Katie Parris’ path to becoming President and CEO of The Part Works Inc., a Seattle-based plumbing retailer, is a familiar one for second generation business owners. But what she’s done with the company over the past six years is unique, and that’s why Parris is one of the MDM 2021 Women in Distribution winners.
First, the backstory. Growing up in Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s, Parris struggled explaining to friends exactly what her father, who owned the plumbing distribution business, did for a living.
“I was almost embarrassed to tell them my father was in the plumbing,” says Parris. “You would ask if he was a plumber and if I tried to explain the plumbing distribution nobody would understand.”
By the time she graduated from college, Parris “was absolutely not interested in joining the family business,” she says now with a laugh. What she didn’t realize was that her parents had no intention of getting her on board, even if she was, at least not then.
“I was a little injured at the time,” says Parris. “But when I look back now, I’m so grateful that he was willing to be honest with me and say, ‘You have to gain valuable experience – no matter what your career path is.’ ”
After working in various professions for a few years, Parris decided she wanted to start her own business and the proverbial lightbulb went out. “I thought, ‘If I want to own my own business and my parents may be interested in working with me after I’ve done some real work, I should at least ask the question,” she says we put it together from there. “
Six years after joining her parents ‘business – her father was the salesman and her mother the accountant – Parris’ father died and she eventually assumed the position of President / CEO and Owner.
From there she began to leverage her previous business experience as well as the few years she had as manager and vice president at The Part Works. She added e-commerce, ERP, CRM, the tools the company needs to adapt to the current business landscape. When the pandemic broke out last year, these tools enabled customers to do more on the company’s website while sales reps could do more in the cloud.
“I introduced us to e-commerce,” she says. “It would probably have taken my father 20 years to take it seriously. He was a boomer and didn’t see the need. “
A culture of innovation
This focus on digitizing the business inspired her brother Tim Johnson to nominate Parris for this award.
“When our parents founded The Part Works in our garage over 40 years ago, they were almost exclusively field workers who (in the truest sense of the word) worked as spare parts dealers for spring and paper installations,” he wrote. “For the last 10 years when Katie took over the company, The Part Works has made it a top priority to maintain the customer service-centric, knowledge-based customer experience while using technology to modernize our reach. This included the constant obligation to have a website that serves our employees and does not serve as a substitute for them. “
Parris is fully focused on the future of the company. She has created a culture of innovation, trying new things and using the latest technology – while maintaining a strong sales model for relationships and customer service.
“You can switch to a different technology quickly, but the change in culture takes a long time,” she says. “I started this journey a long time ago and hope we have built a culture of collaboration, problem solving, and creativity.”
At the same time, she remains aware of the past – how much her parents taught her about the distribution business, how they cared for it along the way, and how proud she is to carry on the family legacy.
“There are a lot of things I’ve learned to make the business of both of them that are timeless,” she said.