In this time of worry over the housing market's slowdown, it may help to remember that it's not the first time the residential construction industry has faced tough times, and it most certainly won't be the last. Dealers in the Century Club—those that have been in business for 100 years or more—certainly know this. They can tell you that surviving bull and bear markets decade after decade requires a combination of customer service, reputation building, reinvention, business ingenuity, and determination. This month we recognize three more dealers—South Bend Supply, Mid-Cape Home Centers, and Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber—that have weathered the storms of change over more than a century with a drive and a customer focus that should serve them well into the future.
South Bend Supply National ownership suits South Bend Supply's local customer service focus.
South Bend Supply opened in 1906 with the slogan “Dependable Service.” Today, even after 100 years in business and having been acquired by a multi-billion-dollar international corporation, this South Bend, Ind.–based supplier of pipe valves and fittings, steam pumps, and boiler equipment still operates with a customer-first attitude.
“[They] had the idea that you treat your customers well, you respect them, and they can depend on you to help them out whenever they need it, and they were kept in business that way,” says inside sales manager Kim Stuber, a 35-year veteran of the company, which was founded by F.W. Long and remained under family ownership until it was acquired by Ferguson in 1998.
Some at South Bend, including Stuber, feared the purchase by Ferguson, a now $9.65 billion operating company of Theale, England–based Wolseley, meant the dealer's focus would shift from the customer in town to owners an ocean away. But as he and others found out, a number of large-company benefits instead fueled the dealer's service mission. Ferguson's nine distribution centers allow South Bend to get products it doesn't have in stock within a day or two rather than having to wait for them to be shipped from the manufacturer and without South Bend having to keep off-the-wall inventory wasting away in its warehouse. Access to Ferguson's 1,000-plus branches provides another outlet for securing products faster.
Yet at the same time, “I call it a ‘small large company,' meaning you have all the resources of one large gigantic company to help you, but they basically leave you alone at your little branch,” Stuber says. “... I really haven't noticed it other than all the help they've given us.”
That support, combined with a 100-year-old reputation of putting the customer first, should help South Bend continue to thrive as both the market and the local competitive landscape tighten. “We've had accounts that we may not be the lowest price, but people will use us because we're going to offer that service,” says Stuber. “You have to be competitive, but you have to offer more than pricing.” —Katy Tomasulo
Mid-Cape Home Centers
A family business's commitment to its employees and communities has been the key to its 111-year-long life.
The Nickerson family, owners of Hyannis, Mass.–headquartered Mid-Cape Home Centers, has run lumber and building materials operations around Cape Cod—and under several names—for 111 years. It has experienced multiple recessions and economic downturns that challenged the company's ownership to keep the business afloat and its experienced staff on the job.
Company president Doug Bohannon, who has spent 34 years with Mid-Cape, attributes its weathering of those storms to “the fact that the family poured the money back into the business to keep it going through thick and thin.” But the family's commitment to its employees and communities also has had a role in its longevity.