Kent Gypsum Supply Inc.
- Written by: Tom Faunce
- Produced by: Sean O'Reilly
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
For more than 40 years, Kent Gypsum Supply Inc. has been providing professional builders in the Pacific Northwest with drywall and related products. Since the beginning, the company’s mission has been to provide construction professionals with competitive pricing, expert service and lifelong relationships. With its corporate headquarters in Lakewood, Washington, Kent Gypsum Supply maintains locations in Bothell, Kent and Sequim.
Founded in 1971, Matthew Klein, started out as a delivery truck driver during his summer vacation from college. After graduation from Pacific Lutheran University, he continued to work for the company as a yard manager and in 1982 purchased Kent Gypsum Supply. To this day the company follows Klein’s business philosophy of always treating employees, customers and vendors with respect.
Like many other drywall distributors in the Pacific Northwest, Kent Gypsum Supply is a Gypsum Specialty Dealer (GSD). In a competitive market with multiple distributors of the same product line, Kent Gypsum Supply sets itself apart with high-quality service. “We make an effort to personalize our service to the best or our ability,” says Greg Erwin, vice president in charge of sales for Kent Gypsum Supply. “The relationships we have are very important and we nurture and rely on them. We think of our clients as family and treat them as such.”
Erwin has been surrounded by the construction industry his entire life. While growing up with a father who was in the business, Erwin developed an interest at a very young age. “I started working for him as a kid pushing a broom all day when I wasn’t in school,” recounts Erwin. In 1994, Erwin started with Kent Gypsum Supply as a yard manager. Twenty-one years later he is one of three vice presidents along with Bonnie VanderWaal who has been here 23 years and Harry Stanley who has been here 30 years.
A strong team
Kent Gypsum is a company with experience on its side. With 50 full-time employees, the company’s staff has an average retention rate of 11 years. Seven out of eight crane operators for Kent Gypsum have more than 10 years of experience and all are Crane Control Operator (CCO) certified. This level of expertise helps Kent Gypsum Supply to maintain a quick turnaround time from when an order is received to when it is sent to the contractor. “Depending on the size of the order we shoot for a one-day turnaround for delivery,” says Erwin.
The retention rate of its employees is a measure of success for Kent Gypsum Supply. “We look inwardly at the company as a performance indicator,” Erwin explains. “It says a lot about your company when your employees stick around for their careers. We also look at the long-term relationships we’ve upheld with our contractors. It’s a very competitive and price-driven marketplace and the people that we have been doing business with for many years always have opportunities to go elsewhere for their products.”
Kent Gypsum Supply is also grateful for the relationships the company has established with its manufacturers. Over the years Kent Gypsum has consistently worked with Georgia-Pacific and CertainTeed. “We’ve worked with them for many years,” says Erwin. “There has always been a strong loyalty on both sides.”
Another contributing factor to the success and growth of Kent Gypsum Supply in the last 17 years has been the company’s involvement with the buying group Affiliated Distributors (AD). The nationwide group has created interaction and opportunities for Kent Gypsum Supply with other distribution companies throughout the country. “The strength that AD brings has really helped especially in the downturn,” says Erwin. “The three way partnership with them and our manufacturers has been a big part of our growth.”
The high level of service that Kent Gypsum Supply provides coupled with the relationships it has established, were crucial components in the company’s ability to work through the recession as it hit the construction industry. Fortunately for Kent Gypsum Supply, the company operates in a strong market, although that also creates strong competition. “It was tough for everybody in this business but we all survived,” says Erwin. “In tough times like that you really have to rely on the solid relationships that you’ve built up.”
While the company was forced to trim its staff during the economic downturn, many of those employees who were laid off eventually returned to work for Kent Gypsum Supply. This is a testament to the quality work environment the business provides. “Any time that you go through a tough time like that it creates an opportunity to learn a lot about yourself personally and professionally,” says Erwin. “I feel that we came out smarter and a better company because of it.”
A growing portfolio
Through drywall and related products distribution, Kent Gypsum Supply recently had the opportunity to be involved in a two-year job at the University of Washington. The project was the construction of Mercer Court Apartments which is a residence hall for students at the institution and was completed in August 2013. The new Mercer Court Apartments provides studios as well as two-, three-, four- and six-bedroom apartment units for more than 900 students in five wings over a common parking garage.
With universities beginning to create more efficient living spaces for students, Mercer Court Apartments is an example of the direction of green building on college campuses as it also includes planting areas for the University of Washington farm organization. “It’s a really high-tech innovative building,” says Erwin. Kent Gypsum Supply was the exclusive drywall distributor for the project which earned Project of the Year in the interior residential category by the Northwest Wall and Ceiling Bureau.
Being located in Seattle, Kent Gypsum Supply has also had the opportunity to work for Amazon. “They have basically taken over part of Seattle,” says Erwin. Kent Gypsum Supply was recently involved in the construction of a project called Amazon 202. “It was class-A office space and we were the exclusive drywall distributor on that project.”
As an independent distributor, Kent Gypsum Supply is constantly competing with bigger national companies. With consolidation and acquisition running rampant in the marketplace, there are becoming fewer independent companies. The fact that Kent Gypsum is one of the strongest in the Pacific Northwest market is something that the entire company takes a great sense of pride in. “We’re really a close-knit group,” says Erwin. “There’s a real family atmosphere at this company.”
Sustainable growth is in the near future for Kent Gypsum Supply. While the company is currently content with its geographical footprint, it will be looking to upgrade one its four facilities. “Overall, we’re looking forward to a very good couple of years,” says Erwin.
While the company continues to progress, Kent Gypsum Supply Inc. will maintain its position as one of the strongest independent drywall distributors in the Pacific Northwest.
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