Blish-Mize Co. is celebrating 150 years of service this year. Hardware Retailing talked to chairman of the board John H. Mize and CEO and president Jonathan Mize for their insights into this milestone achievement for the company. Click here for more from Jonathan Mize on the “Taking Care of Business” podcast, and read about the company’s Spring 2021 Buying Market here.
Hardware Retailing (HR): What does 150 years of Blish-Mize mean to you?
John H. Mize (JHM): I suppose I should say it means a wild success. If I read an article about one of our longtime stores doing great businesses in a tough environment, that means the most.
Jonathan Mize (JM): Survival. In my 30-plus years of being in this industry, it’s somewhat amazing to me that much larger companies than ours have gone away, and we’re still here. I was telling someone recently that be it pandemics, World Wars, grasshopper plagues, a Dust Bowl or land rush, territory or state establishments, Blish-Mize has survived, evolved and continued to be of service for the past 150 years. I’m sure our founders David Blish, Edward Mize and Jack Silliman would be amazed that we have been “delivering more” for this many years and we’re here to celebrate our sesquicentennial.
HR: When you reflect on the past 150 years, where do you see Blish-Mize in the future?
JHM: If this year has taught me anything, it’s that we need to be flexible. We need to constantly innovate to remain successful, which we are doing on a daily basis.
JM: I still see us continuing to serve the independent hardware retailer. Whether they are brick-and-mortar, strictly online or a combination of both. I see us always becoming more efficient and improving how accurately we can get orders out to our customers. What we are currently working on within our distribution center—installing a new conveyor system throughout our facility, a flow rack for fast-moving case goods or even in shipping, by making it easier for our loaders to stage and palletize orders for delivery—is putting us right up there with the major fulfillment centers in the country.
HR: What sets Blish-Mize apart, whereas competitors and other businesses haven’t endured? What is the “secret sauce”?
JHM: I would venture to guess that our employees are the secret sauce. We are small enough to care and big enough to get the job done. But we also put in the effort to finish the job and make good on our promises. The kind of loyalty we have at our office is a rarity. Some of them have devoted their entire careers to Blish-Mize and our success, and I am grateful to them for that. Along with the associates and our supportive team, we always make sure that “our wagon is full” (of inventory). We keep our inventory levels at a great spot in order to keep the industry-leading service level we’ve always had.
HR: How has being a family-owned, Midwestern distributor both contributed to your success and presented challenges?
JHM: That old saying, “If you know, you know,” rings true for Midwesterners. We work harder, we care more and we want the best for others.
JM: I would have to say it’s because we are here in the Midwest with Midwestern values that have certainly helped. But it has sometimes presented challenges as we evolved over the years. Again, when I started in this industry over 30 years ago, I could count on both hands all the independent, family-owned full-line wholesale hardware distributors in the U.S. Now I can maybe count them all on one hand. Even though we are a regional distributor, we still provide service nationwide, with a few points out in the Pacific Ocean territories. We got involved in e-commerce fulfillment services right at the beginning of the dot-com craze, back in 2000. And once again, direct family involvement. Customers can call me or any upper management personnel at any time. I’ve traveled to the majority of the accounts we service. We take care of our customers—they are not a number, they are family.
HR: What’s your earliest memory of the family business?
JHM: My father told me that the secret of success is to take care of the customers. It was ingrained from an early age.
JM: As a young boy, I can remember my dad taking me down to our 5th Street office and warehouse and walking through all five floors of product we had. Down on our first floor, we used to have railroad cars unload products coming in from manufacturers. Those boxcars were huge to me as a kid! I also remember my dad running down a dark aisle in the warehouse, and shutting the door behind him, “locking” me in! I cried like crazy! Those were good times.
HR: You have many longstanding customer relationships. How and why have these relationships endured?
JHM: We consider our customers like family. I think that is no secret within the industry. This past year was tough because normally we like to see them and socialize with them a few times a year. We like to visit their stores, find out about the communities they serve and really get to know what makes them measure success. We hope we can get back to that in 2021.
JM: For key players in this day and age, it’s hard to name names from the vendor community or retail community as things change so quickly. However, we do have many longtime partners on both sides, and we look forward to that continued relationship. Being willing to accept and adapt to change, I believe, is why we’re still here, 150 years later. Some of our customers we have been doing business with for well over 100 years! Others for over 50 years. There are not too many businesses in our industry, or even many businesses in the U.S. that can say that—not to mention our company being led by a fifth-generation family member. I’m not sure that it qualifies us for The Guinness Book of World Records, but they should at least inquire with us!
HR: What are some of the major events and milestones you have experienced and been a part of here at Blish-Mize?
JM: Seeing our company grow due to additional sales volume over the years. Various acquisitions that made us a stronger company. Becoming a member-owner in Distribution America. Getting our salespeople and customers more efficient in the area of technology. Online ordering and all the other tools that we have to offer that put us right in line with our competition.
I’ve been here to see us celebrate our 120th, 125th, 130th, 135th, 140th, 145th and now our 150th anniversary. I’m so proud to be leading our company into our next chapter.