Lloyd Rogers, president and chairman of Wholesale Supply Group (WSG), came into the company when there were only two locations — a building supply and a plumbing supply. He bought into the company in the 1970’s with $20,000.
His son, Jeff Rogers, tells the story: “The two guys in the builder’s supply said they had a plumbing supply too, and dad said, ‘You know, we got plumbing. We got building. Why don’t we do electrical?’ Because that would all fit right in to the mesh; it would fit into that whole scheme of products. They asked him to buy in at that point, if I’m not mistaken, for $20,000. And he said, ‘Well, there ain’t no way the bank’s going give me $20,000.’ One of the guys, which really was a father figure to him, and like a grandfather to a lot of us, told dad, ‘Well yeah, they will. You come up here with me and you can just sign that note.’”
Jeff continues the story: “He went home and told his wife, my mom, that he just signed a note for $20,000 to buy into the company, and he said she just about had a heart attack. That was quite a bit of money back in the ’70s.”
Over the years, under Lloyd Roger’s leadership, WSG has grown from its eight stores in 1976, to 34 stores in 2017, with the hope for new expansion in the coming years. Anyone in Cleveland can tell you about Lloyd Rogers; he is a pillar in the community of Bradley County, Tennessee. You can always catch him at The Old Fort for breakfast, or in his booth at Jenkins for lunch with Gary Millaway, one of his vice presidents, and with Steve Rapier, a local store manager who has worked for Lloyd for 47 years.
Lloyd has been a long standing member of the Cleveland Noonday Rotary Club, and also the Harry Truman Club. For years he has been a guest judge for the local spelling bee for students and does a lot of philanthropy work in the community to give back to students and college kids in the Cleveland area.
In January of 1989, Lloyd was bestowed with the biggest honor from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce — The M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award — which honors the memory of one of the most outstanding business executives in Cleveland and Bradley County.
Richard McAfee, a sales rep for American Water Heaters, and a business associate since 1968 said, “Lloyd is the most truthful man of his word. He will never mislead you and we have always had a great working relationship but more importantly he is a great personal friend.”
Richard gets choked up at this moment and after a few moments he goes on to say, “I still get teary eyed talking to him now, he’s been a great friend in my life, one on one in business and outside of work, and also along with his wife Linda who recently passed three years ago. Lloyd is always the same away from the store as at work, Lloyd is 100% wool; there’s no blend to him. What you see is what you get and you better always be honest with Lloyd because he will always be honest with you. There is not a more ethical business person in the world than Lloyd Rogers. He’s the best customer I have ever had but he is also the best friend I have ever had.” Lloyd Rogers is the reason Wholesale Supply Group is where it is today, but he would never tell you that. Lloyd is often quoted that his people and his staff are the reason that WSG is so successful. In honor of Lloyd Rogers and the work that he has done at Wholesale Supply Group and the jobs that he has created in the State of Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam has named February 28th Wholesale Supply Group Day in the State and this just goes to show the dedication and hard work of Lloyd Rogers.
Jeff Rogers is the Executive Vice President of Wholesale Supply Group and a second-generation family business owner. He began working at WSG on a part-time basis back when he was in high school. He was only 14 and only worked summers in the warehouse and on the counter. Before he graduated from college he was still working there part-time, but became full-time after graduating from college. Jeff worked there for 12 years and felt God called him into the ministry. So he went into vocational ministry and stayed there for ten years in the Georgia area and then moved back to Cleveland, Tenn. and came back to WSG at the end of 2006, and has been there 11 years.
Jeff works with the regional managers. “We’ve got three guys that really kind of overlook all of our stores. And they report to me and to Dad and I try to work with them and the managers in place also just to have their ideas” Jeff points out. He’s always looking for something new. They started having a monthly meeting with four or five of the managers and the department heads to just get their feedback. “We tell ’em, we can’t always do everything they want, but we love to hear their ideas because they’re definitely on the front line” he says.
Heath Sullivan is another family member working in the business. Sullivan’s role is of payroll officer. He started working at WSG at 13. “I started sweeping floors in the warehouse during the summers and worked my way up to counter sales a little bit later in high school” he explains.
Sullivan attended Lee University, got married, and came back to work at WSG full-time just after graduation. “I’ve still got a lot to learn and still learning a lot from the leadership here, from my grandfather, and Jeff, of course, and all the other people there. I do the payroll for all the 219 employees. I am also responsible for managing a lot of our rental properties. So I deal with the tenants and their payments” says Sullivan of his different responsibilities.
Joshua Rogers is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at WSG. He is part of the third generation in the business. He recounts when his Dad, Jeff, took his sabbatical years, where he went to go into ministry, being his son, Joshua obviously moved to Georgia with him. And after high school, he took a few years off of college and worked in the service industry and also worked in the construction industry a little bit, and in lawn maintenance. Most of his time was in the restaurant industry, “and that’s where I gained a lot of my experience from working,” Joshua notes, “from being a dishwasher all the way up to assistant and the manager positions there.”
When he moved back in January of 2013, to Cleveland, Tenn., he attended Lee University and got a business degree. Joshua double majored in business management and marketing from Lee and graduated in three years, and just started with the family business in January of last year, after graduation.
Joshua works directly with the 34 managers. But he’s mainly worked directly with three district managers on a daily basis, working with different store needs, some of the problems and issues that they might have, being able to help find solutions. “I really took this past year to work on the task of updating WSG’s website and social media and online presence and got it to a starting point” Joshua explains. But most of the businesses and companies that WSG competes with have teams of people that do that work. And he’s worked with a company and a few other people in the community, some social media and online entrepreneurs, which allowed them to be able to get WSG’s online presence where it needs to be.
“I think in our business, we too often sit there and we think that back in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s, the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC industries, your customers were electricians and plumbers. And they still are today. And that is our bread and butter on our counter sales” describes Joshua. But when it comes to showroom sales, the public — anyone, is your customer, and so WSG tries to do everything they can on their social media platforms and also on the online presence to reach that perfect customer for them and really try to go out. And being able to have social media platforms and the online presence, it allows for that. “We’re not a small business, but we're not a large corporation either, like the big box retailers.”
75 Years in Business
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of WSG means everything to Jeff, seeing his Dad, Lloyd, put 59 years into a company that’s 75 years old. “And I always tell people he has probably forgotten more about business than I’ll ever know. But it makes me think about growing up and seeing how he treated his employees, all 219, and how he treats his customers but he always was willing to do whatever he asked his people to do” says Jeff.
All three generations agree that it was always a family-type atmosphere. “It’s a business where ethics mean everything, and you do things right,” explains Jeff. “You don’t do things to gain any way you can. You do the Christian way. You do the thing that honors Him, that honors Christ.
That’s always been instilled in the family. And for 75 years, or at least 59 of those years, they’ve seen that modeled and see how important it is. Dad always said, and this is so true and it’s still true today, and that’s why we got so many people with so many years of experience, is that our people are the ones who make us successful. And he’s got great ideas and he really started the growth of the company because there was only one or two branches when he came on board,” relates Jeff.
Sullivan says that most of all it’s a celebration of hard work, team work, and a lot of family that’s put in so much effort. “My grandfather’s given so much of his life to this company. And it’s great to see its success and it’s great to be able to work with your family.” They all know they’ve always got each other’s backs and they’re looking out for each other’s interests all the time. Not just blood family, but it feels like the same with all of the employees.
The Future of WSG
As the family looks forward into the future of the business, in the industry, there’s a lot of talk about millennials and a lot of talk about the next generation. This is a multi-generational family-owned business where there were a lot of thoughts and comments on the next generation in the business and moving forward.
Lloyd has worked so hard to be able to put this business where it is now and to be able to allow Jeff and Lisa Rogers-Sullivan, who is a purchasing agent for WSG and also Heath’s mother, and then allowed Heath and Joshua to be able to work at WSG. Heath has a younger brother and Joshua has a younger brother as well that they hope one day will be able to come and work in the business.
“But I think for Heath and me, I can speak for both of us, that we hope that 25 years or 50 years from now, that they’re talking to you, and our kids will be here working one day, and their kids and their kids, and that we’ll be able to keep this business” explains Joshua. As long as the company is managed well and always has customers, everyone knows they always need plumbing and they always need electrical. They just have to grow with the business and grow with the times, as Joshua further explains. “And I think that for Heath and I, we’d hope to see that our kids and our grandkids and our great-grandkids will be involved in this company and be involved in this business in some form or fashion.”