturn. “We did not have to close any stores,” Allen notes.

Kevin Moore, Morrison Supply’s chief operating officer and director of HVAC operations, says the business came out of the recession a little better than most and, over the past four years, has had double-digit growth, which includes a nice mix of organic growth and acquisitions. Since putting a greater focus on the HVAC side of the business, they’ve gotten better alignment between the branches with inventory and how they go to market. “We’re focused and all headed in the same direction, and that’s where we attribute most of our growth,” says Moore.

Allen, an industry veteran with Ferguson, joined Morrison last March and became president in January. He says his goal is to grow the business profitably and leverage its size while maintaining its strong customer focus. “We want to strive to be the preferred supplier of choice in every business that we are in,” he says.

Allen also wants to take advantage of such back office consolidation as purchasing that gives a company like Morrison Supply some great advantages. Morrison Supply’s first distribution center, which opened in April to service the 92 branch locations, is one of the ways that the business is gaining efficiencies.

Located in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, the distribution center serves to alleviate the challenges that branches were facing with being able to carry the amount of product their customers need, says Moore.

While Morrison Supply is committed to leveraging its size, Allen is quick to point out that this will not hinder the ability of managers to operate their branches in a way that is best for their local markets. “We empower our managers,” Allen says. “We give them a lot of autonomy to run their business.” Such autonomy allows Morrison Supply as a company to be agile and make fast decisions as managers. “You don’t have a lot of restrictions. There’s oversight, but people have an opportunity to run their own business and control their destiny.”

“It all starts with our branch managers,” Moore says. “They are very involved in the decision-making process, not only for their branches and their markets but also in how we go forward as a company.”

While large companies may be unable to make adjustments in their strategies because of the several layers of decision making that have to be navigated, Morrison Supply prides itself on quick and timely decisions. “When you put a lot of layers in between, you drive costs up,” Allen says. “If it takes a week to get an answer on something simple, then that’s too cumbersome.” He says branch managers can call him directly if there’s an outstanding issue that they can’t address. “It doesn’t have to go through an approval process,” he says.

That kind of agility, he says, is a key to attracting smart, aggressive people who want opportunities to prove themselves. “We’re not a sexy business,” Allen says. “How do you still attract talent? From an HR standpoint, how do you get young talent into the organization and perpetuate it?” Allen has a quick and ready answer to that question: “We’re going to grow and develop you. You’ll have opportunities faster than most. You can run a business at a young age and grow for a long period of time. We’re innovative; we’re going to continue to challenge ourselves as we strive to perpetuate a culture of being the best.”

Because of this attitude and Morrison Supply’s programs to train and promote people within the organization, they have smart, engaged people who not only know a whole lot about products, but they also have a pulse on what’s happening in the industry as well as wider trends that may impact HVACR. “Our business model has attracted a lot of good, young aggressive people,” Moore says. And good people attract other good people, making it a self-sustaining cycle that is good for business.

Morrison at a Glance President & CEO: Chip Hornsby, CEO; Stan Allen, President; Kevin Moore, COO Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas Operations: 92 locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas Employees: Under 1,200 Major Product Lines: Comfortmaker, Honeywell Controls, Honeywell Genetron, Hart & Cooley, Owens Corning, LG HVAC Products Annual Sales: $605 Million Total;
$108 Million HVAC Website: Year Founded: 1917

In addition to attracting young talent, Allen also notes the ability of Morrison Supply to retain their people. He points to the number of associates with more than 20 years of experience with the business as well as those who have five to 10 years of service. Even as technology plays a larger role in how everyone does business, Allen says HVAC distribution remains, at its core, a relationship business. “It’s a good business. It’s down to earth with customers from all different backgrounds. Once it’s in your blood, it seems to become a career.”

Morrison Supply focuses on hiring employees that are able to balance their entrepreneurial attitude with strong interpersonal skills in order to keep relationship building in the forefront of its associates’ priorities. “Making sure we service our customers well,” is how Moore sums it up. Any distributor can make a sale, but Morrison Supply’s associates have the training to make sure that customers are getting exactly what they need for every situation. “We believe that whether it’s product training or business development training, the better educated our people are, the better they can assist our customers,” Moore says.

Morrison Supply branches in some of the larger markets are actively involved in training and education seminars, typically hosting customers for product and technical training. These branches also serve as NATE training and continuing education sites as a way to promote and encourage technicians to grow their skills and knowledge.

Branches are designed and adjusted according to the demographics of the local markets. “In every market, the purchasing habits of the customers are a little bit different,” Moore says. “Our managers are able to adapt their business at the local level to service their customers.” With so many branches spread across diverse markets, regional managers play a role in helping to ensure that there is alignment throughout the business while mentoring younger employees.

The branch manager determines how a particular branch goes to market as well as the products they carry based on the needs of their customers. They’re on the “front lines” of the business, Moore says. “We are a big company, but we operate at a local level.”

Staying close to Morrison Supply’s vendors is a role in which everyone in the organization plays a part, especially the regional managers, branch managers and business group managers. “We take the relationships with our vendors very seriously,” Moore says. “We give them the same respect that we give our customers. Their livelihood can be dependent on how well we do our jobs.”

Best Practice
  • Annual Managers Meeting
  • Definition and Example: During the three-day event, we establish our goals and initiatives for the calendar year. Being aligned as an organization is key to execution of this mission.
  • Significance: We have clear direction of what needs to be driven to meet our financial objectives.
  • Benefits: Builds camaraderie and allows an exchange of ideas between managers and executives with years of experience.
  • Procedure: Initially we establish a message or theme for the meeting. The actual meeting consists of presentations and business updates along with regional breakout sessions.
  • People Involved: All branch and regional managers as well as key corporate department heads and executives.
  • Timing: Late February.
  • Cost: A hotel or resort to host more than 200 people. Food, lodging and annual awards.
  • Other Considerations: We meet annually for the benefits of our performance and culture.
  • Contact: Jennifer Williams, 817/870-2227, [email protected].

One of the biggest challenges noted by Moore is keeping up with – and reacting to – changing government regulations. “It’s an ever-changing landscape,” he notes. New regulations often give distributors and vendors little time to react and make the appropriate accommodations, particularly on regulations regarding energy efficiency standards and the management of
refrigerant allocations.

Government regulations notwithstanding, Morrison Supply is looking ahead to a bright future. As the region continues to grow, and the business continues to hire and develop bright, customer-focused associates, there is a great deal of enthusiasm throughout. “We’re excited about our future. Our company continues to focus on our people, and we’re perpetuating an environment of being the best – a company that people want to work for,” Allen says.

Michael Maynard is a contributing editor based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].