The 150-year milestone is a rarity in corporate America. Even more rare is a family business successfully handed down across five consecutive generations. Requarth Lumber -- founded in 1860 by Frederick August Requarth in Dayton, Ohio -- is one of those companies.
By itself, the milestone doesn’t pay the bills, and it doesn’t close deals. But the distinction does have a real-world value, according to Alan Pippenger, president and great-great grandson of Frederick Requarth.
“The 150 years is nice, and there’s a place for that, and we’re proud of that,” Pippenger said. “But ultimately, we have to be the best choice for our customer today, and that’s where we’re spending most of our focus.”
One thing that 150 years of open-for-business does to a staff is it gives them a sense of accomplishment, and that’s an important ingredient for a pro dealer competing for sales in 2010, he said.
“I think it’s something that’s a lot more important to us than it is to the marketplace,” Pippenger said. “Particularly given this recession, it gives us a sense of confidence that we survived the Civil War, the great flood of 1913, the Depression,” Pippenger told Home Channel News. “There is a certain confidence that comes with that.”
Over the years, Requarth Lumber changed directions and priorities to keep up with the market. An early example came in 1895 when the company changed locations. More recently, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Requarth opened three home centers, and in order to refocus on the core, sold them (acquired by what is today ProBuild Holdings, Pippenger said). The company also switched gears when it abandoned its operations in treated lumber, farming out preservation services to third parties.
“For us, adaptability was the big thing. We aren’t the same company that we were 150, 100 or even 50 years ago. You have to be willing to give up on what’s not working anymore.”
The most recent example of thinking and acting anew is a recent rollout of a SpruceWare.Net total business management software package. Plus, a major warehouse renovation is underway this winter. “It’s keeping us relevant,” Pippenger said. “More of our business is special-order business, and having a warehouse will better accommodate that business.
“The big thing is we’re continuing to invest in the business.”
When asked for the company’s level of optimism approaching 2010, Pippenger said he is beginning to hear the kind of news that indicates an upturn.
“I just had lunch with a remodeling customer, and he told me he had 10 good sales appointments in December,” he said. “I’m actually becoming more optimistic than I’ve been in a while.”