By Ombretta Di Dio
As he’d done every day for more than a dozen years, before 6 a.m. on Aug. 22, Randal Densley opened the doors of Mission Valley Pipe & Supply, on Mission Gorge Place. However, that day was somewhat different. The store that has been serving San Diego plumbers for decades was getting ready to celebrate its 35th anniversary.
After a few hours, people began lining up in the parking lot, standing by an old firetruck that carries a wood-fired oven. A tall girl meticulously prepared pizzas one by one as new people came by to celebrate the event. Many said hello to Densley, who is now the president and CEO of Pipe & Supply. Among them was loyal customer Milo Zika.
A general contractor who often finds himself in need of plumbing equipment, Zika said he has been buying material at Mission Valley Pipe & Supply for over 32 years. He knows everybody at the store, he added, and developed friendships with the employees. Now, his daughter works for the company.
“This place is fantastic,” he said. “They take care of you, that’s for sure.”
At the entrance of the big warehouse, where different tools and materials are piled in big packages, a coffee pot sits on a table next to a box of donuts, which customers can enjoy before they return to their day and their duties.
Densley and his colleague Matt Trunick, who works for the company’s sales department, agree the relationship the company has built with its customers over time is the main reason why people keep coming back, remaining faithfully tied to Mission Valley Pipe & Supply.
“The place is a staple in the community,” Trunick said. “If customers have a problem, they know they can count on communication and trust. When [customers] come here, they always ask me how I’m doing.”
Trunick began his career at the store “right out of high school.” He said he used to drive by all the time when he was younger, and he has worked his way up in the company, first as a warehouse employee, then at the front desk, before eventually landing his current position, for a total of nearly 17 years devoted to the same place.
Trunick and Densley said the business changed and expanded as years went by, with added technology and a new online store, but all in all, its familiarity hasn’t varied, and neither has the positive attitude toward clientele and suppliers.
“Business is more ‘fast-paced’ now,” said Densley. “There’s more technology involved. Customers can find products and prices online, but at the end of the day, it’s still great to have that human interaction.”
Densley explained Mission Valley Pipe & Supply is employee-owned, “so employees have a lot of say in how to make decisions.”
This makes the relationship among them even tighter, said Mike Milton, who also works in the inside sales department.
According to Milton, “word of mouth played a big part in the growing of this company.” He would know, he said, because he has worked with plumbers since the ’80s, forming close ties on both sides of the spectrum, as a customer first and an employee later.
At the anniversary event, another customer soon popped by to say hello, before approaching the truck where warm pizzas continued to come out of the oven. It was Dan Medrano, an estimator for a plumbing company. Medrano said the generosity of the employees here has played a big role in his becoming the affectionate customer he is, and he plans on remaining one for as long as he stays in the plumbing business.
“They consistently offer a good service here,” he said. “And sometimes they take care of me very quickly.”
This is true even when the store is especially busy, serving all levels of plumbing customers, from homeowners to the government, he added.
As clients left and employees thanked them for joining in the fun, someone was already talking about the next big event — a Christmas party, said Trunick. It will be another chance for Mission Valley Pipe & Supply to show customer appreciation and another opportunity to celebrate with friends.
—Ombretta Di Dio is a freelance writer and story producer for NBC7. Reach her at email@example.com.