On April 1st, 1891, a man named Nathan B. Handy opened the doors to his new business in Lynchburg, Virginia. When N.B. Handy was founded, the company primarily served the roofing market by supplying metals, hardware materials and fabrication equipment. Today, the business now employs 350 people in 13 locations along the East Coast between Baltimore and Atlanta.
N.B. Handy has seen significant growth over the years. But, how exactly does a company continue to thrive through two World Wars, the Great Depression and Recession? To find out what it takes for a business to last 125 years, we interviewed N.B Handy Company’s Secretary, Bruce Christian.
How has N.B. Handy continued to foster growth over the years?
When the business started, we primarily focued in metals for metal roofing applications. But, as times changed, we adapted to those changes. For example, in World War II, the market shifted and we invested more in supplying metals and equipment for hot air and duct work. A lot of our original customers were tinners or roofers, but we started seeing more growth in HVAC. We were carried forward by those two markets, and were able to expand outside of Lynchburg. Our first branch was in Roanoke, then Raleigh and then Richmond.
What about your team – how has it changed over the years?
Our workplace culture is defined by doing what is right, and that carried over into the way we treat our people here. We like to say that we’re the N.B. Handy family, and that all of our employees are part of that family. We call eachother by our first names, so there’s no hierarchy here. We also try to promote from within and invest in our team.
What kind of challenges have hindered your growth?
During the recent recession we realized we had expanded a little bit too far. We had to close a location in Florida, because that state was hit hard by the recession. It was also a stretch for us because we used a transfer system to move material there. At times when we expanded, we would take on a new venture that didn’t fit our core product line or core competencies. But, when there’s any downturn in the economy, it’s a good time to go back and say, “What do we do really well?”
Do you have any advice for business owners and entrepreneurs who are looking to be around in 125 years?
1. Find out what your niche is, and do that very, very well. What is it that you do better than anyone else?
2. And, also learn to develop that next level of leadership. When Mr. Handy was here, he looked forward to help plan what leadership would look like down the road. He set in motion the people who would succeed him.
3. No matter how glamorous another opportunity may seem, you need to focus on what you do and do it really well consistently.
4. At N.B. Handy we are constantly thinking about three groups: our employees, our customers, and our suppliers. There’s no way we can function without all three. So, I think anyone who is looking to start or grow a business should always keep an eye on the people who have helped you get where you are today and never take anybody for granted.
Lastly, how is the N.B. Handy team celebrating its 125th anniversary?
On April 1st, which was the day of our anniversary, we wanted to honor our customers, suppliers and our team. Our suppliers have been wonderful to help us celebrate. Each of our branches had an open house, and a little party with food for our customers and our employees. In our corporate we had a party too. We’re really just trying to say thank you. The celebration didn’t stop on April 1st though. Throughout the year we’re doing giveaways for customers and we’re doing community service through each of our branches. Each branch gets to pick a local charity or cause in their area that they want to support. Oh, and we also repainted the sign on our headquarters in Downtown Lynchburg!
Interested in learning more about businesses like N.B. Handy? Download the History of Business in Lynchburg eBook: