Our ‘house’

August 1, 2006 By    

Just about every business in any industry wants to be more efficient. The question is: How? Streamlining processes, incorporating new and emerging technologies, and altering business plans are all ways to increase efficiency. Another way is to have an all-in-one warehouse to hold products, house employees and service customers – something that Ray Murray Inc. has benefited from since 1973.

Ray Murray Inc. (RMI) is a large distributor of propane and natural gas equipment, serving several Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States. Originally founded by Ray Murray Sr., the company is now managed by sons John, Ray Jr. and Jim, since Murray’s retirement in 1997.

The company’s team-based operating philosophy focuses on process improvements and follow-through systems that bridge management, customer service, purchasing, warehousing and shipping, and marketing and administration.

Mike Hopsicker, president and CEO of RMI.
Mike Hopsicker, president and CEO of RMI.

“The warehouse helps us be more efficient in customer service and productivity,” says Mike Hopsicker, president and CEO of RMI.

RMI makes available a stocked inventory of over 12,000 different products from several different manufacturers at their warehouse. Products include everything necessary to deliver and store gas from the pipeline to the final application, such as regulators, pipings, fittings, valves, tanks, cylinders, hose, meters, bobtail and fill station equipment, hearth products, stoves, fireplaces, grills, space heaters and air conditioning equipment.

The first RMI warehouse was a 500-square-foot building in Stockbridge, Mass. Rapid and substantial growth caused the company to relocate to the building they would occupy for 25 years in Lee, Mass. The new property included 3,200 square feet of office and warehouse space.

RMI hosts an open house at their warehouse every summer, an event that many say has picked up where the now-defunct Northeast trade show left off.
RMI hosts an open house at their warehouse every summer, an event that many say has picked up where the now-defunct Northeast trade show left off.

RMI moved into their current warehouse and office facilities in Lee in 2001 – yet again due to expansion.

“We needed to expand again because business was growing, especially with hearth products, which take up a lot of space,” says Hopsicker. “We found this great facility near the old one that was big enough and could handle growth, so we moved in.”

The current facility is 90,000 square feet, with 80,000 devoted to the warehouse and 10,000 to office space. Another difference between the new facility and the old one is height.

The RMI open house features over 50 exhibits from various vendors.
The RMI open house features over 50 exhibits from various vendors.

“What’s different about the new facility is not just the square footage, but the ceiling, which is two-and-a-half times higher than the old one,” says Ray Murray Jr.

“So, we can have even more material in the same footprint. It’s a much more efficient layout.”

Over 45 of the 70-plus RMI employees work there in customer and technical service, warehouse operations, administrative and product manager positions. It enables RMI to service customers in all regions.

“We can store large amounts of products, we have what the customer needs and we have a high service ratio,” says Hopsicker. “We touch the product as little as possible – we just pick it and ship it and get it delivered ASAP.”

Products are showcased inside and outside at the RMI open house.
Products are showcased inside and outside at the RMI open house.

Besides having what the customer needs and being able to get it to them quickly and efficiently, the warehouse benefits RMI by helping with inventory control.

“Everything is closely monitored as it moves in and out, and the whole facility is split up into self-directed work teams,” says Hopsicker. “Employees are empowered to do whatever is needed to service customers.”

The facility also helps RMI service customers through seminars and events designed to help sell, install and maintain products, while showing customers new products RMI offers and supports. Technical and sales training courses are offered throughout the year and are free of charge to RMI customers. Topics discussed include propane equipment, space and water heaters, pump stations, pool heaters, commercial and industrial heaters, hearth products and vaporizers, plus several more.

The ceiling of the RMI warehouse is two-and-a-half times higher than the old one, holding more material in the same footprint.
The ceiling of the RMI warehouse is two-and-a-half times higher than the old one, holding more material in the same footprint.

“As a distributor, we need to be good in two areas,” says Hopsicker. “One, we need to be on top of selling, servicing and providing technical support for all our products, and we do that with our training and expertise. Two, we have to be efficient, and that’s where the warehouse facility comes in.”

Another way the facility benefits RMI is by housing the annual Open House and Trade Show.

This by-invitation event, featuring product displays from nearly every manufacturer RMI represents as well as technical and sales seminars, began in 1983. The first open house offered a unique opportunity for RMI suppliers to present new products and technical expertise to RMI customers.

“The open house has become the industry event in the Northeast,” says Hopsicker.

In fact, many in the industry say that the RMI open house basically picked up where the now-defunct Northeast trade show left off. It has grown into an annual outing that joins together nearly 1,000 people each year, with suppliers, customers and friends coming together for a day of technical seminars, food and product sales in indoor and outdoor settings. It traditionally occurs in early June each year.

“The vendors are here to show off products and share information with customers, it’s a great networking opportunity, and, most importantly, it helps us better serve our customers and improve our efficiencies,” says Hopsicker.

“The warehouse ties in with our efficient operations,” adds Murray Jr. “We feel we’re the lowest cost shipper in the business, and the warehouse is just one part of our commitment to technical support, training and equipment support.”

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