Just as the plume of black smoke from a Gilbert warehouse fire in June could be seen for miles, the blaze’s impact has had a Valleywide impact on plumbing contractors — and on customers waiting for a plumber to make repairs.
The Farnsworth Wholesale Co. supplies virtually every commercial and residential contractor in the Valley, company Vice President Jack Stapley said. When the June 18 fire wiped out $8.1 million worth of inventory, some contractors were left without supplies as they were in the middle of a job, Stapley said.
The fire also temporarily took down the corporate phone and computer system at the Gilbert headquarters. That interrupted distribution of HVAC and waterworks inventory at Mesa and Peoria warehouses where supplies were plentiful, Stapley said.
“Our competitors in many situations are scrambling now to take care of the volume that we temporarily lost,” Stapley said. “There was a big effect filtering out among the whole Valley in those three different trades.”
Stapley said he believes Farnsworth is the Valley’s largest plumbing wholesale supplier. It is among the largest suppliers of HVAC and waterworks, or underground water and sewer pipes.
Stapley said he wants to reassure contractors and the public that the company is rebuilding its plumbing inventory as quickly as possible. The day after the fire, incoming plumbing inventory was sent to a Farnsworth warehouse in Peoria. Also, Farnsworth has leased a 30,000-square-foot building near Mesa’s Falcon Field to become a new corporate headquarters and plumbing warehouse. That’s twice the space of the old Gilbert facility, which Stapley said was cramped. The move should be complete within a month.
Also, the company will rebuild its Gilbert warehouse within six months to a year.
“We think we’re going to come out of this bigger and better than we were before the fire, and we’re really excited about that,” Stapley said.
Stapley said the company was fortunate not to lose computer files because firefighters stopped the blaze from spreading to an office area. Also, the 160-employee company has brought back most of the 20 workers laid off in the fire’s aftermath.
The fire was battled by 200 firefighters from multiple cities. A preliminary investigation found a cigarette started the blaze in an outdoor storage area.
Stapley said the company will extend an indoor smoking ban to outside storage areas — and that he’d encourage other firms to consider the same approach to protect themselves.
While the company is only 18 years old, its founders have deep roots here. Founders Stapley, Mark Shill and Ross Farnsworth are fourth or fifth generation families in the Valley. One of Stapley’s ancestors founded a hardware store on Mesa’s Main Street in about 1891.
“Our three families have been a big part of the East Valley forever, which is kind of unique,” Stapley said. “You don’t have three founding partners who go back that far in one company.”
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