The formation of Miami-based Lehman Pipe & Supply occurred because of an ultimatum. Current Lehman Pipe President Dennis Lehman’s father, Julian, worked for his brother-in-law in the 1940s at a plumbing supply house in the Jacksonville, Florida area.
“My dad went to his brother-in-law and said, ‘You promised me a $2 raise when I get married, and I am getting married,’” Lehman recalls. “He told my dad he couldn’t afford to give him a raise.”
That’s when Lehman’s mother, Betty, put her foot down. Betty Lehman recently passed away just months shy of her 100th birthday.
“My mom said if you don’t quit tomorrow, the wedding is off,” Lehman says. “So he went to work for a competitor and got a much higher salary.”
It was there Julian Lehman met Max Gerber of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures fame. “He told my dad to see him after the war (World War II),” Lehman says.
“He went to see Mr. Gerber, who was living on Miami Beach. He wanted my father to run one of his plants. My mom said we won’t work for anybody ever again and told him they wanted to go into the supply business.”
And that’s exactly what Julian and Betty Lehman did, securing a tiny building in Miami. “The country was entering peace times, but all the factories were still geared up making bullets,” Lehman explains.“Max Gerber made sure my father got merchandise from around the country. He got different wholesalers around the country to ship to my father and they made 10% off of it. A year later they had built this tiny little company and moved into a 5,000-square-foot facility. That’s how they started Lehman Pipe together.”
As Lehman Pipe continued to evolve, the Lehmans continued to purchase land around the Wynwood area where the supply house was. Over the years, the area became some of the hottest real estate in Miami, akin to the Meatpacking District in New York.
Dennis Lehman sold the property several years ago and heavily invested in the spectacular new Lehman Pipe building not far from Miami International Airport that features 90,000 square feet of space and a two-acre pipe yard with four acres of land still left to utilize. What started as a plumbing/hardware supply house in the 1940s, has now morphed into one of the country’s most successful industrial PVF shops, thanks to Dennis Lehman’s vision and unrelenting drive to immerse himself in that part of the industry.
In September, the next chapter of Lehman Pipe started with the grand opening of the distributor’s 65,000-square-foot Broward County location in Pompano Beach (former spring training home of the Texas Rangers for those baseball fans reading; and about 30 miles away from Miami). Lehman says the company will eclipse an upper eight-figure sales milestone this year. Lehman Pipe now has reach as far north as Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic side and Naples on the Gulf side. Lehman Pipe also has four sales reps overseas and two satellite offices in the Dominican Republic and Columbia, selling to every territory in the Caribbean, every country in Central America and several in South America.
“Lehman Pipe is what it is because my mom wouldn’t let my dad go to work for Max Gerber,” Dennis Lehman says. “It was just the two of them in the beginning taking orders, filling orders and doing all the paperwork.”
Lehman and his wife, Kelley, were talking to Betty Lehman several days before she died. Kelley Lehman asked her mother in law what advice would she pass on to the next generation. “My mom said, ‘Do exactly what you want to do, however you want to do it, regardless of the BS they hand you,’” Dennis Lehman says. “Mom didn’t worry about what others thought. She believed in doing what you think is right and what’s right for you. If something happens, you pick yourself up and go on.”
Betty Lehman did get to tour Lehman Pipe’s new facility by the Miami airport. “She wasn’t there during any of the construction,” Dennis Lehman says. “When I brought her there, she kept walking around saying, ‘Oh my God, dad wouldn’t believe this.’ The whole concept of how much the company had grown was quite frankly mind-blowing to her. It was like her eyes were popping out of her head. She was so mesmerized by what she saw. It was overwhelming.”
Julian Lehman died in 2012 at the age of 92. “I joined the company when I was 25,” Lehman says. “I would get to work at 5:15 or 5:30 a.m., and he would usually be there. We wouldn’t leave until 7:30 p.m. or sometimes 10 p.m. That went on for 30-plus years. My father had a passion of passions. Lehman Pipe was like a baby he and my mom grew from infancy. When I got the opportunity to take it over, I wanted to make it grow. Dad said he would back me on anything I wanted to do. The only thing he asked was not to bitch about it, and get my (butt) out there and do it.”
And that’s exactly what Dennis Lehman did, following his parents’ lead and growing Lehman Pipe into the international success it is today.