Welcome to the Safe-T-Cover Podcast, where we take a little time to chat with the folks who make the water industry so very, very interesting. On this episode, we'll interview Nate Peirce, from HR Prescott & Sons, a Waterworks Distributor located in Massachusetts.
Cary: Welcome to the Safe-T-Cover podcast, where we take a little time to chat with the folks who make the water industry so incredibly interesting. In this episode, we'll chat with Nate, an independent waterworks distributor located in the Northeast portion of the United States.
Cary: I appreciate you coming on and chatting with me. It's great to talk to you again. I think you and I met probably 11 or 12 years ago. I just got promoted to the national sales manager of fire and waterworks at Watts, which basically meant I was in charge of backflow preventers. So, my boss was like, “Hey, go to this WASDA show.” And I was like, “What's WASDA?” He's like, “Oh, it's water and sewer distributors.” And I was like, “Okay, well, I'm a waterworks guy so I better know these guys.” So I went there for the first time and you and Sam took me under your wing. And I think you led me around and introduced me to all the movers and shakers and put me on the good golf team and stuff like that.
Nate: My brother is in WASDA and he got me into it. And for those who don't know, WASDA is the Water and Sewer Distributors of America. So we all meet and we have a business roundtable as you know, in the fall. And then we have sort of a fun one in February where we goof off, but we network.
Cary: It's networking, but yeah, but I always appreciated you guys helping me out like that, getting me in there and introducing me to the good people, the friendly people.
Nate: Well, the interesting thing is we're from the Northeast, central Massachusetts is our waterworks distributorship, and we service primarily Worcester and it's over a hundred years old, started in 1914. My brother and I are big sports fanatics and you can imagine growing up in this area, long time sufferers. Then in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series. The Celtics won one, the Patriots, as many of you know and probably hate, we had a lot of success, but yeah, so we'd go to the games.
Cary: To, especially those of us from Atlanta. Yes, that's right. We really hate the Patriots.
Nate: I watched that one the other day actually, and we had something in common because you're a Georgia Bulldog and I actually left the region and went to Clemson University. Think we're both big football fanatics. So it's always fun to see people at these conferences and talk sports.
Cary: Yes, yes. That's always been a common thing for us going to two southern football schools where college football is king. So speaking of that, where were you on September 4th of this year?
Nate: You know, I could have gone to that game in Charlotte, but it's a short season for summer in New England. New England's the best place to be from, I say May to October and that was Labor Day weekend. And there was no chance I was leaving my place on a lake, an island actually with no electricity and no running water. Picture canoes and, you know, little aluminum boats with 10 horsepower outboards, that’s how you get out to the island. But I did bring my fully charged iPad, to my wife's chagrin, and I was able to watch that game on the iPad. But no, I didn't leave the lake to go to Charlotte to watch.
Cary: That's right. That's right. Yeah. That was a good game. I was there in Charlotte, that would've been cool to hook up with you there, but yeah, it's tough to be a Clemson fan. You all go to the national championship game every year. So it's pretty much you against Alabama every year. I don't feel too bad for you.
Nate: No, I suspect not.
Cary: Yeah, obviously big college football fans. That's always fun to talk about at our meetings. But I wanted to get you on here, you know our podcast is about the water industry as a whole, to talk about the best practices and protecting the water supply. That's our big thing. And we always like to talk about innovative new products and things that are advancing the water industry. And I definitely wanted to get you on here because as a distributor of waterworks products and innovations, you have a little bit of everything. As a manufacturer, I specialize in the things we manufacture. But as a distributor, you have to know every manufacturer and every industry and every contractor. Tell me a little bit about that.
Nate: Well, you know, certainly over the course of my career, the best value I can be to our customers is to be a problem solver. And so they'll come to us and they'll ask us a question and they'll use the wrong terminology. It's gotten easier because of these iPhones and these Android phones and I can say to take a picture of what you're talking about, and when you come in and talk, we can discuss it. But they'll basically say, I want to get from point A to point B, and this is what I have to do. And these are some of the circumstances, like they're on a state road or they have to do it to a hospital and they can only do a minimal shutdown or it's a large community. So they want to do it after people have had their morning showers and are out the door, but they definitely want to get it done before the kids get off the school bus and, you know, back to life.
Right. So they don't wanna inconvenience too many people. So yeah, being a part of WASDA, actually, when you meet people like yourself and other people in the industry, they come to the conference with their new technology and you think, well, nothing is really new in waterworks, but no, there has been a lot of advances in materials. And then, let's just take a coupling, for example, a coupling that was six or eight bolts is now two bolts and it has a wider range, and you can get in and get it done and fix things quickly and get the services back on. It's interesting.
I like to say nobody's reinventing the iPad, not somebody out there who's gonna take my sort of career and job away. There are people who are inventing new things that I can pass on to my customers, you know, our customers are people who get up in the morning before the sun comes up; they get in their truck and they go to their job site.
Some of them are business owners and they have to catch up on the weekends with billing and the office side. But for the most part, they're out there working. They're not on YouTube watching videos, they're not up to speed and reading articles about different scenarios where they've used an enclosure to solve a problem. I think they rely on us to kind of give them that information. And I always like to impart a lot of knowledge to our customers so that they can then talk intelligently with the water department or an engineer because I don't wanna disparage anybody. But some of these people think their way is the only way. And they haven't seen some of these products that are out there. I always like to say I try to spend their money the way I spend my own.
You can go big and expensive. You can go cheap and maybe not the best solution, or you can have a balance of the two, right? You can get it done cost effectively, but get it done the right way. So I present a couple different ways to do it and then let the customer choose. And so that's been a real benefit of being part of a national organization where all of us get together and discuss innovation in our industry. And then I also won't tell you the name of the company, but I was invited to go to an innovation summit with one of the manufacturers where they asked us what we like to see from their company. They implemented a lot of the ideas and they still to this day send me and other people who went to this innovation summit questions and videos from their engineering department, when they're developing a product. They want to know our input. Would this be something we would use? Would it be something we don't use? How would we tweak it? And things like that. And what started out as when I was a kid, just unloading crates of product and for the inventory on the, on the shelf.
Cary: Yeah. It's totally different now, like you said, you look at it as you're the problem solver, but then you're also an instruction manual, a white paper guy who knows all the new stuff that's coming out, ways you can save time, save money, every manufacturer I've worked for. You know, we sell only through wholesale distributors because we see that value that you impart to the customers, because there's no way I can get to your territory and see your customers and tell them all about how great Safe-T- Cover is, or Watts, or Apollo, or whoever you're talking about?
Nate: It’s like we know a guy, right? So like somebody, I need an enclosure and I know a guy, his name is Cary Wiley, but now Cary’s done the work and Safe-T-Cover has made a video that's on a video platform. And I could say, ‘Watch this two minute or three minute video.’ Then the customer says, “Aha, I gotcha. So what I'm gonna need is some dimensions and some specifics, and I come back to you and, you know, you help me out with that.’ So a conduit's another thing that we are for sure. Because you have to do all this hard work and then we have to disseminate it to the end user.
Cary: I would say your worst job is that you have to deal with all these manufacturers.
Nate: No, my worst job was in the morning. I get here early and, you know, contractors want to get up and out. And so there's a rush at the door, which makes you feel good. But you know somebody wants to see you and you come out from your desk and you're helping the yard guy. You're out there, it's cold and you're talking to them and they wanna talk and chat about anything. And sometimes you're taking 10, 15 minutes and you're like, okay, I gotta get back to it. Because I like to get things done, but you know, I will talk to people, but here it was, I think 24 to 30 degrees in the morning and you're outside and you're like, yeah, this season it's changing. That's the worst part of the job.
Cary: And that's an interesting part about you being from the Northeast, you know, I'm from Atlanta. So it gets cold here about once every two years. And I spend a lot of time in the south and I just got back from Texas where, you know, down in Houston, they had a big freeze this year and all their backflow preventers froze and you know, you all account for all that it's built into your year really and built into everything you do. Whereas in the south, oh my God, it gets cold.
Nate: And that's an interesting thing you bring up because a lot of the customers wonder today about what's going on with supply and demand issues. And you know, earlier in the year I was reminding people, “Do you remember the freeze that happened in Texas?” Well, you know, resin and PVC, a lot of that stuff comes outta that region. And if they get shut down for even a week, there's a backlog. That's been another thing that was interesting: I asked a lot of questions at the recent conference. I keep talking about WASDA, but I asked a lot of questions because I wanted to give accurate information to people on why there's a shortage in a certain product. And it wasn't just because the containers are backed up off the Port of Los Angeles. Depending on the product, there was a very good reason why they had a little hiccup. And then how the manufacturer solved that. I mean, you even said, “Hey, it's hard for us to find a labor force where we manufacture backflow covers,” and I've used that recently to tell people that Amazon takes all the labor, and how are you gonna compete with that? And how are you gonna produce and supply the demand, right? It's a difficult thing to solve.
Cary: No doubt, no doubt. So supply chain, obviously I was gonna ask you about that. Obviously it's affected you, is it like everybody says, the worst it's ever been?
Nate: Yeah. I've never had it like this. Just yesterday I sold out of a one-inch K copper that we used to go from the street to the house and I usually am on top of it. I saw the issue coming this summer and I double bought, but now it's come to the shelves are bare because I contacted my first supplier, the go-to, and they said, ‘No, we don't have it.’ We still have your backorder, but we don't know when it's coming in.
So I went to number two; this is why sometimes it's smart to buy from more than one person. Because you don't go to them with your hand and your hat in your hand. And I said, “Hey, do you have any copper?” They said, “No, Nate, we don't have any copper. We don't know when we're getting it.” Then of course along comes a customer and they come in for a roll of copper and they said, “Nate, you don't have a roll. That one says it's sold on it.” And because it’s the last roll and I've written in magic marker ‘sold, sold, sold.’ And I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do? I promised to somebody else, who has the same problem you have.’ They gotta put it through a concrete floor and pour the cement. It's hard not to have stuff on the shelf.
Cary: Especially when you plan well and solve the stuff coming and extra steps to have everything and it still doesn't matter.
Nate: We're an independent distributor. As you mentioned earlier, I work with my brother. So we never went to the economic school that said, you know, you have to buy only this amount each month because the bean counters don't want any extra inventory. Well, we like to say, well, it's not gonna go bad. It's not lettuce. So buy as much as we can. And we do buy as much as we can. But then it's this demand that has just been crazy. I haven't seen it like this.
Cary: So one other thing that you do as a distributor is you're a bank as a manufacturer that only sells through wholesale distributors. We love it. You're our customer. You guys pay us on time. It's like clockwork, but it's not the same for you.
Nate: No, it's not. It's not easy. It's actually very frustrating. I mean our customers, it's 90% of them are good. 10% of them aren't that great. And that's because maybe they're not good business people with their finances, or maybe they're just not that great. It's sometimes like we're used as a bank. I mean, sometimes the developer will say, well, when I have a closing, we'll pay you. And, and my response is, ‘When did I get into business with you? And do I get 10%? If you have a profit of 10%, like, are you splitting that with me?’ Right. You can tell who's using you to finance projects and you have to ask yourself how much do I really wanna do business with this person? Certainly in 2008, you know, we got stuck.
Things were hard because who saw the bubble in the housing crash and you know, a couple people went out and, you know, we still pay the Safe-T-Covers and the ductile iron suppliers and the valve and hydrant manufacturers. We have a reputation that we don't want that. We want to keep being able to buy products. So that was something, we're a family business. That was always something very important to our father to have integrity in that regard. So we have always paid our bills. We don't live extravagant lives because, quite honestly, I could tell you the people who have, how should I put this, they've trespassed against us. And they, might still have summer house, and their yachts, and fine automobiles, but we've never had that stuff because every year somebody takes something from you. So it's hard. And sometimes I think, ‘Oh, it'd be nicer to be on your side of the fence because you know, you've gotta guarantee that a distributor is going to pay you.’
Cary: Absolutely. We love it. We love it. You buy as much stuff as you want.
Nate: It's just been a blessing to be in the industry. I didn't know, as a kid, what I was going to do and try different things. And I think you'll find that water works. People like yourself and people who are associated with WASDA, you know, there's salt of the earth and you don't think about it. You know, you flush your toilet and it goes away. You turn on the sink and you fill your coffee mug and make your coffee. And it's an out of sight, out of mind thing. But there's a whole group of us out there that are getting up every morning and getting this thing done so that we can have a hell of an uncomfortable lifestyle. So, it's been a blessing and a real pleasure to meet people like yourself. And I appreciate you asking me to come on the podcast and just talk about our little niche of it.