Jeff New: The Maestro of Mid-City Supply
Meet the Wholesaler
Tell us a little bit about the history of Mid-City?
New: Mid-City Supply was started by my dad, Sam New, and his friend Mel Cohn in 1947. They opened a plumbing store in an empty storefront in Elkhart, Indiana. Post WWII, everything was in short supply, so they would sell anything they could get their hands on. My mom and Mel’s wife would drive to Chicago and bring back as much as they possibly could, so we could sell it. In 1953, they relocated to a bigger location and became a true wholesale company. They stayed in that facility until 1972, when they moved into the building we’re in now. While we’ve added on to it numerous times, we’re still in the same building nearly 50 years later.
Name: Jeff New
Company: Mid-City Supply
Number of Locations: Eight
Number of Employees: 105
Year Founded: 1947
Website: www.mid-city.comMajor Product Lines: American Standard, Delta, A.O. Smith, York, Luxaire, Fujitsu, Burnham, NTI
Tell me about your verticals and the equipment lines Mid-City sells.
New: We’re about 35 percent HVAC and 30 percent plumbing. The rest is divided between pipes, valves, and fittings (PVF); water heaters; etc. This is a good mix that works for us. While plumbing is perhaps becoming more of a commodity, we recognized that HVAC will always require contractors, so we began to focus more on the HVAC side of things about 10-15 years ago. I truly believe the addition of HVAC really helped us through the Great Recession. As far as equipment lines, our major plumbing lines are American Standard, Delta, and A.O. Smith, and on the HVAC side, we sell York, Luxaire, Fujitsu, Burnham, and NTI.
After graduating from high school, how did your career progress?
New: I attended Indiana University and majored in business management. After graduating, I interviewed with a number of companies and, fortunately, none of them hired me. I moved to Indianapolis because my college roommate and girlfriend were there at the time, and I landed with Lee Supply, which is an HVACR and plumbing wholesaler. At the time, Lee Supply only had one branch. I spent almost a year there before moving back home with my girlfriend. That girlfriend eventually became my wife, and we’re still married 42 years later.
When you came back home, I assume that’s when you hired in at Mid-City?
New: I came into the company in 1976 as an outside salesman. After a couple of years, I moved up to marketing manager. In 1979, I became president. At the time, we had one branch and about 40 employees.
How did you go from one branch in 1979 to eight branches in 2018?
New: We bought ME Global Supply in Plymouth, Indiana, in 1984. Then, we opened another branch in South Bend, Indiana, in 1990. In 2003, we purchased From’s Supply in Michigan City, Indiana, which included three additional branches. We closed the Valparaiso, Indiana, branch in 2008, as it wasn’t cutting it; purchased Walmer Supply in Warsaw, Indiana, in 2006; and opened another branch in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2016. Finally, last year, we purchased Faber Inc., which is located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Are you still actively looking to acquire more businesses or are you content with what you currently have?
New: We’re always looking. You have to grow to survive. You’re either going to be the acquirer or the acquired. I think there are opportunities out there. There are markets that are underserved, and I think we can serve them.
Two of your three boys now work in the company. Did they always intend to follow in your footsteps?
New: Their stories are very similar to mine. All three of our sons, Dan, Seth, and Jordan, graduated from Indiana University. After college, Dan moved to Chicago, where he worked for Cintas and Discover. After about seven years, he returned to work in the family business. Jordan also moved to Chicago, where he worked for an experiential marketing company whose main client was Verizon. After about four years, he returned to the business. Dan is now our vice president of administration and Jordan is vice president of operations. Seth lives in Dallas and works for the Dr. Pepper Snapple group.
Working with family comes with its fair share of pros and cons, Can you share a few?
New: The pros are easy to identify. My boys have a deep-rooted, personal connection with the business. They’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished. The business is their lives. I know they’re committed for the long term. The cons are that we’re family, and we’re around each other a lot, which can be problematic. To deal with the cons, we created a family business council, which consists of myself, Dan, Jordan, and our wives as well as Seth, who teleconferences in. Initially, we set rules of engagement, established a family mission statement, and strategically planned the business’s future. We felt it better to discuss our future, as well as any issues we were having, in the open. Initially, we met once a month. Now, we meet quarterly. This has helped us a lot.
You’ve been in HVACR distribution for 42 years. What are some of your career milestones?
New: When we bought From’s Supply and went from three to six branches, I was unsure whether we should make that move. But, our managers believed in the business and our capabilities so much that they kept telling me, “Yes, we can do this. Let’s do it.” That was the moment I realized the time had come to loosen the reins and let the people within the company do what they do. Once I did that, everything started to really come together.
Technology has come a long way since you became company president in 1979. Can you summarize how you navigated the introduction of computers and ERP systems?
New: In 1979, we had an IBM system. In 1984, we implemented a system called Online Distributor. As it turned out, we were the second company to buy it, and I also believe we were the last company to buy it. In 1995, our vice president of administration at the time, Jim Nelson, who was a real forward thinker, said it was time to bring in something new. We started to look around at what others were using. In 1997, we implemented Epicor’s Eclipse system. That was a big deal for us. In fact, we’re still using Eclipse today. When we were looking, we visited APR Supply. I called Randy Tice, and while we were touring APR, he convinced us to join the WIT buying group, which he was the president of at the time. Looking back, I can confidently say that joining WIT saved us from extinction.
Mid-City Supply recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. How did you guys celebrate?
New: Instead of having a big party or a promotion, we decided to do 70 random acts of kindness (RAK) across each of our locations. A random act of kindness might be an elderly lady whose water heater was broken and can’t afford to replace it, so we gave her a new one. We spread this news throughout our associates and kept track of our RAKs. We actually ended up doing 75 good deeds. We’d have people come in and say, for example, here’s a veteran who broke his back. We need to make his house handicap-accessible. So, we would help. It was a quiet, fun thing that everyone in the company felt was really cool and rewarding. We enjoyed it so much that we plan to continue doing it this year.
Mid-City partners with numerous organizations and associations. Why is this so important?
New: If you’re going to operate in a city, you need to be a part of that city. For that reason, we always join the local chamber of commerce. We’ve always been active in the American Supply Association (ASA). I was president in 2008. We’ve also been members of HARDI for as long as I can remember. The first convention I went to was the Northamerican Heating & Air-conditioning Wholesalers Association (NHAW) convention in Reno. HARDI has a lot of good programs, and it’s important to support the associations. Additionally, we’re very active with the United Way. I know there are people out there who need our help, and the United Way knows who they are and how best to help them.
Do you have any professional regrets?
New: Sure. I wish I was more disciplined. I’ve always kind of managed by the seat of my pants. That works most of the time, but there are times when you need rules. If I was more disciplined, everyone around here would be more disciplined. I guess my biggest regret is that 42 years has gone really, really fast. I wish time would slow down a little bit.
You’ve led an extremely successful career. What’s the secret to your success?
New: The secret to success lies within the people you associate with. Whether it’s the vendor partners, associates within your own organization, or your customers, we’re all partners. We have to realize that everyone has to make some money, and, ultimately, our job is to provide our end users great products at decent prices with as little hassle as possible. I love this business. I have fun every day — not every minute of every day — but every day, nonetheless. Distribution has been very good to me. I highly recommend it as a lifelong career.