Ward Manufacturing has come a long way from the company Joseph P. Ward founded in 1924 in Blossburg, Pa., with 30 employees who produced a small line of cast-iron steam and drainage fittings, plugs and bushings.
But while many companies celebrate a milestone anniversary by looking backward, Ward is moving forward.
In 2014, the manufacturer launched a full-scale branding initiative that honors its 90-year legacy while it promotes to its customers the innovative mindset of Ward today. The emphasis on brand goes far beyond its growing and diversified product line, which now also includes malleable-iron fittings, pipe nipples and its WardFlex line of corrugated stainless-steel tubing.
“We want our distributors, manufacturers reps and end users to know that having ‘Ward on Board’ is more than a marketing phrase. It’s a state of mind that is about quality, value and reputations,” President Pete Guidi says. “It’s very important for us to know what our customers’ needs are and be able to meet their needs.”
The branding initiative started late last year when Guidi hired Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tony Favilla. Ward’s new company logo, more robust website and WardFlex CSST mobile app are just the most visible aspects of Ward’s transition to a more modern company. Another key component is a more focused sales team.
“We’re not about pouring molten iron today as much as we were in the beginning. We’re about innovation, marketing, the environment, the economics of doing business, service and many of the intangibles that go well beyond the so-called ‘iron age,’” Favilla says “We’re looking for a modern look and feel that we can use as a unifying element across all our products and still leave room for individual product ‘identities.’
“We feel strongly that our new brand message has universal relevance. For example, having ‘Ward on Board’ and being ‘The Smart Connection’ should have strong significance for everyone from distributors and manufacturers reps to engineers, architects, contractors and end users.”
Focus on distribution
Supporting Ward’s distributors and manufacturers reps has been Ward’s mission since Guidi took over as president in 2006. Ward’s ability to develop joint growth plans with its distributors and reps determines the manufacturer’s rate of success, he says.
“Our distribution partners and manufacturers reps can expect vigorous initiatives by our factory sales team to work more closely with installers, builders and engineers to drive product awareness and training as well as to communicate the overall Ward direction going forward,” Favilla says. “We need to dive much deeper into the opportunities based on servicing given market segments, rather than being ‘product-centric.’”
Ward uses an umbrella approach to identify its product lines that now include cast- and malleable-iron fittings, Class 300 brass-to-brass seated unions, beam and C clamps, Wardlox plain-end fittings, Couplox grooved-end fittings, Teelox mechanical branch connectors and WardFlex CSST. This approach will allow Ward to continue to add products through either new product development or acquisitions.
“Our goal is to continue to provide leadership in our industry and to add items under our umbrella that meet the needs of our customers,” Guidi says.
A good example of a strategic acquisition to expand its offerings to customers, he notes, is Ward’s purchase of Wisconsin Nipple and Fitting Corp. in 2006. Based in Milwaukee, the company manufactures carbon-welded and seamless pipe nipples for the industrial PVF market as well as stainless-steel and brass nipples for sprinkler and plumbing applications.
“New product development and our focus on mergers and acquisitions to support our current products offering help us to become a more valuable supplier,” Favilla says. “We will apply the same high metric standards on new products to help consolidate suppliers when feasible. The real advantage here is that we will not introduce any new products without a fully vetted plan that is derived from the voice of our customers.”
Four manufacturing sites and 17 warehouses reinforce the sales effort. Ward announced earlier this year that all its cast- and malleable-iron and steel products manufactured in its facilities in Blossburg and Lawrenceville, Pa., and Milwaukee are compliant with the “Buy American” provisions of the American Reconstruction and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The federal law is only part of the story, however.
“When you combine our new initiatives to get closer to the needs of our customers — and the always prevalent concern of the cost of poor quality — we have seen significant gains in converting business back to products manufactured in the United States,” Favilla says.
Eye on the future
Ward redesigned its website (www.wardmfg.com), created new online marketing channels and the WardFlex mobile app to provide more tools for its customers to do their jobs more efficiently, Guidi says. These tools appeal to customers who get their information online, particularly a new generation that is getting on board with Ward.
Going forward, what will remain the same will be Ward’s commitment to the distribution channel and its place in it. The company considers itself a manufacturer that designs, engineers and manufactures 95% of the products it supplies to the industry. As it develops new products in the future, Ward will strive to manufacture whatever products it offers. And, it will offer those products only through distribution.
“Our channel to the industry is through wholesale distribution with no selling direct and no retail,” Favilla says. “We consider it a privilege. Nothing is more important to us than the relationships we have with our distributors.
“The core of our recent transition to a strategic sales and marketing planning methodology incorporates initiatives to drive customer demand and brand awareness — and become a much more valuable supplier to our distribution partners.”