“We sell plumbing gear to plumbers who are mainly our members, each with an equal vote.” That’’s the succinct description of the Plumber Supplies Co-operative (PSC) given by Tony Rogic, its general manager, sales. And it applied equally well when the co-operative was formed back in 1955.

At that time Australian tradespeople faced a post-war shortage of essential materials. A resourceful group of 46 Sydney plumbers decided that a member co-operative could break the price monopoly that was holding back their work. They began bulk-buying copper pipe and other basic supplies and onselling them from an inner-Sydney garage. By 1960, the business had outgrown those premises and was relocated to Paramatta Road in the city’’s inner western suburbs.

“PSC’s head office is still located in western Sydney, but on a larger and more sophisticated scale. Its products are wholesaled through a network of more than 30 stores throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, and they include ‘own brand’ brassware and other supplies sourced direct from overseas manufacturers.

Plumbers everywhere need pipe, hot water systems, toilets and basins, and the PSC range is much like those of its big corporate competitors. The main difference that members of the co-operative notice, says Tony, is the extra financial benefits. Every member receives a discount on prices, a rebate based on the volume of their purchases, and an annual dividend based on the size of their shareholding. The dividend has been paid in every year of the co-operative’s life, and in the past 10 years members have collectively received around $45 million.

PSC membership exceeds 4,000 and is steadily increasing. “Of our six directors,” says Tony, “four are working plumbers. That keeps you centred on the demands of the business.” One of those directors, and the board’s chair, is Peter McPherson, a secondgeneration plumber based in Sydney’s outskirts. “I joined up about 25 years ago, mainly because of the profits returning to members through building up our shares. Over time I’’ve built up quite a good share portfolio.”

Peter McPherson has dealt with all the major plumbers’ merchants in his career, “and the service you get from the co-op would be hard to match. That’’s well known in the industry. In Newcastle, for instance, the service from other merchants used to be very ordinary. Since a branch of the co-op opened up there, they’’ve had to lift their game a bit.”

Australia IYC 2012 story from “Building a better Australia – 50+ stories of co-operation”, Focus Publications