Company at a glance
Name: Walter A. Wood Supply Co.
Founded: April 1913 as feed and seed business
Products: More than 500,000 industrial supplies, tools, pieces of equipment
Headquarters: 4509 Rossville Blvd.
Revenues: $20 million
Staff: 75 employees
Contact: 423-867-1033, www.walterwood.com
In 1913, Henry Ford opened his first moving assembly line for the Model T, American women were seven years out from winning the right to vote and the Walter A. Wood Supply Co. was founded in Chattanooga.
One hundred years later, Walter A. Wood Supply Co. is still chugging along. It's still family owned. And it's still in Chattanooga. The distribution company celebrated its 100th anniversary Wednesday by hosting a trade show at First Tennessee Pavilion.
"We've had customers on the books for forever," said President and CEO David Henry, whose grandfather bought the company from the Wood family in 1938. "It's crazy."
These days, the company operates three locations, does $20 million in annual sales and distributes more than a half-million products -- mostly industrial supplies to manufacturing companies. During the last century, the company has shifted, shrunk and expanded. Trends have come and gone. But Walter A. Wood Supply Co. has remained financially solid, Henry said.
"We've always had an unwritten no-debt policy," he said. "I think the only money we've borrowed was when Walter Wood borrowed $1,000 back in 1913 to buy the property and a horse and buggy."
About 90 suppliers -- many of whom have worked with Walter A. Wood Supply Co. for years -- attended the show Wednesday. They said Walter A. Wood has developed a robust reputation for having what you need, when you need it.
"What's kept them in business is that they have a high level of customer service, and people have come to rely on them for something when they need it," said 3M account representative Timothy Kaufenberg. "It's been a good relationship."
Henry said Walter A. Wood keeps a larger, more varied inventory than most distributing companies. The firm supplies hand tools, fasteners, janitorial supplies, machine maintenance tools, safety products, power tools, valves, brushes -- just about everything needed to keep a manufacturing plant running on a day-to-day basis, Henry said.
"Money is better in product than at the bank, we've always thought," he said. "The accountants tell us we don't need this much inventory to support our sales, but when people need something, they need it. A $2 fitting can shut down a multimillion dollar plant."
Henry's dad took over the company in 1961 -- the year Henry was born -- and Henry started at the at Walter A. Wood Supply Co. 30 years ago, working summers and driving delivery trucks.
"Dad thought that would be best," he said.
As president and CEO, he's guided the company through a culture change during the last six years. Walter A. Wood now employs 72 employees, while at its peak, the company employed 98.
"We're doing more with less," he said. "Sales are more now than they were when we had 98 people. We had gotten a little bit complacent. We're just much more productive per person now than we were. We trimmed the fat."
Looking forward, Henry is planning to grow the business aggressively, adding locations, products and customers. He is especially excited about vending machines. Stocked with gloves, ear plugs or other day-to-day manufacturing tools, the vending machines can help manufacturing plants like Shaw Industries cut costs and track inventory.
The atmosphere at Wednesday's industrial show was festive -- with door prizes, food, key chains and ample free samples. At the Sioux Tools booth, customers signed a poster-sized Walter A. Wood Supply Co. logo. Ricky Hodgins, a territory manager at Sioux Tools, said he's been working with Walter A. Wood for about 30 years.
"We wanted to do something special in celebration of their 100 year anniversary," he said. "They're great people. It's been a real win-win for both of us."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at email@example.com or 423-757-6525.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...