Hubbard Supply Co. is the oldest operating business in Flint’s history. Opened under the name of Newton & Hubbard Hardware Store in 1865, the small store on Second St. sold necessity items of the times, such as lumber, paint and screwdrivers, to the pioneers attempting to tame and settle in the forest lands of Michigan.
Five years after it opened, George Hubbard bought out his partner H.B. Newton and re-named the business Hubbard Hardware, which he operated until his death in 1937; afterward, the Burroughs family took the reins and added an industrial supply division, little knowing that as they moved forward, this sector would become the foundation of the business. As the years passed, 150 years in total, ownership has changed hands a few times, as other Flint families have invested their lives in the venture. Charles Shelly took over in 1963, and sold it to his son-in-law, Robert Fuller, in 1977. Today, the business is still thriving under the leadership of CEO Jeff Bigelow and Chief Operating Officer Tim Brooks, who have co-owned the business since 2007. These two businessmen see an exciting future for their time-honored company.
When considering the long history of Hubbard Supply Co., it seems logical to ask how it survived The Great Depression, two world wars, and the significant economic downturn of recent years. What powers the longevity and achievement of this business that has developed into what is now an innovative, solution-oriented industrial product distributor? According to the owners, the company has advanced with the times to meet the increasing needs of its customers. “Throughout the years, we evolved as the community evolved,” says Jeff. “Businesses can prosper and grow if they continue to re-shape themselves.”
The Flint location is now the corporate office of Hubbard Supply Co. while the sales and distribution facilities are located in Saginaw and Battle Creek. The scope of the business, however, reaches well beyond Flint, with partner distribution centers throughout Michigan, northern Indiana and Ohio. “We are a hardware store for manufacturing companies,” says Tim. “We’re solutions-driven in that we help our customers identify and solve problems, and deliver solutions and production-related cost-saving.”
The company supplies a multitude of products, from abrasives to janitorial supplies, tools, wire and cable, to name just a few. But Jeff says that material goods are not Hubbard’s best-selling commodity. Customers rely on Hubbard more to help them solve problems, and the company has the technical know-how to make sure their customers get what they need. Included in their services and innovative solutions are bar-coding, commodity management, vending machines, training and inspection, inventory reduction and consolidation. Many Hubbard customers are large industrial companies, the biggest being General Motors, Textron and a host of other big-name manufacturers.
Much of Hubbard’s success is also due to the talents of its veteran staff. “They see the value in what we do,” Jeff says. With an average tenure of 15-plus years, many employees have logged 20 or even 30 years with the company. Jeff thinks that the innovative and open milieu gives staff room to grow personally as they help the company grow. “We allow them to extend their creative energies, which helps make our business successful.” He also said it’s an enjoyable place to work because every day is not the same. “Every day brings a new challenge,” laughs Jeff.
Both Jeff and Tim are from the Flint area and were longtime Hubbard employees before they purchased the company. At that time, they made the choice to keep the business in Flint. “We think there is a lot of opportunity in Flint,” says Jeff. “We started here and want to stay here.” Their goal is to continue helping local economic expansion. “Our business is doing well,” says Jeff. “We’ve been fortunate to grow in a challenging economy. Our goal is to continue growing and proceed to the next chapter.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HUBBARD SUPPLY COMPANY