To stay in business for more than 100 years, local business leaders say the trick is no trick — put customers first, invest in employees and take intelligent risks.
What drives the success of historic companies are the same strengths that drive new companies, said Alan Pippenger, president of Dayton’s Requarth Co., which traces its history back to 1860.
“There’s no secret sauce,” he said.
The Dayton Daily News is celebrating 120 years in business and talked to leaders at some of the longest running companies in the region to learn what reasons they credit for their longevity.
The “formula” for long-term durability is strikingly familiar: Give customers what they want at a good price and treat employees, vendors and suppliers well.
“Ultimately, we’re judged every day by the job we’re doing,” said Pippenger, who is a member of the fifth generation of the family running Requarth Lumber. “We’re judged by the deliveries that are going out on time, by the service people are getting at the sales counter, by the quality of our products.”
He adds: “People aren’t going to continue to buy from us because we’re old.”
Bill Smith, president and chief executive of Huffy Corp., runs a company whose roots go back to the Davis Sewing Machine Co. The Huffman family bought the company in 1888 and brought the business from Watertown, N.Y. to Dayton over the next 18 months.
By 1892, the company had 2,000 employees and was just starting to make bicycles — the product for which Huffy in the next century became best know for manufacturing.
Luck is fickle, people retire or move on and products change. So how does a company endure for 100-plus years?
“It’s through the company’s culture,” Smith said.
A company’s personality and values can be passed from worker to worker, from generation to generation. A certain character and approach — especially if it’s adaptable — can form a business culture that can get handed on, the CEO said.
Smith calls it “DNA.”
“In my mind, that’s the most important lasting piece, because it is transferable,” he said.
John Danis, CEO of Danis, said he credits the success of the company to be rooted with the philosophies as when the company was founded. Danis is now one of the largest construction companies in the Dayton area, but started in 1916 by John Danis’ grandfather, B.G. Danis.
“I believe it boils down to three key elements to make a company successful for over 100 years: people, an entrepreneurial spirit, and integrity,” Danis said.
Danis highlighted the company’s co-op program that lets people experience the phases of the construction process and its employee training program that begins with new project engineers.
He said an entrepreneurial spirit is needed to provide passion and the willingness to change when needed.
“It is a spirit that makes you seek ways to improve and not be satisfied with the status quo. For me, it was exploring different markets both functionally and geographically to see how Danis could develop in new ways,” Danis said.
Integrity is also needed for longevity, so clients can count on consistency and honesty, he said.
Sharyl Gardner, chief administrative officer of clinical environmental design company Midmark, hailed the company’s blend of stability and adaptability over 103 years. The founding family remains involved in the company’s private ownership.
“It’s that whole notion of stability and growth,” Gardner said. “We continue to reinvent ourselves and the company. That allows us to keep moving forward.”
Today, Midmark has about 900 employees in Versailles, its largest location, and about 100 in Dayton.
The needs of the customer is going to change over 100 years and a successful business will need to evolve to those needs.
When Rieck Services started in 1882 on Wayne Avenue, the company was installing wood furnaces.
“Obviously we’re not doing that any more. You have to change with the time,” said Steven Fabrigar, chief strategy officer.
Now 125 years later, Rieck has 180 employees and has since expanded into other types of mechanical contracting. The family business was taken over by Harold Rieck in 1967, who still works three days a week at the company, who led the company under the same motto of treating customers well.
The leaders of long running companies said success also depends on being an employer where the best workers want to work.
“We’re a professional services business so if you don’t have the best people you won’t have the best clients,” said Cattran, of Woolpert.
Fabrigar, of Rieck Services, said the company has a quality team that works well together.
“There’s several employees from multiple generations that have actually worked at Rieck,” Fabrigar said.
Customer service is important to be a long-lasting company.
Woolpert started in 1911 as a surveying and landscaping company, but has continuously adopted new technology and skill sets. Woolpert CEO Scott Cattran said the architecture, engineering and geospatial firm invests in doing work that’s not easy to compete with.
“You’ve got to know your unique value proposition from your clients. You want to create a higher barrier of entry so not everyone can come in and do the same thing you do,” Cattran said.
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