As it enters its 75th year in business, Milwaukee Lead Works (Milwaukee) has decided to close its doors and discontinue operations. The current president, John Schmitt, representing the third generation, operated the family business with his father, Jerald Schmitt, chairman.
"The bottom line is we are not having fun anymore," John Schmitt told Supply House Times. "The industry has expanded. It has become very tough for a small independent to make a go of it when faced with competition from larger national and regional chains. The return was not there for us."
The business operated from a single 128,000-sq.-ft. facility in Milwaukee. Its sales breakdown was 50% plumbing, 25% industrial PVF and 25% waterworks, Schmitt said.
"The company started out as a lead foundry in the 1920s, then evolved into a plumbing wholesaler," he said. "For many years we were known for having the best copper inventory in the Midwest. Over the years we expanded our lines to be a more well-rounded wholesale house. But we lost the ability to focus on our strengths, which had always been plumbing. In retrospect, maybe we should not have expanded that much."
Efforts to find a buyer for all or part of the business failed, Schmitt said. Now the family members are exploring their options, but they hope to stay in the industry.