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More than a hundred years ago, Albert H. Knoettner laid the foundation of a contracting business in Audubon, N.J., specializing in plumbing, heating, spouting and sheet metal fabrication services. The company was strategically located to serve the burgeoning local community and acted as a convenient supply house for tradespeople wishing to avoid a trip to Philadelphia.
Tragedy struck in the early 1920s when a devastating fire consumed the business. However, resilience and determination fueled its recovery, steering its focus toward plumbing supplies and HVAC services, including sheet metal fabrication. “The company evolved primarily into plumbing and HVAC,” states Matt Knoettner, the fourth-generation owner and president of Audubon Supply Co. This specialization is the core of our identity today.”
Now, the distributor operates proudly as a fourth-generation family-owned business with three locations in Audubon, Mantua and Cape May Court House, N.J., and a team of 18 dedicated members. It continues to uphold the family’s legacy by serving its customers and communities, aspiring to be the preferred supply house in its localities. It also houses two dedicated fabrication shops catering to the needs of numerous local HVAC and plumbing professionals in southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Under the leadership of Matt Knoettner, great grandson of Albert H. Knoettner, the business continues to thrive, with his son, Dillon Knoettner, managing the daily operations. Matt Knoettner officially joined the company after high school. “I graduated on a Friday, and my dad asked me about my plans for Monday,” he recalls. He had envisioned enjoying some leisure time with friends, but his father had other plans.
“My father told me, ‘On Monday, you’ll either show me which military branch or college you’ve enrolled in, or you’ll leave the house.’ So, I started working at Audubon that Monday and never looked back,” he shares with a smile, acknowledging that it was what he had wanted all along. Audubon Supply remains a testament to the family’s commitment and service to the community, continually evolving to meet contemporary needs while honoring its storied past.
Dillon Knoettner shares the same smile and story: “I always knew I wanted to join the family business, and did so ‘officially’ after I graduated high school; I’ve been with the company for more than 12 years.” Like his father Matt Knoettner, he has it in his blood.
“There are pictures downstairs from our first open house, and in it you can see my dad holding me,” Dillon Knoettner smiles. “When I was in school, he would pick me up and bring me back to the shop and gave me two options: homework or sweep up and stock bins.” As one can imagine, the homework was done quickly, and he went on to not only stock and sweep but came to know and understand the business-like previous generations. It is all about hard work and customer service.
Ensuring Satisfied Customers
“We have an invoice framed in the office going back to 1946,” Dillon Knoettner says. It speaks to the partnerships that have evolved through the years. “And I’ve also been taught: ‘Don’t give the customer what they want, give them what they need.’”
What started as a contractor-focused company delivering plumbing and HVAC services, has evolved into a plumbing and HVAC supply house focused on residential and commercial plumbing and HVAC needs. Audubon Supply is moving more into the plumbing side of the business; however, about 80 percent of its deliverables fall within HVAC categories. Over the years, the company has grown its presence in the area — branching out to Mantua township and Cape May Court House. Along the way, previous generations added their mark to the company by supplying what the customer needed.
Family lore states that Harry’s famous saying was, “The less supervision you need, the more valuable you are.” These sayings are not taken lightly. Customer service is ingrained into the company fabric and, literally, sayings are printed upon sheet metal and hang throughout the shop.
“It’s part of our core principles,” Dillon Knoettner explains. “We have five core values, and the first one leads off with the saying from my great-great grandfather.”
1. The less supervision you need, the more valuable you are.
2. We have a ‘the glass is half full’ type of attitude, and having that attitude, put your best foot forward every day.
3. We are dog-friendly and have treats ready — we have a dog in every branch!
4. Be honest, no BS!
5. Having a backbone — we walk the talk. We stand behind what we say.
“My uncle and father always taught me that customer service is key,” Matt Knoettner notes. “Make sure the customer is satisfied and that there are no problems. If there is a problem, solve it as quickly as possible.” And it shows: Customer service has empowered employees to act and make quick decisions to help their customers immediately. It’s all about knowing your customers and what their needs are or will be.
For example, customers order products for pickup. By knowing the scope of the projects they are working on, Audubon Supply staff can help by suggesting items that may have been overlooked. Having a customer base that has also grown through the generations with you keeps the family-owned and -operated company embedded within its customer community.
The 18 team members are a tight-knit group, and many have field experience, which helps in assisting customers’ needs. “Often, customers come to the counter and request an item, and we ask them what they have going on, Dillon Knoettner says. “From there, often we can suggest an additional product they will probably need on the job — eliminating a future trip back to us.” It’s another way to set a customer up for success.
Being involved in the community for more than 110 years, the customers and community are one. It’s not unusual for customers to come into the store and tell stories about previous generations — from the customer service to the offerings Audubon Supply provided.
“We have customers that come in and tell us stories about my grandfather and great uncles,” Dillon Knoettner says. Included in the stories are the nontraditional items the company would sell. “I’ve heard stories about my Uncle Harry selling bushels of crabs from here at the counter,” he chuckles. Other stories include times when the company would sell candy and shoes in the store. It goes back to being a part of the community — and selling what the customers needed at the time.
Relationships span generations; an example would be the family’s relationship with its vendors. Domenico Basile, sales rep for Grayfin, is 95 years old, and still stops into the distributor biweekly. “It has been a privilege to be a business partner with Audubon Supply and the Knoettner family for four generations,” he notes. They have always been honest and hard-working. It’s obvious by their success that the team serves their customers well. I believe strongly that personal relationship is still important in business. Audubon proves that with its longevity, and I guess so do I.”
The sentiment is shared by others as well. “I’ve been calling on Audubon Supply for more than 15 years, and what sets the company apart is it remains family-owned, and they treat me- one of their vendor partners, as family. In today’s business environment, it is rare to call on companies like Audubon, where the owner does the decision-making, and the decisions can be implemented quickly, and the commitments are kept. Audubon Supply treats its vendor partners as partners in success, and I look forward to working with Matt and the rest of the Audubon family for many more years,” Bill Mayer, United Components, Inc.
When asked about the company’s culture, it was easy to understand that it all comes back to family and community. Team members are encouraged to bring their dogs to work — after all, its No. 3 in the company’s core values. Who doesn’t love to pet a dog — and put one in a better mood? Happier team members, happier customers.
Another example is how team members embrace their customers and community, “Recently, we had a customer come in who was building a house down the block,” Dillon Knoettner. “He needed some help with some tough work, so one of our counter guys went over after he was done here to help lend a hand.” A community built-within a community.
Celebrating the Future
This year marks the Audubon Supply’s 110th anniversary. The distributor recently implemented an entrepreneurial operating system to help clarify, simplify and achieve its visions. “It has helped to give us organization and accountability,” Matt Knoettner explains. “It definitely opened up our communication a lot better so we’re communicating between the branches and making decisions,” Dillon Knoettner notes. A testament to the company’s desire for future growth.
Help in future growth also extends to the distributor’s involvement in BLUE HAWK, a member-owned and -run cooperative of independent HVACR wholesalers, as well as the IMARK buying group. “We use training from both organizations,” Dillon Knoettner explains. “It’s easy for us to check out different classes from our vendors and learn more about their products.” These are in addition to classes which take place during counter days and onsite manufacturer training classes from industry vendors, keeping customers and team members updated on the latest technology.
When the company celebrated its 100th anniversary, it did so on the Battleship New Jersey, based in Camden, N.J. At that time, more than 650 family, team members, friends, customers and more came to celebrate Audubon Supply. Matt Knoettner’s father George, and his Uncle Harry, marked the milestone by shooting a nine-inch cannon off the ship.
To mark its 110th anniversary, Audubon Supply was named the guest of honor in the Audubon community’s Fourth of July celebration. As the oldest business in town, it’s easy to see how ingrained family and community are to one another.
Audubon Supply also celebrated with a trade show and open house, where customers enjoyed food and friendship — and the community could see the growth over the years. “We had around 20 vendors for our open house, and one of our guys down in our shore branch got a 1913 Team roadster from Warren and a 2023 Ford Mustang so we could see the 110-year difference between the two different cars,” Matt Knoettner recalls. “We had all our families here — it was a great day!”
I asked Matt Knoettner about milestones that marked Audubon Supply’s success; he says, “Milestones … staying in a family business!” With that, he smiles, knowing the weight behind the statement includes not only the hard work to keep the family-owned and -operated distributor in business, but also looking to the next generations to keep up the family legacy.
He knows that the legacy will continue when Dillon steps into the role as president. “Dillon has a young son and daughter — the sixth generation,” Matt Knoettner exclaims. To which Dillon Knoettner replies, “My four-year-old daughter has told me she wants to work here someday.” Family legacy — generations paving the way for the future.
Happy Anniversary, Audubon Supply!