Kathy and Ned Dwyer got to work at Annapolis Junction, Maryland-based E.J. Dwyer Co. incredibly early in their lives — because their father, Ed, needed some extra hands on deck.
“He had us answering the phone early,” Kathy Dwyer recalls. “Dad started the company with a small office above a post office and then moved to a row house, which is now a consignment shop. He stocked product down below. He put the office upstairs.”
While the business grew from humble beginnings, both Kathy and Ned Dwyer went on to college before returning to E.J. Dwyer — pme’s 2018 Manufacturers Rep of the Year.
Kathy Dwyer came home from North Carolina where she was going to school and waitressing.
“I called my dad because I had told him I didn’t really want to go back to school and be away from home. He said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me, Kathy? It’ll be good.’ I came home and went back to school part-time and got my degree.
“It was so much fun as a daughter. Not many daughters get to see their dads in their professional jobs. I got to see the respect that he was shown. He taught me everything. I know about the business and a hard work ethic. I enjoy getting up in the morning and coming to work.”
Ned Dwyer no longer bemoans the long summer hours he put in at 14 years of age now that he’s in a co-leadership role at E.J. Dwyer with his sister.
“I was working inside sales with our other sister, Mary,” he recalls. “I said, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I’m ever going to do this again in my life since I was working a full-time job as a 14-year-old in the summers.’”
After some time living in California as a mortgage broker, Ned Dwyer wanted to get back to selling tangible items.
“I didn’t like selling concepts, I liked selling products. My dad needed some help and I said ‘OK, sure. I’ll come in. I’ll help. No problem, but it’s not something I’m going to do forever.’
“I was living with him and we were spending all day and night together. That’s the reason I stayed because he’s a really fun person to be around. Just being able to work with him and seeing him in the business environment had a big influence on me staying, especially after developing great relationships with our engineers.”
The Dwyers came into the industry for the long haul at the perfect time as those early relationships solidified theirs and E.J. Dwyer’s standing for the long-term.
“This was in mid 1980s,” Ned Dwyer notes. “At the time the industry itself was expanding and exploding. The young people I was calling on, we all grew up together. So we made a ton of friendships. Everything’s always about relationships.”
E.J. Dwyer’s outside sales are covered by Kathy and Ned Dwyer. They call on the engineers and architects in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and southern Delaware. Jim Fowler (17 years of experience; started with the company at 19 years old), Karen Faulconer (three months) and Zack Simpson (five years) hold down the inside sales needs at the firm’s recently renovated 15,000-square-foot office and distribution center in Annapolis Junction.
Cindy Hall (12 years) handles invoicing, accounting and payables, and Henry Mackenzie (1 1/2 years) runs the office’s warehouse. With E.J. Dwyer’s investment in office technology, Dave Paxton (six years) runs the quotations department from his home office in Charlotte, North Carolina, by utilizing VOIP phone technology.
Kathy Dwyer believes responsiveness, product expertise and integrity are what the E.J. Dwyer team brings to the market and is what sets the firm apart.
“We work hard,” she adds. “We want a person answering the phone from 7:30 a.m., until 5:30 p.m. There’s no auto attendant here. If a client is calling we treat them like we’re inviting them into our home. We’re accessible. We don’t have a ton of lines and we pay attention to the lines that we have. We can be specialists in all our lines.”
Ned Dwyer notes during meetings with engineers, he and Kathy will work with them to provide the best product for the application.
“We’ll direct them as best we can to the right product mix. We help them update their specifications,” he says. “We’ll not only talk about what we represent, but if we see something that potentially is a mistake we will take the time to discuss it. For instance, if they had a wall carrier and it should be a floor carrier, we’ll address that and send the submittals for the fixtures they have as well. We want to be their resource for anything plumbing-related.”
Speed and readiness in communication are two major factors E.J. Dwyer commits to regarding customer service, the Dwyers note.
“Architects and engineers, when they are asking for something, there’s a specific reason,” Ned Dwyer says. “That’s a design they’re working on. We’re not going to hold them up. We’re going to respond to them quickly. We’re here to provide them with the solutions they need.”
- Aquarius Showers
- Bradley Corp.
- Chicago Faucet
- Chicago Faucet Food Service
- Chronomite Heaters
- Circuit Solver
- Comfort Design
- Filtrine Drinking Fountains
- Just Stainless Sinks
- Keltech Tankless Heaters
- Omni Flow Controls
- Powers Mixing Valves
- Stern Williams Terrazzo
- ThermOmega Tech
E.J. Dwyer’s mentality in front of engineers is to listen to its clients about what they need as opposed to forcing a product on them.
“There’s a lot of people that try to sell to people,” Ned Dwyer says. “We want to help our customers. It’s a fine balance between telling the market what it wants and just being more of a consultant. We’re never going to give you something that’s not most beneficial for you and for your project.”
The Dwyers take pride in the long-standing relationships E.J. Dwyer has fostered over the years, including 38-year partnerships with Chicago Faucet and Bradley. Kathy and Ned Dwyer note they do not enjoy changing lines and believe firms that make a lot of changes hurt the overall reputation of industry.
“We take lines that are high-quality. A lot of family-owned businesses,” Kathy Dwyer states. ”This jumping around stuff is not good. It doesn’t give reps a very good name. We make sure we pick high-quality products that we can stick with for years. We’ve got years left in this business, so we want to sell something that I can look you in the eye and say is going to meet your needs. This is a great product. We stand behind it and the manufacturer stands behind it.”
If you visit the National Aquarium in downtown Baltimore, there is a Bradley sink in every bathroom, courtesy of E.J. Dwyer’s efforts.
“The facility has every generation of Bradley sink ever made,” she says. “Depending on which bathroom you go in, you will see the generations.”
Ed Dwyer first sold showers and faucets to the Gilman School, a private school in Baltimore back in the early 1970s. Then when school underwent renovations for drainage, he sold those products to the school. Kathy Dwyer replaced products sold by her father when renovations were done in the early 2000s.
“It’s generational for the product as well as the school and our business,” she states.
Ned Dwyer has a photo of him from the early 1990s on the dirt of what would become the infield of Camden Yards, the home of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.
“We provided all the Chicago Faucets and Powers shower valves for the locker rooms,” he says.
With such a presence in the Washington, D.C., market, including Chicago Faucet products in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, it’s critical for E.J. Dwyer’s product line be American made.
“We represent many Buy American-labeled products and we meet all the Buy American Act requirements,” Ned Dwyer states.
ThermOmega Tech is the newest line E.J. Dwyer brought on nearly four years ago. It was a fast partnership with Ned Dwyer cold-calling the Warminster, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer and showing it what E.J. Dwyer could accomplish in the marketplace.
“It is the type of product that gives people a ‘eureka’ moment,” Ned Dwyer says. “We’re balancing a system by temperature, not flow. I called them up and sent them our line card. They called us back in five minutes saying they wanted us to represent them. We love them. It’s a great product, great people.”
Evaristo Gonzalez, a plumbing engineer with Bethesda, Maryland-based firm Global Engineering Solutions, has worked with E.J. Dwyer for more than 20 years. He says E.J. Dwyer is “special in the community.” Gonzalez says that if a phone call to the office is missed, it takes no more than 10 minutes for a response.
“That is one of the best parts in dealing with them,” he says. “They are very efficient and that’s special to the clients. They are ahead of the curve.”
James Yang, P.E., and a principal with Arlington, Virginia-headquartered firm GHT Limited Consulting Engineers, loves E.J. Dwyer’s quick response times, but also appreciates the company’s commitment to customer service. That helps with his busy workload of projects in the educational, research lab, hospitality and high-rise residential projects.
“It’s the flexibility they can provide us,” he says. “Even at 5 a.m. when I call, someone returns my call real quick. When I need something — even if they don’t represent it — they’ll help. That kind of service (is great).”
Kathy Dwyer jokes they “saved” Fowler from a career in retail. He confirms that is the case. Fowler tired of restringing tennis rackets — even if it was for tennis legend Pete Sampras. After 17 years, he’s found his home with E.J. Dwyer after starting on the bottom rung.
“I started from the bottom and got to right where I want to be. I love inside sales,” he says. “I have trained everyone that has come through that door. I will stay here until the day I retire. I love the family experience, the customers. It is a fun industry.”
Fowler appreciates the freedom the Dwyer’s place in him to work a different daily schedule, typically starting at 4 a.m. “I like my peace and quiet for an hour or so,” he says.
He also takes the quiet time to get a sense of what products the warehouse has in stock and what other questions might come down the pipe throughout the day.
“You have to know where the pricing is at,” Fowler says. “You have to know your inventory.”
Fowler and the rest of E.J. Dwyer are not paying lip service when they say they are a family. Just check out the photos.
“Ned was in my wedding party,” Fowler says. “Kathy has been to every one of our family events.”
He adds: “You couldn’t pay me enough to work for a large corporation. I wouldn’t give up working with everyone here as a team.”
Faulconer came to E.J. Dwyer after nearly six years with a local plumbing distributor and settled in nicely by placing orders, providing pricing and learning from the veteran Fowler.
“I heard plenty of great things about the company before coming aboard. I knew they were patient and provide great customer service,” she says. “They’re family-oriented and care so much about their employees. They want to make us happy.”
Ed Dwyer was a founding member of ASPE’s Baltimore chapter, a past-treasurer of the Washington D.C., chapter and past-affiliate liaison for the ASPE National Region. Kathy Dwyer recalls a lesson her father taught her early in her career at the family business.
“He would say, ‘You are making a living from this business. You need to give back.’ We’ve always done it. It’s part of our DNA,” she says.
To that end, Kathy Dwyer is on the board of directors and the senior vice president of education with AIM/R. She was the first woman on AIM/R’s executive committee. “I’m working my way through the board,” she says. She’s also the treasurer of the ASPE Baltimore chapter. Ned Dwyer had a seven-year stint as treasurer of ASPE’s Washington, D.C., chapter.
Every year, E.J. Dwyer opens office doors on a Saturday to local plumbing engineer David Bailey to come in to host a review class for the certified plumbing designer exam. The company provides bagels, lunch and full use of the office for the day.
“They come here and spend a day teaching the folks, just reviewing how they could do well on their CPD exam,” Ned Dwyer says.
Kathy Dwyer adds: “He’s been very successful, too. I think pretty much everyone who’s come to the class has passed.”
All the extra time and hours in the office is time well-spent for E.J. Dwyer because if the phones were to stop ringing, they would know trouble was ahead.
“If you are calling us, we are appreciating it,” Ned Dwyer states. “If you are calling us after hours, you are working, so we are working.”