2016 Rep of the Year: Hollabaugh Bros. & Associates seek balance in the Pacific Northwest
There’s something about a city with a sense of humor about itself. There are only a couple of cities in the United States that have adopted the “Keep XXXX Weird” slogan. In Austin, Texas, it was adopted by a small business coalition to promote the local businesses. It was picked up for the same reasons in Portland, Ore., but now it’s a slogan that promotes individuality and local art.
Even being located in Portland, there’s nothing much “weird” about a city that’s attracting businesses like Amazon, Boeing, Alaska Air Nike, Intel Facebook and others to the region. At Hollabaugh Bros. & Associates, a manufacturers rep firm based in the city and the 2016 Reeves Journal Rep of the Year, there’s a ping pong table in the warehouse and a little fitness center on-site. Maybe you could call that “weird.”
Based in a couple of nondescript brick buildings on a triangle of land near the railroad tracks, there’s nothing at all weird about the face the company puts on for the world every day. And, after talking with the Hollabaugh Bros. management team, you’ll come away with the idea maintaining balance in business is a far more important theme than keeping it weird.
Hollabaugh Bros. & Associates has a long history in Portland. Founded in 1945 by Roy Hollabaugh, Sr. as Roy Hollabaugh Co., Roy Hollabaugh, Jr., took over the reins in the 1950s until the 1970s when the torch was passed to his son, Brad Hollabaugh.
“And then our father Brad, along with his business partners, took the business over and basically ran the business all the way into the mid-2000s. He retired last fall,” said current president Chad Hollabaugh. “And so Casey and I became owners in 2004 and worked our way up the food chain. And finally, once Dad was ready to retire, we began the process of buying him out.”
The company is now a fourth-generation operation with a reach across Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Northern Idaho. There’s a second location in Kent, Wash., and the company, which offers lines such as A.O. Smith, Watts Water Technology, Charlotte Pipe, TOTO, Uponor and Woodford, among other major players, employs 32 people and finds time to support charities like the Wounded Warrior Project, ALS and supporting customers’ charitable functions.
The current Hollabaugh executives are neither hyperactive hired-gun MBAs who followed a resume in the door nor thick-headed fratboys running the family business into the ground. In fact, president Chad Hollabaugh, his brother and executive vice president Casey, along with operations vice president Jeff Woodard, all got their first taste of the plumbing business working in the warehouse beginning nearly 30 years ago.
“Both Casey and I developed a vision together,” Chad said. “We worked together for years before I made the move up to Seattle [in 2013] and our two largest markets are Portland and Seattle. We developed our strategy together of structure, of teamwork. Basically, the philosophy that working together we accomplish a lot more versus what an individual could ever hope to bring about.”
He said the goal was to create a balanced company, sharing together, getting stronger together and through that accomplishing so much more than would be possible as individuals: “And there is a lot that goes within what I said there developing our structure and strategy within the commercial market, which Casey does very well, and developing our strategy on the residential side of things,” Chad said.
The concept of balance spills over to the company’s product lines, too. Market balance is an important philosophy so a lot of the company’s lines have both residential and commercial offerings. The company’s approach to its day-to-day is a balance, too, with roots firmly planted in what has come before, but with a steely-eyed vision on the future.
“What we’ve worked hard to bring about really encompasses past generations up through now and into to the future where we can incorporate what a traditional wholesale rep was with new age thought in broaching mechanicals, engineers, architects together to help pull through our wholesale channels,” Casey said.
In today’s economic climate especially, a company that wants to make a mark needs a strategy. Chad said Hollabaugh’s strategy is four-pronged. First, the company has made an investment in its employees to build their industry knowledge. Second is to have the correct levels of staff to efficiently cover the territory, handle calls and quote jobs.
Third, Chad said, is to, “Focus on market share gain and market share balance for the factories so we are in a position to grow regardless of where the commercial or residential markets are at,” he said. “Balance is key to being in a position to keep growing,” he said, noting the fourth prong on the company’s strategy is its investment in technology to increase communication speed with customers.
“Business moves forward with or without you,” Chad said. “We keep moving forward by continually investing in our people, in relationships within our industry, and in technology.”
“We’ve always wanted to get bigger. We wanted to grow,” Casey said. “We have to grow with a consistent presence. We can’t just decide we are going to expand to 50 [employees]. We have to do it with respect to our current people, and we have to do it with respect to our lines and do it effectively and efficiently. I think that is what we have done and we are getting to the point where we have 32 [employees], that is really the largest we have ever been as an agency. And the sky’s the limit. We are looking to continue to grow.”
Chad said what the company’s leadership does on a daily basis is to work to create standards and processes that are efficient and replicable so its customers can depend on fast, accurate, and dependable service, and identify and address bottlenecks that get in the way of a balanced working environment. Along with a dedication to customer service it all adds up to the company being the recipient of several awards, including an Uponor sales goal award for posting the largest commercial market share growth in the country, an engineered products top sales award from Zoeller and the company was TOTO’s 2014 Rep of the Year.
“And so, that focus is really our philosophy of working together as a team and having total coverage in our territory as an agency from the principals to the sales managers, to the outside sales team and inside sales team, Chad said, adding what he’s most proud of at the company is its heritage and size and, most importantly, its integrity: “Our leadership models the same ethical and personal/professional accountability that we expect from our employees,” Chad said.
There isn’t a typical Hollabaugh customer, Casey said, in that the company sees everyone from architects and engineers to contractors and even homeowners walk through the company’s doors: “With our customer base, our phones, they don’t stop ringing. We average 300 calls a day into our operation,” Casey said. “Every one of those is a customer of some sort. Even the guy that’s got a toilet that’s running nonstop has the ability to be a customer for us if we service it right, and we take care of the business. So we need to do it and answer his questions like he needs us to do.”
Chad agreed: “We take an 80/20 approach, but we do the best we can to communicate with as Casey was saying, the small plumber. Those guys are gold and that is our roots. That is our heritage is working with those repair model plumbers and the new construction plumbers,” he said. “Now that there is a broader demand for communication within our line package, it goes with the plumbers, the big mechanicals, engineers, architects. Then you get into the waterworks side of things and the fire protection side of things, turf and ag, and the heating side of things, HVAC side of things. There is a very broad group of customers that we get involved with and require a decent size agency to be able to maintain that communication. But not being in a reactive mode, being in a proactive mode of growing our product lines.”
A manufacturers rep has a bully pulpit from which to observe trends in the kinds, sizes and designs of plumbing products moving through its doors to eager contractors and others looking to complete a retrofit project or new construction.
Ask Casey Hollabaugh and the answer comes back quick as a wink: “There has been a complete transition over in Oregon and in Southwest Washington to Uponor PEX, Casey said. “Now PEX has an 80- 90% share of the market, he said. “All your major builders here are using PEX. Your remodels are all going to PEX. Rarely do you see anything, especially new housing going anything but PEX. And now, what that’s doing is transitioning into the commercial sector where they use half-inch all the way up to three-inch. We have a very progressive market over here.”
Chad said he still runs into contractors that don’t really know reps too well. He said there is a significant amount of information available on the company’s lines and a storehouse of knowledge available at the rep that can benefit everyone.
“We do sizing and designs. We provide training. There is a tremendous amount of information that we have access to that can benefit the whole entire construction of plumbing industry with the complete package that we offer, Chad said. “There is a reason why the fourth generation is still in business — because we pride ourselves in long-term relationships that are built on trust. A lot of people have worked here 10-, 20-, or 30 years and we’ve got multiple generations, working for Hollabaugh Brothers because of the opportunity that we provide and we take pride in providing for. And so, I want to make sure we make note of that. When we talk about the secret of our success, it starts with a culture of respect, culture of service and investing in our people, and creating an environment that retains talent.”