(From left): Tim Kroger, Chad Kroger and Main Line Supply’s Founder Fred Kroger. Fred died earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Chad Kroger.
When he was younger, Chad Krogerwould run into a familiar face while working summers in the warehouse at Dayton, Ohio-based industrial pipe, valve and fittings wholesaler Main Line Supply.
“At that time, my grandpa was probably 75 or 80 years old and he’s in the warehouse in crisp khakis and a white shirt with not a spot on it taking products out of boxes and making sure shelves were straight,” recalled Kroger, who now works inside sales at the company’s Cincinnati branch.
Stories like that about Fred Krogerare commonplace. Kroger, who founded Main Line Supply in 1955, died earlier this year at the age of 89. He continued to work at Main Line through late last year despite a grave cancer diagnosis.
“My dad was an everyman. That’s what made him so special,” Main Line President Tim Krogersaid. “Dad taught us to be fair and honest. If a person deserves a call back, you call that person back. If we’re late on an order, you call the customer and explain. Dad always had a lesson for us.”
Tim Kroger recalled how his father, after being deployed to and captured in Germany during World War II, returned to the U.S. and worked at local wholesaler MJ Gibbons. “Dad had started a family and asked Mr. Gibbons how he could make more money,” Tim Kroger said. “Mr. Gibbons told my father: ‘I’ve got mine. You get yours.’ Dad understood. He went out and started Main Line and bought out his other three partners over time.”
Tim Kroger noted his father’s generosity was felt at home, at Main Line and in the community.
“My dad put five kids and 16 grandkids through college,” he said. “I played college soccer and I’d be playing three or four hours away and would look up in the stands and there’s Pop. He was like that for all his children. He did more than people would ever know. He gave a seven-figure sum to the University of Dayton and told nobody about it. He’d go to the local bakery on a Friday or Saturday night and get day-old bread and go to a housing project and distribute it. He’d go to jails and talk to prisoners whose families didn’t want to have contact with them. He’d take notes and then contact the families just to say, ‘John sends his love.’”
Fred Kroger’s vast memory is legendary throughout Main Line. “We didn’t need a computer back in the 1980s and 1990s because we had dad,” Tim Kroger said. “He could pull a phone number out of his head that he hadn’t used in five years. He could remember anything. If he said there was four of something in a bin, there would be four in the bin. He did so much for this company. He was involved in everything. The foundation my dad laid has helped make us successful.”
Fred Kroger hired Mike O’Brienas a salesman back in 1972. O’Brien eventually became a partner in Main Line and is its current CEO.
“He was my boss, my partner and my best friend,” O’Brien said. “I learned a lot from him. He had strong ethical values. He wanted you to treat customers and vendors the way you would want to be treated. He was competitive, but he was a kind and giving man and a hard worker.”
One of Tim Kroger’s earliest business lessons imparted on him by his father came when both Dayton newspapers were on strike.
“My dad got up one morning and drove to Cincinnati to buy as many Cincinnati Enquirer newspapers as he could,” he said. “He came back and sold them on the street corner. His lesson was: Here’s a demand. How are we going to fill the demand? We sat there and hawked Sunday papers and sold every one. I couldn’t have asked for a better father not only to learn from but to watch as an example. They don’t make them like my dad anymore.”
Fred Kroger was married to his wife, Marian, for 63 years. She died six days after her husband.
“He was the patriarch to the fullest of that meaning,” Chad Kroger said.