For Andrew Sheret Ltd., business means family.
For 120 years – and for three generations – the family-owned and operated plumbing equipment wholesaler has taken every opportunity to provide for its employees. The whole operation is run – and always has been run – like a family.
This has been the secret to their longevity and success, according to president Brian Findlay.
“Our thing is to have a proper organization where you’re treating the people the way that you like to be treated,” Findlay said. “Treat them the same way. Be fair with the people. Explain what you’re trying to do and where you’re trying to go. Keep them informed.”
And treat them as equals. The company was the first in the construction industry to offer a pension plan for employees and one of the first to offer a company-funded medical plan. In 2001, a share participation plan was introduced, and about 80% of the employees have bought in.
“We share the profits,” Findlay said. “At the end of the year, a certain amount is set aside and divvied up depending on the position and how long they’ve been with the company.”
Employee turnover is very low as a result. Employees will often stay for 30 or 40 years. According to Brian Sutherland, the company’s Vancouver regional manager and a 40-year veteran, Andrew Sheret’s inclusive culture has inspired the best work possible from its employees.
“It makes you want to work harder for these people. And for the people that work under me, I try to instil in them that if you treat us fairly we’ll treat you fairly,” Sutherland said.
“They were always there to say, ‘You’ve got to do what’s right for your family and what’s right for you,’” he added.
Andrew Sheret immigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1890, settling in Victoria as a mechanical contractor. In 1892, he founded his own plumbing company and slowly expanded. At that time, all wholesale plumbing materials came from Vancouver, so Sheret saw the opportunity to expand his business by purchasing more than he needed and selling to other retailers.
His son, Andrew William “Will” Sheret, took over as president in 1947, after the senior Sheret’s death. Will Sheret instilled in the company the social responsibility that is still so prevalent; he introduced the pension plan, and he insisted that there be a share participation plan, 50 years before it was finally introduced.
“My father-in-law always wanted the staff to be involved,” Findlay said. “We make them shareholders and we treat them properly.”
Findlay joined in 1965 and, impressed by the company’s socially conscious philosophy, he stayed with the company for eight years before meeting Susan Sheret – Will Sheret’s only daughter and Findlay’s future wife. In the 1970s, Findlay helped establish the company’s computer systems. In 1993, he took over as president.
At the time, there were 14 B.C. locations. Since then, the company has expanded to include 22 locations, including 20 retail-plumbing showrooms, which operate as Splashes Bath and Kitchen Centre.
Findlay’s son, Eric, joined the company in 2005 after completing a degree in business. Like most new employees, he started out in shipping and receiving, slowly rising through the ranks to his current position as vice-president.
Eric Findlay said that the family culture that has been instilled in the business for three generations inspired him to carry on with the family business. Above all, he said, it’s this philosophy that has sustained the company for more than a century.
“The culture that we’ve created for our employees helped us succeed and struggle through those tough times,” he said.
And the times have been tough. At the turn of the 20th century, Crane Plumbing set up shop on Vancouver Island, cutting into their market share. Then came the First World War, the Depression and another war. Like all construction companies, Findlay said that Andrew Sheret has had considerable lulls.
But he added that when times turned real tough, the company has managed to depend on its other notable philosophy: shrewd planning and conservative spending.
“The company has always stuck to its principles,” Findlay said. “We pay as we go. If we can’t afford to do it, we won’t.”
“We’re all quite conservative people.”