In the mid-1940s, James Sanford Mitchell Sr. and Charlie Baker were two enterprising friends working for Crane Co., and on a mission to break out on their own to open a wholesale distribution company. They did just that in 1946, forming Baker-Mitchell, a plumbing, heating and PVF supply company in Charlotte, N.C.
Over the years, the business grew. Mitchell eventually purchased Baker’s shares and became sole owner. Over time, Mitchell’s sons and grandsons purchased shares in the company. In 2001, grandson Mark Mitchell and his wife, Kelly, became the sole owners of the family-owned and -operated business.
When Mark and Kelly purchased the company, it had 13 employees — today, Baker-Mitchell has more than 40. The supply firm specializes in plumbing, HVAC and waterworks, and is the only independent, family-owned plumbing distributor in Charlotte. It serves mechanical, plumbing, and heating and air contractors in the residential, multifamily and commercial sectors of the industry.
To keep up with the expanding business, the company utilized several buildings around the area. But it became cumbersome to manage all that real estate The Mitchells’ realized it was time to build a centralized building to house the warehouse and offices under one roof.
They invested more than $6 million into a new state-of-the-art building in Charlotte, completed in 2019. Employees moved in over Memorial Day weekend. “It is our dream building,” Mark Mitchell says.
The new facility sits on more than eight acres of land and has increased the company’s footprint —from 57,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet. It houses 10,000 square feet of offices, up from 3,000 in the previous location. As a nod to the past, the original company lettering from the old building was removed, restored and applied to the exterior of the new building — a passing of generation to generation.
The warehouse is set up with 10 indoor docks, allowing trucks to be loaded and unloaded without interruption from the weather. Three receiving docks on one end of the building allow for material coming in to be checked. With indoor loading, trucks are preloaded in the afternoon for morning deliveries — some starting as early as 5 a.m.
“We service up and down the east coast, from Florida to Maryland,” Mitchell explains. “We go where our customers go. Having indoor space allows us to load at night as well, if needed. And having all materials under one roof allows us to make eight more deliveries in a day, allowing for growth and expansion.”
And for the growth — Mitchell believes in stocking inventory: “Having one building, we don’t have a distribution center — we are a distribution center. We have inventory; some may say too much. We are known for having a four-inch copper fitting or an eight-inch cast-iron fitting or whatever it is you need. We stock material — and we sell a lot of material.”
With such a large indoor space, all pipe is stored inside, with the exception of full bundles outside. To handle all the inventory and the customer service needed to supply the demand, the company built one of the largest service counters. “We could have 50 customers walk in and stand behind the counter at one time,” Mitchell explains. “The service counter also has 2 inside bays with loading docks for pickups, and we have four full-time counter folks servicing the area — we believe in customer service!”
A Family Culture
Mitchell grew up in the business and recalls at age 12 working in the warehouse. “Its always been in my blood; I was either counting inventory in the warehouse or whatever my dad needed,” he says. After his freshman year of college, he was at home in the summer working at the company. As a spirited and independent man, he realized there were things happening at the company he could improve upon — and he did.
“I was working in the warehouse loading trucks, working the counter and sales at the same time. I saw how we could improve logistics and streamline processes,” he says. His bravado and jump-in work ethic were admired, and when his father told him it was time to go back to college, Mitchell told him he wasn’t going back. “I knew this is where I wanted to be,” he notes.
With Mark and Kelly at the helm, Baker-Mitchell fosters a company culture based on family. The couple works together every day, as they have done since purchasing the company together many years ago. “We make a pretty good team, and we focus on going after business and keep it growing,” Mark Mitchell says.
The family culture extends to now the third and fourth generation working at the company. The couple’s eldest daughter Amanda is the office manager, and oldest son, Brandon, is in inside sales. Shannon, married to youngest son, Zach, is the receptionist and works on accounts receivable. Zach Mitchell will join the business in 2021 when he completes his final year in the U.S. Air Force. Their son, Chris, does not work in the business — he is employed in the banking industry — but shares in the love of Baker-Mitchell.
The plumbing distributor exudes a pitch-in-and-get-it-done attitude. “Our employees jumped in and we worked together to make the move happen,” Mitchell recalls. “It was the smoothest move ever, and that is a direct result of all our employees working as a team.”
To celebrate the new building and the company’s success, Baker Mitchell held an open house in late September to honor customers, vendors and manufacturers’ reps.
“We had more than 450 celebrate with us,” Mark Mitchell says. “We invited two of our first customers from 1946 to the event — and found invoices dating back to that time. We still do business together today!”
In addition, the vendor community came out and supported the company in a big way “We thank our vendors for being great partners and helping us be successful,” Mitchell notes. “We gave away awards to our vendors and customers. It was a very special day, especially seeing the turnout of support.”
“We work hard for the customer,” he adds. “We pride ourselves on having the materials they need, and the service they expect. We back it by our reputation and that is how we have succeeded — and why we will always go the extra step to make it right.”