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In 1947, friends Sam New and Mel Cohn worked for their fathers’ companies in South Bend, Indiana; Sam’s father owned a grocery store, and Mel’s father was a plumber. Both decided to go into business together and opened a plumbing store in an empty building in nearby Elkhart, Ind. “Had they done market research, they would have known to open in Elkhart — as, at the time, the mobile home and RV industry was in its infancy, and manufacturing/production was centered in Elkhart. The two friends weren’t that forward-thinking, but they had gut instinct when they found the empty building in Elkhart,” says Jeff New, Sam’s son and now chairman of the company.
The company name has another interesting twist; enroute to registering the name, the duo passed a company with the same name. So they had to switch tactics quickly. Since they were in the middle of the city, they crafted the name Mid-City Supply. Today, the family-owned and -operated wholesale distribution firm is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing Indiana and Michigan contractors and homeowners with the highest-quality plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration, PVF and industrial products.
Growth Through the Mobile Homes, RV Industry
Under the leadership of Sam New and Cohn, the company would find tremendous growth and expand its territory. In doing so, the company relocated to another building in the Elkhart area and continued to thrive in service to its local communities.
As Elkhart is home to the mobile home and RV industry, one of its customers, Bristol Trailer Plumbing, which made plumbing harnesses for the mobile home industry, would rely upon Mid-City Supply for some of its plumbing needs. As the story goes, Bristol Trailor Plumbing ended up indebted to the wholesaler, and a deal was made for Sam New and Cohn to own two-thirds of Bristol Trailer Plumbing, with Cohn as president. Sam New became president of Mid-City Supply.
The business was booming for Bristol Trailer Plumbing. With plastic pipe becoming more popular, especially in the RV business, the company began to manufacture plastic pipe and soon became the supplier for all plumbing products to the mobile home and RV industry. In 1972, Bristol Trailer Plumbing went public, and Mid-City Supply — which focused on the residential and commercial stick-build sector — became a company division.
In 1979, Bristol wanted to sell off Mid-City Supply as it didn’t fit in with its other holdings. Still at the helm of Mid-City as president, Sam New made a proposition to his son, Jeff New, who had started within the company several years prior but had grown up in the company as he watched his father build his dream. “As I recall, my father came home one day and said to me, ‘We are selling Mid-City Supply — do you want to buy it?’” recalls Jeff New. And he thought, HELL YES! Jeff and Sam New purchased Mid-City Supply that year, making it again family-owned and -operated.
Under their leadership, the father-and-son team would expand the company’s footprint with acquisitions that would expand their territory throughout Indiana and Michigan. In time, two of Jeff New’s sons — Daniel New and Jordan New — would join the family company, working outside the industry before returning to where their family roots were established.
Today, the independent family-owned and -operated company has nine locations — four in southwest Michigan and five in north central Indiana — selling to local contractors. With 150 team members and a headquarters location that includes 65,000-square-feet of storage space, the company is continuing its growth pattern and is looking at a new distribution center in the future.
As brothers Jordan and Dan New returned to the family business they knew and loved, they worked their way through the departments. They would experience company culture in action — as well as inaction. In discussing corporate culture, Dan New shakes his head about prior experiences. “I’ve had the experience of being just a number, and it’s horrible,” he recalls. “We never want our associates to face that feeling, so we spend a lot of time and energy to ensure that we don’t make the same mistake.”
While Jordan and Dan New were working at the company, their father, Jeff New, was preparing them to eventually step into leading it. What would that look like? So, they reached out to an industry friend — Kirk Allen of Sloan Valve Co.; the manufacturer had faced a similar situation. Allen advised the gentlemen on defining and refining their roles — which would be that both hold the title of president; the official announcement was made in December 2020.
Each brother has a skill set that complements the other: where Dan New is more analytical, Jordan New is an idea man, creating new paths for the plumbing and heating wholesaler. They are a perfect combination and are rounded out by industry veteran Joe Velleman, executive vice president. The three oversee the company as a team, with Jeff New guiding along the way. By all accounts, they hit the ground running and haven’t looked back.
Mid-City Supply understands that to fully support its customer, it needs to be a partner — and help drive customers’ success. Jordan New explains the company’s mantra: “We drive the success of those associated with our organization through product distribution, business consultation, and simple caring.” His brother Dan New, President of Mid-City Supply, elaborates. “We want to drive success in our customers, no matter what that means. It could be job site visits by our team, free delivery on customer orders, allowing our customers to return the product, helping our customers with their marketing campaigns, or even helping with an HR problem or business challenge. We are here to help.”
Driving Success: Customer Training
Driving success includes educating and training contractors on industry products — from design to installation. Mid-City Supply has classrooms to do so but wanted to step up its game in helping its customers be better informed, better trained and more comfortable out in the field. In 2000, the company opened the Samuel New Learning Center, located in its corporate headquarters in Elkhart. And that was just the start. The need now is for hands-on training.
Velleman explains: “About three years ago, we polled our customers on what else we could do within our training facility, and the answer was they wanted hands-on training. We answered by renovating the learning center and created within it a lab, moving away from just being a classroom PowerPoint presentation-type of facility. The lab allows us to add hands-on training.”
The wholesaler hired a full-time training manager “and his idea was to create rolling labs for hands-on training,” notes Velleman. “So, we added gas and electrical hookups within the lab, as well as four rolling carts of product that can be moved around the room, hooked up and turn on.” Equipment (such as a furnace) that can be worked on by two individuals at one time, demonstrating how it works and how to troubleshoot it, provides a more intimate and direct learning experience, which has been impactful and helpful for the company’s contractor community.
“The breadth of knowledge we can provide is invaluable,” he says. “Our philosophy is if they are going to kill someone’s equipment during the learning process, it’s better to take down ours than a homeowner’s.”
Mid-City Supply also has partnered with the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors —National Association to provide contractors an opportunity to learn and receive educational credits. “Our classrooms are open to everyone, and we are not brand-centric,” says Velleman.
The contractor community has received the hands-on center very well, and Mid-City hopes to expand the labs within its learning centers in other branches. “We want our company brand to be synonymous with helping you acquire knowledge,” says Jordan New, to which Velleman adds, “and assisting the industry.”
Culture Starts at the Top
Defining a company culture can be challenging, but for Mid-City Supply, it’s easy. When I was interviewing the team, we walked around its corporate headquarters and the warehouse and, along the way, introduced by name to numerous team members, many of whom have other family members working in the company. Jeff New explains that being friendly and stopping to talk with team members and listening to how they are doing is the company culture in action. “Culture starts at the top, and we care about our people,” he says.
It starts with the onboarding process, where new team members meet with the management team: Jeff New, Jordan New, Dan New and Velleman. New team members get to learn more about the company from their lens, hear first-hand the company values and culture, and the importance of the high-touch factor in taking care of customers. The meetings are important as they allow team members to see the culture in action — of taking care of individuals as a whole. The discovery puts individuals at ease, and they have an understanding that the company has an open-door policy, allowing for their concerns and ideas to be addressed.
“One of our talking points is we ask about people’s priorities,” Dan New says. “Work should always fall third, with either faith or family as first, the other as second. Work should never be the most important thing in one’s life — take care of the other two first.”
Team members understand the company is driven to provide support and excellence to its customers and provide the same for its team. “Everyone understands we have customers to take care of, but when things come up that are important to a team member, we follow through for that team member,” he explains. He adds that one of the challenges the company faces today is that as the company grows, keeping connected is not as easy.
One way the company stays connected is by organizing branch dinners, where the management team invites all associates and their spouses to attend. “We want to get to know you as an individual, rather than what you do for us as an organization,” Jordan New says. “’Our family breaking bread with your families’ is how it is described, and it plays out by everyone within that branch having fun learning more about others.”
The company culture plays out by how well the company is known within the communities it services. Associates share their experiences with their family and friends, drawing interest in possible employment. It can be felt by the number of families working for the company and former customers that return, post-retirement, seeking an opportunity to continue and share their industry knowledge and experience.
“We want to provide every opportunity for success; we give our associates support and the room to grow,” Dan New notes. And associates understand the company is all-in to help along the way.
In the early 1990s, Mid-City Supply had three locations, but the challenges it faced were the same as many other companies – How do you get people to care? “We assembled a committee with representatives from each part of the organization, and asked, ‘You have a blank slate. What do we do to help people care?’” Jeff New explains.
An interesting idea was proposed, one that empowers associates to be a part of the organization. “They came up with a program called High Involvement Organization (HIO) which has four elements,” he says. “The first is communication; we needed to communicate better to keep everyone informed on what’s happening in the organization. So, the company started a ’News from New‘ newsletter, distributed every week,” Jeff New notes.
The second action item is education and training, and the company created its Learning Center. The third was representation — to have their voices heard, which was accomplished by establishing an HIO committee. The fourth is a sharing of the wealth, done through a gain-share program.
“Elements of the four-step program still exist and have been refined and reformed over the years, and are very much alive in the company culture and employee empowerment,” Jeff New says.
Several years back, the distributor started an annual All-Associate Team Huddle, where everyone is brought together to hear about the health of the company, its expenses and revenue, what is taking place now and future plans for the next year and the long-term. It’s part of the HIO program.
“We lay everything out to be transparent,” Jeff New says. “It is another opportunity for associates to ask questions and discuss concerns.” The level of transparency shows associates that everyone is working toward a common goal — providing excellent customer service and high-quality products, which translates into high sales. That, in turn, provides for sharing in the profits.
Mid-City Supply holds steadfast to this key aspect of its culture — associate empowerment and betterment. It supports and encourages participation in educational courses and events, such as those offered by industry groups such as the Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), the American Supply Association (ASA), and its regional organization North Central Wholesalers Association.
By using educational courses such as ASA’s Educations Foundation; the association’s Women In Industry and Emerging Leaders programs, University of Innovative Distribution; and opportunities from its buying group, The Commonwealth Group — the opportunities for learning and betterment are limitless. Velleman quickly points out that opportunities are available for all team members: “We also make conscious efforts to make sure we are not sending the same people every time; we’re making the opportunity available to all — creating well-rounded associates and allowing them to grow.”
The wholesaler is currently developing its own learning management system “to empower our associates to take ownership of their careers,” Jordan New says. “We’re getting there. We’re not there yet, but we understand that’s where we need to go.”
And it doesn’t end with courses that are only industry-related.
Mid-City Supply also believes in personal empowerment courses that develop a sense of self. An example given is the company’s director of first impressions. “She is a smart and talented associate and was looking for a way to bolster her confidence,” Jordan New explains. She was encouraged to attend an empowerment course, paid for by the company. “After the course, she was a stronger individual — more confident in her role here at Mid-City Supply and as a wife and mother. We are all-in to empower and offer paths for personal betterment, and we will pay for it because it makes the company stronger as well.”
Going one step further, the company is also tuned into mental health support for its associates. “There have been many instances we have witnessed, especially with our younger associates, instances of mental struggles,” Jordan New explains. Mid-City addresses the issue by offering an assistance program for mental wellness. In addition, it is working with its internal safety committee to train an associate at each branch to be aware of signs of depression and other cues an individual may be struggling with mental health issues.
In 2010, Velleman was working for another wholesale distribution company that had being acquired; he thought it might be time for a change. A local contractor, who Velleman knew within the community, told him to check out Mid-City Supply. “He said I needed to talk to them — they are a great outfit and have great programs and take care of their customers,” Velleman recalls. He interviewed, was hired and joined the company as its HVAC specialist. He was introduced to everyone at an All- Associate Team Huddle.
Having been with the company for 14 years, Velleman smiles, “The family elected to bring me into their fold and treat me that way. It is a family atmosphere, and Jordan and Dan refer to me as their big brother.”
Ensuring Customer Success
Mid-City Supply drives home customer service and support, showcasing many value-added offerings for their success. And the support it receives from its customers shows. The best customer feedback can be found in how many of its contractor customers end up becoming associates within the organization.
Retired contractors can be found as team members at Mid-City Supply —continuing to share their knowledge and experience with the internal team and its customer base.
“We do everything we can to ensure our customers’ success,” Jordan New says; from solving the knowledge gap with technical classes offered at is Learning Centers, to helping the customer get things done faster, quicker and better.
Velleman explains that “Because products are more complex today, we have more opportunities to help our customers than ever before, and we can provide value-added service while remaining competitively priced. How can we supplement what they are missing? If a customer needs somebody to come to stock their shelves and we are making a delivery, we will have our team member stock their shelves. We’ll try to help them out by finding different resources to help their businesses run better.”
The distributor also created a Rapid Response Program to solve the contractor’s unbillable time problems. It’s not uncommon to be on a jobsite and missing an essential product or tool. Instead of the contractor leaving the site, Mid-City Supply will deliver the product needed directly to them for a small fee that is significantly less than the revenue they would earn from the contractor’s time off the site.
Conversely, customer returns, in general, are costly, but Mid-City Supply provides for easy returns, typically without a restocking fee. At the same time, it’s another opportunity to connect with
customers. “It’s an educational opportunity also because we have had customers return an item, and the next day, they are coming in and buying the same item as the day before. It gives us an opportunity to educate and coach them on the true cost of a wasted trip,” Dan New notes.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the company was known for its annual Steak Frys — a customer appreciation event where the entire branch sets up and cooks; you would always find the New family, Velleman and others grilling steaks and entertaining customers as a way of thanks. As COVID shut down those get-togethers, the company looked to thank its customers in another way.
Knowing that money was tight for many — and food insecurity would become a challenge and impact restaurants within the local communities they serve — management purchased gift cards to local restaurants and gave them to Mid-City’s contractor customers. “In turn, they can give them to their customers who were in need,” Jordan New explains. “Our contractors can be the hero, and it’s rewarding because we know we are doing something good for the community.”
Woven through the company culture is giving back from within the organization, extending to the communities it serves, and contributing to the channel’s overall health.
“One of the things my dad taught me was if you’re going to be in an industry, you need to be involved in that industry,” Jeff New says. And he leads by example, volunteering and leading on boards and councils in organizations such as ASA, where he served as its president in 2008, and recently awarded the association’s Fred Keenan Lifetime Achievement Award. Jordan and Dan New, as well as Joe Velleman, are volunteer leaders within the organization, and Mid-City Supply is an active and involved member of HARDI and other industry groups.
Giving back is at the heart of the family and the business. When Mid-City Supply celebrated its 70th anniversary several years back, it had forgone a large party; instead, it created 70 random acts of kindness, which continue to this day. It’s not uncommon to hear from a local contractor of a family in need; recently, a contractor serviced an elderly woman’s home – her furnace was not working correctly. It needed to be replaced, but she wasn’t in a position to do so. The contractor reached out to its industry partner, Mid-City Supply, and was able to accommodate the request. “And it’s a good thing; there was a crack in her furnace, and the possibility of carbon monoxide exposure was imminent,” Velleman explains.
The spirit of the company shines through in the company culture as well. An associate working with Mid-City for several months had told the director of first impression that a fire had ravaged a neighbor’s house. Before the day was out, co-workers had gathered bags of clothing and toys for the family in need. “It is wonderful to see how our associates take what we believe in — the family spirit and feeling of community — and put it into action across the community,” Jordan New notes.
So, as the company celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, the random acts of kindness continue. A culmination of celebrations was held recently at the Mid-City Supply Annual Steak Fry, which brought together more than 300 people. It was all hands-on deck — setting up tents, tables and chairs for the celebration. All four gentlemen were behind the grill, cooking steaks and smiling, knowing the community of customers it was celebrating are taking care of their customers and community, with Mid-City Supply as their backbone of support.
Here’s to you, Mid-City Supply. Happy Anniversary!