HISTORY OF DEALERS SUPPLY COMPANY
For many years prior to 1949, West Durham Lumber Company was both a retailer and wholesaler of lumber, millwork and building supplies. It was the wholesale division of the corporation which was later to become Dealers Supply Company.
Because of its past steady growth and great future potential, the co-owners of the lumber company, R. N. Barringer and A.L. Caldwell, organized and incorporated Dealers Supply.
They sold an equal one-third interest to Ed Gaither who served as general manager and chief executive officer. The new company occupied a 10,000-square foot warehouse adjacent to West Durham Lumber Company on Hillsborough Road.
Operation began with one salesman, W. R. Fox, who remained employed in that capacity until retirement in August of 1978; a secretary; a warehouse clerk; and an office clerk. Its initial territory was eastern North Carolina and its primary products were asbestos siding, roofing, plywood, fir panel doors, screen doors, screen wire, tension screens, B&T metal moulding, Kwikset locks, Barclay board, Masonite products, Miraplas tile and Formica.
The only floor covering products were linoleum sheet goods and linoleum tiles manufactured by Bonafide Mills. It may be of interest that Bonafide Mills was later bought out by American Biltrite Rubber, better known as Amtico.
Truck delivery was unheard of in those days. It was not until 1954 that the first truck was purchased.
The company prospered and grew under the leadership of Gaither and his employees. Jim Mangum, who later became a corporate vice president, began his career with the company in 1952 as the office clerk. Ramon King, the first warehouse clerk, was promoted to the office, then made a territory salesman in 1952.
In 1954 a branch was opened in Columbia, South Carolina with Lynn Reed, a former Durham salesman, as its manager. The Charlotte branch was opened in 1958, and Raymond King was promoted to manage that operation.
During this period, resilient floor covering products became an increasingly larger portion of the total sales, and the company was phasing out many building supply items such as asbestos siding, roofing and nails. It began to expand more into “specialty” items such as foundation vents, louvers, medicine cabinets, range hoods, wood finishes, adhesives, gutters and downspouts, Beaver board, fiberglass roof panels and cabinet hardware.
In February 1964, Ed Gaither met a tragic death in a fire. R.N. Barringer, Jr. was promoted from a sales position at West Durham Lumber Company to the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of Dealers Supply. At that time, the three companies were combining for approximately one and a half million dollars in yearly sales; had a sales force of six; and a total employment of twenty-five.
Moving into larger facilities and new branches has always been a hallmark of the company’s growth. The Columbia branch had moved diagonally across the street to larger facilities in 1960, and the Charlotte branch moved into a brand new 12,000square foot building in 1964. The Greensboro branch was opened in early 1966 in a small 7,200 square foot building which was the only real estate owned by the company.
In 1966, Durham remodeled and enlarged its offices and installed an IBM 732, the very simplest of computers. It also added a 2,000-square foot addition to the warehouse to contain the expanded domestic and imported ceramic tile inventory.
Columbia made yet another move in the summer of 1967 to a new 12,000 square foot building in an industrial park. Jerry Clark, who joined the company in 1968, became the branch manager in 1970.
In 1968, the company added carpet to its line of products and the Greensboro warehouse was converted for carpet inventory only, to hold the initial six qualities made by Thomas Pride mills. Padding from Sponge Cushion; and tools and tackless from Kinkead were also additions to the lines. Another milestone was reached in 1969 with the installation of and conversion to the Burroughs computer. By the end of that year, sales doubled to just over $3 million, and the company had nine sales representatives and a total of 45 employees.
This was the beginning of more expansion and rapid growth. August of 1971 saw Charlotte open a second warehouse to contain their initial carpet inventory, and in December of the same year Durham moved into its new 25,000 square foot warehouse and 3,500 square foot office building. This move gave Durham the necessary room for its initial carpet inventory.
In the summer of 1974, Charlotte moved from its two warehouses to a new 27,000 square foot facility, just off Interstate 85. Columbia moved into a 10,000-square foot addition to their existing building at about the same time, giving them a total of 22,000 square feet and space for their initial carpet inventory.
The Greensboro branch continued its rapid growth and in August of 1975 moved into new and larger quarters. With this move it became a full line warehouse and Paul Sawyer was promoted to branch manager.
On January 1, 1975, the companies merged into a single corporation with R. N. Barringer, Jr. as President. By the end of 1976, sales reached $11 million annually with 75 employees and sales force consisting of 15. Three tractor trailer rigs and nine van trucks were being operated and there was some 90,000 square feet of warehouse and office space occupied by the company.
A decision was made in 1977 to open a fifth branch in the Richmond area by January 1, 1978. Three new men were hired; Tommy Waller was promoted to branch manager; and the branch opened for business on schedule.
In the past two decades, one symptom of growth is how fast computers become obsolete. Dealers Supply Company was no exception. Meanwhile, we had outgrown yet another computer system and switched from Burroughs back to IBM. An IBM System 34 was ordered which was to be the ultimate – an online system with remote access terminals in each branch location for instantaneous inventory information.
The year 1978 saw changes in our delivery system as small diesel tractors, pulling thirty-four foot trailers, were put into use. The shuttle system between branches improved and a larger, more diverse inventory was made available to all customers. Communication improvements were made and an expanded WATS line system was implemented.
In January 1979 Dealers Supply Company opened its sixth branch in Greenville, SC. Mark Charles was made manager. By the year’s end, sales had reached over $18 million. The sales force numbered 22 people and total employment was 110. We proudly served approximately 4,000 customers in the two Carolinas and Virginia.
The three-year downturn of housing starts in ‘80-’82, coupled with high interest rates, necessitated the company respond by a cut back on facilities and employees. Richmond and Greenville were closed; and later, Greensboro. Employment dropped to 70 and the sales force was reduced to 15. As the economy allowed a return to profitability, the Greensboro branch was reopened in mid-year.
1984 saw the building of a new Charlotte distribution center and the appointment of Ramon King as Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer. In 1985, the Columbia warehouse was relocated in a new facility in Cayce. Also, that year, the position of Architect-Specifier Representative was reinstated for eastern North Carolina.
1986 was a year of further expansion of the sales force, and another Architect-Specifier Representative for western N. C. The Greensboro warehouse was relocated in a newly-built facility and the Durham office received a general face-lift and a 6,000-square foot addition to its corporate offices. The company initiated a 401(K) retirement plan for all employees, that featured company contributions to the fund as well.
In January of 1988, the company created the position of DuPont Corian Marketing Representative and Keith Edmonds was promoted to represent the North Carolina territory and market this unique product more extensively. 1989 saw the addition of a modern, auto-attended phone system and a National WATS line for customer use. After the Hurricane Hugo devastation of the South Carolina area, the Charleston branch was opened in October to respond to the rebuilding efforts to come.
Mid-1990 brought yet another computer revision, this time to a new floor covering software package from Gartman Systems, especially designed for the flooring distributor. In June of 1991, our Raleigh distribution center opened to serve local retailers and installers.
In early 1991, Russell N. Barringer, Jr. stepped down As President of the company and named his son, Russell N. Barringer, III President and Chief Operating Officer. Russell Barringer, Jr. became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the company.
The fall of 1991 saw major changes in Durham’s stock and stock-keeping system as most roll goods and Kentile inventory moved to Durham to service customers on a 1-day basis. Soon thereafter, the second roll cutting machine was installed in Durham and twice-weekly customer deliveries became routine.
In August of 1995, Dealers Supply completed the acquisition of DPG – Tri State of Kingsport, a Mannington distributor with locations in Knoxville and Kingsport, Tennessee. The company consolidated the Tennessee operations into a new 15,000 square foot facility in Knoxville and then closed the Kingsport location.
In 1996, because of the explosion of development along the coast of North Carolina, the company opened a 5,000-square foot facility in Wilmington.
In February of 1997, the company upgraded its AS400 to the model 500 and was the first commercial installation of that equipment in the nation.
In late 1998, the company closed the Raleigh distribution facility because the Durham facility was more than able to make all the deliveries and the facility was deemed to be redundant.
In mid-1999 the company upgraded its’ computer system again, this time to the 720 model of the AS400 line of mini-computers from IBM.
The company continues to grow in sales every year and is extremely proud of all the people associated with the organization.