Celebrating family and success
by Wally Northway
Published: May 10,2013
Southern Pipe turns 75
MERIDIAN — Southern Pipe and Supply is throwing a two-month-long party that includes open houses at its nearly 100 locations, noted author Jim Collins and University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.
After all, it’s not every day a family-owned company — or any company, for that matter — can celebrate its 75th anniversary.
“Ram Charan, a renowned business consultant, once told me that ‘success is defined as a company’s ability to endure over time,’” said Jay Davidson, president of Southern Pipe and Supply, representing the fourth generation of Davidsons to lead the company. “By this definition, Southern Pipe and Supply is extremely successful. Simply, there are not many companies in any industry that have survived over 75 years.“
The milestone is even more noteworthy considering that the business literally started from scrap at an unplanned-for site.
In 1901, Louis Davidson left Russia at the age of 20 to pursue opportunities in America. He wanted to sail into New York harbor, but the only boat he could hail was headed for Mobile, Ala. After landing on the Coast, he went as far north as his money would allow. And it was this way that Louis Davidson found himself a brand new resident of Meridian.
After trying his hand at numerous enterprises, he founded the St. Louis Junk Company, a scrap metal business, in 1918. His sons, Meyer and Sammie, joined their father in the business in 1930, and the company almost immediately set a new course. It sold its first carload of steel pipe in 1938, changed its focus to plumbing supplies within the year and was renamed Southern Pipe and Supply.
Meyer’s son and Jay’s father, Marty Davidson, current company chairman, literally grew up in the business, stocking shelves at the tender age of five.
Jay said Louis, Meyer, Sammie, and Marty Davidson’s leadership has been critical to the company’s success. “These guys were visionaries and their strategic direction for our company has been remarkable,” he added.
Today, the company operates 96 locations in seven states (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee), making it one of the largest privately owned wholesalers in its industry. It offers plumbing, heating, air-conditioning (HVAC), industrial, mechanical and water/sewer supplies.
In addition, its Southern Bath and Kitchen division offers consulting, fixtures, appliances and cabinetry.
While the company is remembering its past, it has embraced technology and new philosophies to stay relevant and competitive. For instance, its high-tech Central Distribution Center supports the branches with a constantly turning multi-million-dollar inventory through an interactive computer. Though it averages 70,000 transactions per month, the CDC boasts an error rate of less than 1 percent on orders shipped to the branches.
Southern Pipe and Supply has worked with its customers to designate more than 900 items as critical-service items — essential products and equipment that customers need every day. On orders for these crucial items, the Central Distribution Center has achieved a fill rate of 99.7 percent.
“We have to continue to be agile, live our core values and eliminate hubris,” Jay said. “I know it sounds strange but it feels like we are a part of a young, start-up company. We work hard to create passion and enthusiasm in our jobs every day. We are 75 years young.”
Still, the longevity and success calls for a major celebration. Southern Pipe and Supply kicked off the party April 15 with an open house. It will hold an open house at all of its nearly 100 locations, wrapping them up June 15.
The company also brought in University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban to speak to executives, branch managers and sales staff.
On May 4, Southern Pipe and Supply held its 75th Anniversary Company Picnic at Bonita Lakes in Meridian, open to all of its employees and their families.
On May 15, Southern Pipe and Supply will hold the 75th Celebration Dinner at the Mississippi State University Riley Center in Meridian. The keynote speaker will be Jim Collins, author of such noted books as “Good to Great” and “Built to Last.”
While Louis Davidson is deceased, his family believes he would be proud of what his little scrap company has become.
“Louis Davidson was just trying to survive,” Jay said. “He was an immigrant and stranger to a new land. Yet he is the epitome of the American Dream. He started with nothing and built a business to provide for his family. The values he instilled in 1938 are still a part of our fabric. He would be happy to see his small company reach new heights. But he would be the most proud to see how the values he instilled in 1938 have remained a SPS staple during every stage of our evolution.”
For more on Southern Pipe and Supply, visit www.southernpipe.com/.
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