New Orleans—a city nearly 300 years in the making—is steeped in history, culture, music, and a fierce sense of passion for celebrating life and people. As the actor John Goodman once said, “An incomplete part of us gets repaired or found in New Orleans. Some of us just belong here.”
That statement is true of Albert J. Coburn, who was born in New Orleans and embodied the very spirit of the city. He celebrated life, was of service to others, and held close a commitment to faith and family. He was a man who went after opportunity with all his might, and believed in working hard, treating others with respect, and rewarding a job well done. These traits would be passed down through generations to come.
Nicknamed “Tiny,” Albert stood 6-foot, 5 inches tall. He began his career as a plumber, and while following opportunity, he moved from New Orleans following the instillation of “city services” along the Gulf Coast settling in Beaumont, Texas. In 1932 he left the plumbing contractor side of our industry and began working for a Houston wholesaler running its Beaumont branch. In 1934, when the company for which he worked shut its doors, it presented him with an opportunity he could not walk away from. Albert purchased the materials left behind and started his own business—Coburn Supply Co., as plumbing supply distributor.
Opening day was a bit scary as he almost went bankrupt on the same day that he opened his doors. The story, which is legendary and passed through the generations, is as follows: As prohibition had been repealed, Albert invited a prospective customer out for a beer. He had $1.65 in his pocket, which was enough for just the beer. The customer ordered a double whiskey, and almost put the company out of business.
Hard work leads to big rewards
In 1936, Albert’s nephew, Arthur J. Maloney, also hailing from the city of New Orleans, moved to Beaumont, Texas to work for his uncle. James Maloney, another nephew joined the company along the way. Sticking to their standards of working hard, taking care of customers and employees, and remaining true to their character of integrity, the company flourished.
Through acquisition, expansion, and innovation the company continued to grow through the years. If you go to the website, you’ll find a video (www.coburns.com/history) that describes how in in the 1950s—the age of suburban expansion—as plumbing fixtures and appliances were being produced in a wide variety of styles and colors, Coburn’s dealer customers wanted to provide their own customers an opportunity to experience the product prior to purchase. Coburn agreed to allow dealers to invite their customers into the stores after hours. This started the “showroom” aspect for the company, which has since expanded into its now numerous kitchen and bath showrooms.
The family-owned and operated wholesale distributor has grown immensely, and is a supplier of residential and commercial plumbing, waterworks, heating and air conditioning, electrical supplies, tools, chemicals, appliances, decorative lighting, and so much more. In addition to the corporate office in Beaumont, Texas, the company has branches, warehouses, and showrooms spread throughout more than 50 locations in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. Three central distribution centers are located in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The company is an active member of the American Supply Association and a founding member of the Embassy Buying Group.
Today, it is run by the third generation under the leadership of Arthur Maloney’s sons, Don (president) and AJ (executive vice president), and, each have their children involved in the business as well, keeping in line with family tradition.
“What the Maloney family has created should be the envy of all wholesalers. The culture built under the Coburn’s name is truly phenomenal. The Embassy Group is proud to be associated with this organization and everything they have done for our group, the industry, and its employees.”- Mike Lepley, President at Embassy Group Ltd.
Celebrating family, faith,
None of this success would be possible without the founder’s belief in family and faith. Albert said it best when he stated, “The purpose of the company is to provide opportunity and security for its people.” In late August, the company celebrated its 85th anniversary in New Orleans, a city that remains imprinted on the souls of generations that followed in Albert’s footsteps. The celebration was legendary, and more than 2,000 guests were in attendance.
The family spent a year planning an event that would celebrate the hard work and dedication of its employees, partnerships with vendors, and special guests. To get folks in the spirit, Don and AJ made a video where the pair raced off in a NASCAR Ford Fusion heading for New Orleans – signaling the kickoff of the festivities. This was sent to all the guests prior to the weekend celebration – and helped gets folks “In Good Spirits.” Aptly, this was the theme of the weekend, which represented celebrating family – the one you are born into, the ones that came before us, and those you surround yourself with today.
Another video followed, featuring the fourth generation of Maloney’s, including Don’s sons Michael, vice president, director of marketing and Patrick, vice president, director of sales, and daughter Coleen Mowery, events coordinator, as well as AJ’s daughter Christy, vice president, assistant treasurer, and director of finance and strategic planning. The close-knit group drove a 1934 delivery vehicle into the hotel ballroom; both vehicles were gifted to the company several years ago from industry partner, State Water Heaters.
Hands-on and feet first
The party officially kicked off when employees who had boarded busses from branches in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama rolled up to the Marriott Marquis in New Orleans. They were greeted by statesman Don and AJ, along with Michael, Patrick, and Christy who all assisted with luggage and with the check-in process. The Maloney family’s hands-on approach is evident in all they do and showcases the commitment to honoring a job well-done and taking care of others.
A sign in the hotel celebrating the anniversary read: “We are a business built on family, and our employees are part of that family. We appreciate every single person who has helped build Coburn’s into the company it is today, and we know that all things are possible with a talented, hard-working team like ours.”
In typical Coburn hospitality fashion, the celebration started with a six-hour welcome reception. The room was packed, and the energy was electric. There was laughter, hugs, and high-fives between guests – and guests enjoyed the music of different bands throughout the evening. Many of the band members were Coburn employees.
The following morning, employees and their guests packed a room for the “Branch Awards” presentation. Taking center stage, Don and AJ welcomed the group, and Don, in his soft and subtle voice said, “Eighty-five years is a long time, and a milestone that we very proud of. We are proud because of all you out there. You make this possible. It’s because of all the employees we work with, all the vendors and representatives, you all make us look good.”
Growth comes from planting roots
The company is known for having long-term employees, and it makes it a point to celebrate that in many ways. In 1977, Coburns established the Silver Club to celebrate employees with 25 years and more of service. During the anniversary event, Don asked the crowd to participate by inviting all current employees to stand and receive recognition. He then continued with asking those with 5,10,15, 20, 30, 40 and 45 years of services to please be seated. The crowd erupted with cheers for the one employee who had been with the company for what appeared to be the longest, 49 years. But there was one anniversary yet still to acknowledge, and that was of Don Maloney, celebrating his 50th year with the company. Jim Hebert, Houma, LA branch, was recognized as the longest full time employee with 55 years.
The official “Branch Awards” followed acknowledging team members for sales and service accomplishments, as well thanking valued vendor partners. A long line of Coburn executives greeted each award recipient with handshaking, high-fives, and hugs. The personal touch of gratitude shows exactly how and why the company culture is based upon respect, acknowledgement, and support. The presentation was filled with laughter, everyone in the room felt and participated in the celebration.
Elkay Mfg., a longtime partner with Coburn, presented Don and AJ with a handmade stainless-steel table from its plant in Broadview, Illinois. The table was emblazoned with the Coburn and Elkay logos, and celebrated the many years of partnership between the two companies.
Wrapping up with gratitude
The banquet gala in the evening was filled with laughter and some tears, too. But they were tears of gratitude and joy. A video titled “The Stories & Spirt of Coburn Supply Co.,” was shown, highlighting several employees that told their stories of coming to work for the company, and what Coburn meant to them. The touching sentiments and personal stories symbolized what all employees felt, which is a sense of community, respect, and love of working in a culture that celebrates family.
Otis Hawkins has been with the company for 20 years and shared his story about being called up for his military service in 2003. When he informed his boss about the deployment, the immediate response was, “If there is anything that your family needs while you are away, let us know. Even if your grass needs cut, we are all here for you.” Hawkins said, “It was wonderful to know you were wanted and needed, and that somebody was looking out for you.”
Cheers from the audience erupted as they recognized employees in the video, and not a dry eye was in the house.
In telling her story, Denise Champagne-McClure summed up the family company and culture with a simple line: “When speaking with Don, AJ, and the general and branch managers, what I’ve taken away is that when they ask, ‘how are you?’ … it truly means, how ARE you.”
In closing remarks during the gala, Patrick, Michael, and Christy took the stage to present a new award. “As we reflect on Coburn’s values, we decided to launch a new, annual award called the “Spirit Award”. It is to recognize those who embody the spirit of Coburn’s and live out our values. And we start by honoring two people,” Patrick said.
Christy spoke of the first recipient and said, “He represents the family with honesty, stability, dignity, and respect. He truly is a role model for me.” She described how he knows everyone’s name, acknowledges everyone, and truly cares about them because he believes that everyone is important and everyone’s part of the team. “When decisions need to be made, he is not thinking of himself, he is thinking of ALL of US first,” she added. “And in my opinion, that is what makes him a good candidate for the Spirit Award
Patrick spoke of the second recipient much the same as the first. “He exemplifies what it means to be honest.” This person is absolutely a person of their word. He is truthful, and genuine, and has the ability to talk to any employee, customer, rep, or vendor. He puts people at ease, no matter what they are talking about. When he talks to you, you know the conversation is genuine, and that you are being heard. He does the right thing for the right reason, and he is courageous. This recipient is my personal hero.
The recipients were AJ and Don Maloney, respectfully. Both were caught off guard and were momentarily speechless. Tears of humility and gratitude streamed down their faces as they were embraced by their children, and the roar of the crowd signified that they truly were deserving of such a momentous award. Thanking all guests in attendance, both remarked, “None of this is possible without you.”
Congratulations to Coburn Supply Co. on its 85th anniversary.