According to Forbes.com, 543,000 new businesses start each month. Some of them make it, most of them don’t. But I bet one thing’s for sure — all of them wish to achieve the reputation and longevity of companies like Smardan Supply. Since the 1930’s, Smardan’s secret to success is in part due to their forward thinking approach to the industry and partly to their preservation of industry relationships. Speaking to various members of Smardan, a sense of strong, lasting, and loyal relationships is paramount. CEO Randy Benton shares some of Smardan’s history, “Smardan-Hatcher Co. Inc. had its beginning during the Great Depression. In 1930, Billy Smardan and his brother Sam were working in a Los Angeles supply house. Slow business conditions and layoffs were all around, so the brothers decided to try it on their own, opening up Smardan Supply Co. A few years after, the Smardan brothers, with the help of a friend, Charlie Hatcher, opened up their second branch in Santa Barbara, California. Sam Benton joined the company in 1949 and would eventually become the sole owner in 1961. Benton’s son-in-law, Rick Leoff would join in 1973 and Randy Benton, Sam’s son, the following year. Shortly thereafter three more California locations were added, in Fountain Valley, San Luis Obispo, and Burbank. During this time the original Los Angeles branch was relocated to Gardena, which today serves as the central distribution branch. In 2001 the 6th location was added in South El Monte and today serves as the company’s largest PVF location. Today the company is owned by the Benton & Leoff families and run by Randy Benton and Rick Leoff, who serve as CEO and President, respectively. They are joined by the 4th generation of Brandon & Justin Leoff, along with Randy’s son A.J.”
Another major factor to the company’s ethos is loyalty. I spoke with one of Smardan’s longest employees, Danny Contreras. Not only has he been with Smardan for 42 years, some of his current customers are the grandchildren of those back when Contreras started. He says, “my advice to the new guys is listen to your customers, take care of your customers and they will be loyal to you. That’s how you become successful in my opinion. It’s worked for me!”
Contreras managed the San Luis Obispo branch when it first opened 20 years ago. I was particularly intrigued with this choice in location, not only because of its scenic beauty, but the actual distance from their hub in LA. “At the time we were shipping there twice a week from Santa Barbara. So we were doing that twice a week anyway. We had established customers up there. Sam Benton and I were approached by a couple of salesmen from the Iron Oak Company who had just gone out of business. They asked if we’re interested in opening up a branch. Sam Benton and I got in the car the following week and drove up there to look at different properties for opening up a branch. We took those two salesmen in and with their established customers and our established customers, we made it work.”
Another way Smardan is making it work is through their smartphone app. That’s right! Utilizing current technologies is helping them to streamline the entire customer experience. AJ Benton, who you’ll recognize as this months Generation:NEXT! interviewee (page 70) is spearheading the app. As marketing director for Smardan, AJ knows a thing or two about creating the best atmosphere for the client. AJ notes, “we are putting a greater emphasis on utilizing social media to promote ourselves and our customers. Facebook and Instagram are terrific platforms to engage with existing and prospective customers. Posting photos of our work, as well as our customers’ projects is a great way to expose Smardan to a larger audience, and hopefully further solidifying the Smardan brand within the industry.”
Adding, “customers who use the app can expect pricing 24/7, live inventory levels at all 6 Smardan locations, product spec sheets, account history, and even the ability to place orders from their mobile devices. The Person-to-Person business model has always been and will continue to be the backbone of Smardan Supply. Most wholesalers offer the same products and services to their customers, but it is our people that has always separated Smardan from the pack. We will continue to further explore new and improved ways for people to do business with Smardan, but we refuse to compromise the personal relationships which our company was founded on.”
Smardan’s “old school” approach to business has certainly done well for them in California. And with the fourth generation emerging as leaders in their own right, the future has never looked brighter for this company with humble beginnings. They are a true inspiration to this industry.