ELVERSON — It’s not often that a family–owned, small business reaches 100 years. When it happens — it's a milestone worth celebrating.
Elverson Supply Co., a building materials and hardware store at 101 E. Main St. in Elverson, Chester County, has reached that milestone.
The company is currently in its fourth generation of ownership by the Cook family, with brothers Robert, James and David running the show. A fifth generation — Robert’s son Jeff Cook — also works for the company.
Because the three brothers feel strongly about customer service — they planned to celebrate the milestone with a customer appreciation event on Friday, Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It’s because of them that we’re here,” David Cook said.
The customer appreciation event featured an on-site vendor display, including Viwinco Windows and the mobile Makita tool truck showroom, as well as promotions and door prizes.
“It’s an opportunity to show our appreciation for the customers we have, to meet new people and to give them a chance to get to know us,” Cook added.
There has been a business on the site where Elverson Supply Co. sits, since 1875 — evolving into the current company.
When the Cook brothers began talking about a celebration, they had a decision to make: celebrate 144 years of total history, or the 100 years for the Cook family.
“We’re celebrating 100 years of the Cook family owning the business. It is a huge milestone for the family,” Dave Cook said.
In 1875, Isaac Sigmund began a coal and lumber business, which he ran until 1918, when he sold to H. Bernard Fox, according to a history on the Elverson Supply Co. website. In late 1919, the company was sold to Robert Cook and renamed “Robert Cook and Son.”
In the 1920s, a new feed mill was built, along with a small hardware store that was added by Cook’s son George R. Cook. In 1955, the business was renamed Elverson Supply Co. Inc. In the 1970s and 1980s, the company was run by brothers George H. Cook and Robert E. Cook.
The current Cook brothers are the sons of Robert E. Cook, and grew up working for the family business.
The trio has been running the business as a team since about 1990, according to David Cook.
“That’s when we put ourselves on the map. The previous generations were stewards, they kept the business going and then we picked up the ball and ran with it,” he said.
According to Robert Cook, they tore down old buildings on the site and built a new store and facilities, adding “more practical” buildings.
By the time the brothers began to lead Elverson Supply, the company was pretty much out of the feed business.
“It was very labor intensive and there wasn’t a lot of profit to it. The handwriting was on the wall — we knew we needed to get out,” Robert Cook said.
In its place, the brothers expanded lumber and building materials.
“The biggest thing we did was product expansion,” David Cook said, adding that the current store was built in 1993.
Today, the company has a window and door showroom; lumber, building materials, plywood, molding, a “strong” paint department, electric and pneumatic tools and repairs — Elverson Supply is a factory service center for Makita and Senco — and hardware.
Elverson Supply Co. works with contractors and homeowners on products and measurements. What the company doesn’t do is installations.
“We don’t compete with our customers,” David Cook added.
What's the secret to reaching 100 years?
“We’re too busy to get on each other’s nerves,” David Cook said with a laugh.
There is more to such longevity, of course.
“We take care of different pieces of the businesses, everyone has a specialty,” Robert Cook added.
James leads home and building, Robert leads windows and doors, while David leads paint, hardware, industrial supplies and power tools, including repairs.
“All the integral parts work together,” David Cook added. “We have philosophical disagreements or different ways of going about things, but it always seems to work out. I don’t think there’s any magic — it’s just being sensible.”
Robert Cook added that the business is what they know.
“This is what we have always done. We grew up in the business,” he said.
At the core is a commitment to customer service.
If a customer needs a measurement and is close by, Robert Cook doesn’t hesitate to run out to take the measurement or stay after hours to work with a customer. David goes out to re-key locks for customers; while Jeff and James Cook will leave early or late to make a delivery.
“It’s all about customer service,” Robert Cook said.
“My favorite saying is ‘we’re too big to be small and too small to be big.’ We have to be light on our feet — we have to be flexible,” David Cook added.
As the retail climate has changed, with the addition of online and big box store shopping, David Cook said Elverson Supply Co. has made no changes to the way it does business — except for extending Saturday hours.
“People asked if we would be okay, and ‘what are you going to do?’ We said ‘nothing,’” he said.
He added that customers that might have switched to one of those other options are coming back, and when they do, it’s because of the customer service they provide.
“It’s about having someone to talk to — going over alternatives. It’s the education part, the ‘show me how,’” he added.