The People in the Pipeline
Relentless Customer Service Drives Holbrook Plastic Pipe Supply Inc.
Carolyn Olsen started Holbrook Plastic Pipe Supply Inc. with her sister, Betty Olsen King, in 1975. They rented a 3,500-square-foot warehouse in Holbrook, New York, which seemed like “the middle of nowhere,” according to Olsen, who is President and CEO. Their first order was for a small piece of pipe for a grand total of $5.63.
“We took out full-page ads in The Blue Book, an audacious decision for a tiny company,” she says. “It worked. We sold all over the U.S. and overseas. In our second year, we shipped materials to Lebanon for an Italian contractor. He came to our little warehouse in a limo! It was so hot inside that we met outdoors. I held my own and he gave us the order.”
Forty-three years later, Holbrook is a thriving woman-owned, disadvantaged, small business enterprise (WBE/DBE/SBE) serving contractors, subcontractors and engineers in New York and New Jersey from its 2.5-acre outdoor stocking yard and 10,000-square-foot warehouse on Long Island.
The company was named for its location on Long Island and included “plastic pipe” because of its importance to the industry at that time. Their catalog has since expanded to include every type of pipe and related materials for multiple trades, from water mains and paving to well digging and industrial sewers.
“We quote for every type of construction project,” Olsen says. The name of their in-house advertising agency—World Pipe Inc.—was chosen to reflect their comprehensive product offering.
The Other Side of the Hill
Holbrook was born from imagination, dreams and a spirit of adventure. Carolyn and her three siblings grew up on a 400-acre dairy farm near Salem, New York.
“We actually did walk a mile and half to school in the snow,” she recalls. At age 18, sitting on a hill overlooking the horizon, she wondered what was on the other side. She dreamed of attending college, but milk prices tumbled and the dairy closed. She took a train to New York City with $35 in her pocket and quickly found roommates and a job. She lived an exciting life, enjoying all the city had to offer for several years.
There came a time when she tired of city living and working in the corporate world.
Older brother Frank, a Johns Manville pipe salesman, had encouraged younger brother Freddy to start his own pipe company. The Maine-based brothers suggested their sisters follow suit—rent a warehouse on Long Island where Betty lived, put some pipe in it and start their own supply business.
“We didn’t really know anything about the business when we started it but, little by little, we learned,” Carolyn says. She made sales calls while Betty managed accounting. Carolyn became the sole owner when Betty retired in 2000.
In 1975, women-owned businesses were a rarity in the construction industry. However, Carolyn says she never felt that being a woman kept her from doing anything. Holbrook is certified in both New York and New Jersey as a WBE/DBE/SBE business. This is valuable for customers, as state and federally funded projects have mandates for minority participation.
Delivering on Service
“In the beginning, it was just the two of us,” Carolyn recalls. “The business grew and we hired our first employee. Then Betty’s children, Betsy and Bobby, joined the company. As sales increased, we slowly hired more people.”
In 1980, Carolyn’s husband, Paul Marysko, came aboard and soon became known as Mr. Fix It. “Paul quickly learned the pipe business and became an extraordinary member of our small company,” she says. “We are a small business with 13 employees, all intensely focused on customer service and rapid response,” says Rosalie Stabile, Holbrook’s sales manager for the past 25 years.
“If we receive a call for a same-day delivery request, we do our best to make that happen.”
“We have customers of all sizes from small contracting companies to huge contracting companies,” notes Rosalie. Contractors have told her more than once: “I sent requests to four companies and got just one quote back—yours!” “When contractors request a specific type of pipe we ask, ‘What about fittings? What about valves?’ she continues. “We have a conversation with them to determine their exact needs. They’re busy and may forget about accessories. We don’t! If they order ductile iron pipe and fittings but don’t ask for accessories, we know they need them and are quick to remind them.”
Holbrook supplied materials over multiple years for the enormous Croton Harmon Yards project in Croton-on-Hudson.
“They’re a three-hour drive from our warehouse,” Rosalie says. “If they called and needed pipe the following day—whether one length or a truck load—we would get it to them. We have good relationships with our vendors and work with them to ensure customers get what they need. Now that our minority status has become widely known throughout New York and New Jersey, our services have spread far and wide.”
Keri Crianza, Olsen’s assistant for 18 years, is proud of their progress. “Our dispatcher, George Martinez, besides handling sales and everything else, is great at organizing our trucks and drivers,” she says. “He’ll come in early or stay late. We each have a role in working to satisfy our customers, no matter the problem or need.” On-time deliveries rely on communication and organizational skills carried out by the sales force: Rosalie, George, Keri, Peter Gugler and Michael Deiker, in conjunction with Michael Pickern, accounts receivable, Ty Jorden, accounts payable, Betsy King, reception, Kevin Kreiger, warehouse, Luis Velasquez, yard man, and Juan Moreta, driver.
Changing with the Times
Holbrook has thrived over many changes in the industry, including a growing preference for products manufactured in the United States and changing specifications. To keep current and vital, the Holbrook team stays on top of industry trends, regularly adding new products to their online catalog, including specialty items like CPVC pipe and fittings for high-temperature water and venting, and new septic tanks approved for use in Suffolk County and elsewhere.
“We can supply anything and everything on a construction site. Not everyone can say that,” Carolyn says.
Loyalty by Design
“My choice was to have a good, solid company. We are all spokes in a wheel and that’s what makes the wagon go,” Carolyn says. “As an owner, you have to give and not just get. It isn’t easy to replace good people. Many of our employees have been with us for over 20 years. I’m very proud of the loyalty and admiration they instill in our clients. We’re expedient and our service is fantastic.”
Carolyn says she has hired people from many backgrounds. The constant is their willingness to learn this business, just as she did 43 years ago. “I enjoy our business and our people. I’m very proud of the trust and respect customers have for our team.”
Holbrook employees call their co-workers “family.” They describe Carolyn as an understanding boss, a woman of her word and a very generous person.
The company supports the local community and numerous charitable organizations from the Police Athletic League and the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce to Doctors Without Borders—to mention just a few.
After more than four decades as a business owner, Carolyn offers this advice: “Don’t ever worry about what you tackle, as long as you tackle it with everything you’ve got. Know that you can do it.”