Rich-Tomkins Co.
Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin addresses 150 Milwaukee Valve employees at the company’s manufacturing facility in Prairie du Sac, Wis. The products made in Wisconsin are installed at NNS’ shipyard in Virginia for aircraft carriers and other ships in the U.S. Navy fleet. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Valve.

You can only learn so much from behind a desk.

Emails on the latest study results, trend reports and new product releases are important to our business, but they don’t come close to leaving the office and seeing the industry in action.

The last two months provided a pair of great opportunities for me to get out and see our industry in action.

In mid-April, I went back to the City of Brotherly Love (which hosted Greenbuild 2013, the first trip I made in my current position) to see the inner-workings of Rich-Tomkins Co. — our 2014 Manufacturers Rep of the Year. Quite simply, Stew Chaffee and his leadership team — and his predecessors – have cultivated an impressive business that takes care of its clients and employees.

One of the refrains I heard from Chaffee during the 1 1/2 days we spent together in Philadelphia was: “We are potty peddlers. This business isn’t hard.”

Eventually, however, our talks led to the Great Recession. I asked how he led Rich-Tomkins Co. through that dark period just a few weeks after taking over as president from Ken Holloway.

I wasn’t there, but I know that business was indeed hard. The fact that the company was not only able to survive, but begin to thrive is nothing short of impressive. How did they do it? Well, you’ll have to read the full story. How’s that for a tease?

Next, in early May, BNP Media Plumbing Group Publisher Bob Miodonski and I trekked north from suburban Chicago to Prairie du Sac, Wis. We were invited up to visit Milwaukee Valve’s manufacturing plant and meet with Newport News Shipbuilding, one of its premier customers.

NNS President Matt Mulherin addressed the assembled group of nearly 150 Milwaukee Valve employees to discuss how the products they create work in the aircraft carriers and submarines built at NNS’ shipyard in Virginia.

Mulherin educated all of us in attendance. Personally, I learned that the average Navy aircraft carrier has a 50-year lifecycle and only comes in for one major overhaul during its run.

It was an educational experience for Mulherin and the NNS brass as well.

“It’s important to come out and see the quality of work happening here,” Mulherin said in an interview with pme. “We just got a couple shipbuilding contracts recently. That means there is going be a lot of work flowing through the facility.”

To read more about the Milwaukee Valve and NNS partnership, please read the full story on page 34.

Here I was in my home state of Wisconsin, in a small town I believe I heard about once in my formative years (probably at the opening of deer hunting season) and I’m learning about the U.S. Navy’s fleet.

It just shows the impact that our industry makes from a big city on the East Coast to a small town in the Midwest.

I’d say the travel costs were well worth it.