As First Supply® begins its celebration year of 120 years in business, there is a sense of great pride in remaining family-owned into the fifth generation. Ultimately, time is the true test of a team. On a daily basis, customers determine a company’s success by either awarding their business or not. It has been the driving philosophy of "The Customer Relationship comes First" that has given First Supply long-term relationships with their customers allowing them to provide services specifically tailored to their customers business needs.
Key to keeping First Supply’s customers at the forefront starts with the Companies’ Vision statements. Separated into two segments; both the Distribution Company and the Kitchen and Bath Store’s visions revolve around three key themes:
"Maintaining market leadership in each of our key market segments. There is significant advantage for this position including being the first-to-market with the needs of the customers. In order to do this, we must remain innovative and willing to take leadership positions to help our customers be successful with the ever changing markets we serve with them."
"Exceeding customer expectations where we anticipate our customers’ needs so the customer is truly delighted with their engagement with us. This includes having the knowledgeable team to properly troubleshoot challenges as well as solve integration and startup issues. We need to be the complete package for them and be their best solution for their needs."
"Handling market leading products is also key to being successful. This especially involves staying meaningful to our flagship market-leading manufacturers that are most likely to bring innovative products to the market. Over the past 120 years, the list of these products we have been instrumental to bring to our markets includes metal Star windmills, coal stokers, kitchen cabinetry, barging of soil pipe and ductile iron pipe to the market, solid surface countertops, pex piping, whirlpool tubs, WaterSense® and EnergyStar® products and so many more."
Keeping a focus on understanding the needs of the evolving customer and then recognizing the products which the customer will need in the future, taking the risk to introduce the product and sell what these products bring to the customer is what keeps us in the preferred channel to market.
Each of these three themes can only be accomplished by a highly motivated and skilled team of professionals. So, it is the whole Poehling family and the Board of Directors which is extremely proud of each and every team member who has made it possible to stay family owned for 120 years and creates a very bright future for the fifth generation and beyond.
First Supply Chairman Joe Poehling was asked a few questions as they prepared for their 120th anniversary:
What were the most significant events in the 120 years that shaped First Supply into the company it is today?
Placing a very large steel order just prior to WW1 which gave the company a large allocation during the war. This put the company on solid financial basis.
Landing the underground piping order for Fort McCoy just prior to WW2 that gave us a large steel allocation during that war. This provided the capital structure which allowed our first market expansion to Eau Claire in 1950.
Opening a very early plumbing showroom in 1922, the first Kitchen and Bath Store in the country in 1940 and the first Kohler Signature Store in 2012.
In the 1950’s, the first barging from the factories in the south of soil pipe which led to the barging of ductile iron pipe in the 60’s.
Early implementation of computer processing in distribution in the late 1960’s.
Acquisitions including Kewanee Boiler Corporation from American Standard in 1971 and numerous upper Midwest distributors to allow us significant growth and market share.
Adding Board of Directors who are not family members in the early 1990’s.
Unifying the distribution company under a singular First Supply umbrella in the late 1990’s.
What has been the most remarkable advancement within our industry?
Economical automatic heat in the home through the introduction of coal stokers is the singular most advancing item in our industry. This was done by mechanically feeding coal into a burner to keep continuous heat coming into the home. Besides the heat it produced, this led to much more indoor plumbing into the home and a much improved life style.
After 120 successful years, what does the future hold for First Supply?
The world around us continues to evolve which makes it necessary for our customers to evolve as well. Staying true to our vision is going to remain key to our long term success. As we are well grounded in this area and have the leadership of our COO’s Paul Kennedy and Katie Poehling and our CFO Todd Restel, we are ready to continue to grow, expand and further serve our customers of today as well as new and evolving customers of tomorrow.
How has everyday business changed over time (from order taking, ordering supplies from vendors, bookkeeping, etc.)?
Business hasn’t really changed over time. The means in which we do business has changed with new technologies and methods which give us so much more information so much more quickly. But ultimately the focus on the customer’s needs by maintaining market leadership, exceeding customer’s expectations and handling market leading products has remained as true today as it did back in 1897 when Ed Roesler, Henry Poehling, Rennie Wesson and James Trane started the company.
With that, First Supply is excited to have achieved 120 years of family owned business. While the history is extensive, they are in no way slowing down, as plans are always in motion preparing for the next 120 years. Here’s to continued success serving our local communities!
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