Pictured are (left to right) Peck Johnston, Sid Mealor, Charlie Wallace, and Justin Dunscomb. Mealor, WIT’s past president from Plumbing Distributors, and Dunscomb presented awards to Johnston and Wallace as founding WIT members.

Thirty years ago, five independent wholesale distributors envisioned a group of peers standing together as equals and becoming a powerful force in the heating and plumbing industry. It was their belief that each member of a buying group should be an equal owner with an equal voice, yet they should still be able to keep their individual identities.

Now on WIT's 30th anniversary, their dreams have become reality. Members of the WIT buying group have truly become a force in the industry, with more than $2.5 billion in aggregate sales.

"We have been successful because we have the same objective today that we had 30 years ago," said Peck Johnston, chairman, Johnston Supply, Marion, Ohio. "If someone joins WIT & Co. today, his stock ownership is the same as mine from 30 years ago. I don't know where we - or a lot of other independent distributors - would be today if not for WIT."

"Our core purpose from the beginning has been to help our owner-members remain competitive and independent," said Justin Dunscomb, executive vice president of WIT & Co.


Plumbing has historically been WIT's largest-volume category, but HVAC has always been a large part of WIT. Today it is the fastest growing segment of WIT's business, and WIT's HRA division for HVAC products is attracting very successful HVAC distributors, said Dunscomb.

"Because of WIT, my company has been able to remain a family-owned distribution company in eastern Pennsylvania," said Randy Tice, president of APR Supply, Lebanon, Pa.

"With WIT's help, we have been able to grow our company from four locations to 13 in a very short time. Because of the WIT ‘influence,' we are more profitable with all of the vendors that we use.

"For over 15 years, WIT has kept us a viable and profitable company. ... WIT helps the independent distributor stay independent."

Brian Cobble, president of G.W. Berkheimer, Gary, Ind., was just as adamant.

"We became a member of WIT in January of 2001 and have found it to be a truly positive experience," he said. "As a member of the WIT Recruitment Committee, I have found that I not only benefit from the services that WIT offers, but in particular from my ability to network and share ideas with a group of my peers.

"In the future, I feel that it will be critical for HVAC distributors to band together to combat the increasing competition in our industry. The HVAC industry needs a group that can work as a national entity, promote the benefits of belonging to a buying group, and help the independent wholesaler stay in business. With a great track record of 30 years experience in managing relationships, WIT & Co. has proven that it can do just that."

Still Growing

In its founding year, WIT grew to 15 distributor members. Today, its current membership of 79 distributors is just slightly short of WIT's 85-member goal.

"We are trying to strategically fill those limited open slots," said Dunscomb. "What we are striving for is to be major players in our markets, and have good geographic coverage across the country."

"WIT stands for Wholesale distributors, Investing together, and Trusting each other," said Charles (Charlie) Wallace, chairman, president and owner of Ross Supply, Marion, Ind., one of the five founding distributor firms.

"We have a strong history of leadership in the industry with our members," stated Jeff Smalley, WIT's director of business development.

The involvement of WIT's members in the American Supply Association (ASA); Heating, Airconditioning, Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI); and other industry associations is extensive, including vice presidents, trustees, and board members at the national and regional level.

Frank Paonessa, Calvin “Tripp” Hills III, and Bill Gagliardi of Plimpton & Hills (Hartford, Conn.) meet with a WIT vendor in Dallas.

Affiliated Vendors

From 31 in 1985, to more than 150 today, the number of WIT's vendor partners has grown steadily over the years. WIT's tremendous growth in HVAC has helped stimulate growth in the number of approved vendors as new product categories were added.

The ability to buy competitively is the most important service WIT provides its distributor members, Dunscomb said.

A close second in importance is networking opportunities that enable distributors to discuss best practices and learn from each other, he said.

WIT also provides marketing services to vendors and distributors to help move product through the channel, Smalley pointed out. "Our marketing services function as a marketing arm for vendors."

Over the years other services have been added, such as insurance programs and technology solutions, to reduce the cost of transactions between members and vendors."

Chris Lute, president of Lute Supply, Portsmouth, Ohio, joined WIT in 1993 and has not looked back. "I have found that an almost equal benefit is the knowledge that we all gain from each other through networking," said Lute.

"As equal owners of WIT, we develop trust in each other. I've said that another distributor will openly share 95 percent of what he knows or thinks, but it's the other 5 percent you really need to know. The WIT forum facilitates the delivery of that other 5 percent.

As WIT's new president, Lute wants to continue to cultivate the success that WIT has experienced.

"To accomplish that, we must maintain and grow our strong presence in the marketplace," he said. "Our company enjoys the benefits from insurance and marketing programs, and we continue to find ways to cut cost from our distribution chain through technology. We want to continue to differentiate ourselves from other buying groups and be leaders in marketing and technology."

Lenius is managing editor of Supply House Times, a sister publication to The News.

Publication date: 12/27/2004