As the fourth largest city in Nebraska, Kearney is known for being a major way station along the path of the old Oregon Trail. The city is home to the Great Platte River Road Archway, a monument to Nebraska’s role in westward expansion, The University of Nebraska – Kearney Campus, and Holmes Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. — a one-location independent wholesale distributor that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1968, Holmes Supply Co. is one of south central Nebraska’s premier plumbing and heating wholesale distributors. Its territory covers south to the Kansas border and north to the South Dakota border. With two outside sales personnel, three delivery trucks and 15 employees, the company has managed to survive and thrive through economic ups and downs. This is due, in part, to its strong ties to the community and being a great industry partner. Holmes is an active member of the Omni Buying Group, the Luxury Product Group and the American Supply Association.
In June, the company held a two-day event to celebrate its business milestone. Activities included a contractor/rep golf tournament, a banquet at the convention center, educational seminars for contractors and a trade show. More than 51 contractor shops from 21 cities in Nebraska and Kansas were present for the educational seminars and trade show.
General Manager and Vice President Chuck Prochaska, employed at Holmes for nearly 41 years, served as master of ceremonies during the banquet. The celebration was held to thank customers, contractors, reps, partners, friends and family, as well as to honor the company’s history.
Holmes Supply was formed by the vision of Grant Holmes, Donald Graham, Joyce Anderson, Gene Murray, Gerald McElhanney and Jim Bamford, who saw the need for a wholesale supplier in central Nebraska. With Kearney being on I-80, it was a prime location and they knew they could make it work. They joined together as shareholders and named the company after Holmes, its first general manager, who they admired for his kindness, conviction, vision and drive.
Chuck Prochaska remembers Holmes vividly. “He once was following me down a hallway and it seemed as though I was not moving as fast as he was or as fast as he wanted me to be. He told me ‘Lead, follow or get the hell out of my way!’” he recalls.
Holmes led the company until his death in 1980. Acting Chairman JK (Joyce) Anderson was selected as interim general manager until the board of directors could find an investor to take stock in the company and assume the role. Anderson’s “interim” role lasted for many years — until he retired in 1996 at the age of 81.
Over the years as shareholders either retired or wanted to sell their stock, Graham purchased shares as they became available. In the 1990s, he acquired the remaining shares, making the Graham family sole owners of Holmes Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. With no immediate family members employed in the company, the family remains actively involved through representation of Brad Cagle, Graham Enterprises, Inc. who oversees the operation.
Longevity of employees seems to be the norm, with many employees celebrating 10 – 15 years or more. Along with Prochaska, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeff Johnson has been with the company almost as long as Prochaska — 37 years.
As master of ceremonies during the banquet, Prochaska welcomed the room filled with people who made Holmes Plumbing and Heating what it is today. “Jeff and I joke about our company being a dinosaur — the days of a one location independent wholesale distributor are nearly gone,” he says. “Only the strong have thrived and survived, and we have done that.”
Prochaska celebrated the industry channel partnerships with companies who forged relationships with Holmes Supply from the start. “Today marks the celebration of a half-century of business, of partnerships and personal relationships,” he notes. “In our ever-changing world, we must hang on to the values of integrity, customer service, competitive pricing and quality products. Finding a balance for all of these is now and has always equaled great success.”
Awards were presented, with the first recognizing the first sales transaction made 50 years ago — to Anderson Bros. Plumbing and Heating, an electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractor that Holmes continues to do business with today. The first item sold was a case of Big Red Spacers from the William Harvey Co. Matt Willburn accepted the award for this distinction and, in turn, presented Prochaska with a Big Red Spacer, signed by the plant workers at the company.
The Mid-America Sales Group, which represents InSinkErator, received an award to honor the food waste disposer manufacturer’s partnership — its product was advertised on the “Grand Opening Special Sheet.” 50 years later, InSinkErator continues to partner with Holmes.
Awards also were presented to several manufacturer representative firms that Holmes has done business with during its half -century in business, including The Mack McClain & Associates Agency and Verne Simmonds Co.
At the banquet’s conclusion, Prochaska thanked everyone and made one last announcement: After enjoying 41 years with the company, he was retiring at the end of July. That statement brought folks to the front of the room to give accolades and fond memories of working with him — a true gentleman with a kind and warm heart. His leadership, and the dedication of the employees, are the cornerstones that helped Holmes Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. hit the 50-year mark.
Johnson now takes charge as the fourth general manager of the wholesale distributor. With him at the helm, Holmes Plumbing and Heating Supply will continue to build on industry partnerships, friendships and service, while celebrating the independent spirit of middle America.