A. Louis Supply of Ashtabula, Ohio, a single-location independent distributor of industrial PVF and other diversified product, is 100 years old this year. The company was founded in 1905 as a plumbing supply house by Herman Louis and later passed on to his son and company namesake Arthur Louis. The company was purchased by the late Sanford Coblitz in 1948 and is currently owned by his son, Rick Coblitz.
According to him, they have carved out a tidy niche supplying a wide breadth of product for MRO, OEM and municipal accounts. “We were an integrated supplier before anyone thought of the term,” Coblitz said. “In many cases we've been able to supplant five or 10 distributors on our customers' books, which saves them a tremendous amount of paperwork and transaction costs.”
Industrial PVF, electrical products and tools comprise about 75% of sales, with the remainder accounted for by mill supplies, janitorial and paper goods, underground utilities, fasteners, hardware and safety products, along with a smattering of plumbing. Altogether the company sells some 25,000 SKUs. The company's biggest selling PVF line is Jamesbury ball valves. Other major PVF lines include Vogt, Stockham, Conbraco, Hayward, Anvil, Weldbend and Capitol.
Coblitz identifies the main strength of the company as its 30 seasoned veteran employees representing 580 years of wholesaling experience. “Our company slogan is 'local people serving local needs.' We are the so-called 'middleman' everyone is looking to get rid of, except our customers find we can fill their needs,” said Coblitz.
Keeping them happy means dealing with an eye-popping 900 vendors. This runs counter to the industry trend of vendor consolidation, but Coblitz defends it as necessary to keep customers happy. “Various customers have different brand preferences,” he explained. The company helps to stay competitive via membership in two buying groups, NetPlus Alliance and EDN for electrical supplies.
A. Louis Supply was the subject of a SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES feature article way back in April 1967. That article by this magazine's founder, Charlie Horton, focused on the company's acquisition of an IBM 1130 computer system. It demonstrated that even relatively small distributors could afford and benefit from the electronic data processing technology that was so new to this industry at the time. The company currently operates with an IBM AS400 system.
Coblitz has been with the company full-time since 1976, and took over the business 10 years later. The company will be hosting a 100th Anniversary Open House celebration on Sept. 16.