Remembering J&L Industrial Supply Founder Joel Shapiro (1939-2015)

Read the memorial for J&L Industrial Supply founder Joel Shapiro, who passed away on Nov. 1 at the age of 76.

The Industrial Distribution Industry has lost one of its pioneers recently. Joel H. Shapiro, founder of J&L Industrial Supply, passed away on November 1, 2015 in his home in Birmingham, Michigan. Joel was 76 years old.

Joel was born in the town of Afula, Israel in 1939. He moved to Detroit Michigan in 1946 and attended Mumford High School before attending Wayne State University. He married his wife Loraine Hirschman in 1960, and remained happily married until her death in 2010. At 6’4” and having a deep resounding voice he was a very large and imposing figure.

After working in his uncle’s Screw Machine shop in the late 1950’s, he found a knack for understanding those machines that helped the USA industrialize through the war effort during WWII. He worked as a salesman for Edward Andrews Co. in the early 1960’s and for Wholesale Tool in the mid to late 1960’s as their Vice President.

In 1970, he struck out on his own and formed J&L Industrial Supply, which he named after himself and his wife Loraine. He bought some US Navy surplus tooling at auction. He reconditioned the surplus tooling and peddled these tools out of a 1968 Ford Country Squire station wagon. In 1971 he was joined by his high school friend, Irwin Elson, and together they produced the first J&L catalog in 1971. They wrapped 24 pages of their surplus tooling ads around a 48 page Enco catalog to create their first book. They rented a building on Glenmore Avenue in Redford Township, Michigan and a few years later bought that building and another building a few miles away as a bulk storage warehouse.

J&L was founded on the philosophy of providing good products at a fair price, in an immediate fashion. J&L offered a Good-Better-Best platform to allow customers to choose the quality level that each purchase required. They were the first industrial supply company to accept collect calls, until ‘Toll-Free 800’ numbers were introduced, and they embraced the practice immediately. They also came up with the strategy for private-labelling tools under the “Interstate Carbide” brand name.

In 1979 they made the decision to open a branch location in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. They expanded into Charlotte North Carolina and Hartford Connecticut in the 1980’s. By 1990 J&L had grown to a $50 million+ selling organization with over 200 employees in 6 locations. It was then that Kennametal bought J&L and added 20 more locations, including their first International branch in the UK. J&L was later sold by Kennametal to MSC Industrial Supply.

Joel believed in handshake deals and that your word is your bond. He believed that in the Supplier-Distributor-End User relationship, all transactions should benefit all three parties. He was also very charitable, and participated at several charitable organizations. He was a strong supporter of Israel and its cutting tool manufacturers. He has been credited with the introduction and growth of many of the brands that are now common in shops across the country. Brands such as Iscar, Hanita, Vardex, Camel Grinding Wheels, Carmex, Noga and ETM were always strongly represented in the J&L catalogs. Without Joel and Irwin’s marketing, many of these brands would not be as well known today.

Joel was stricken with a stroke which left him with some paralysis in 1995. He was able to rehabilitate himself to the point where he was again able to play golf. He was so diligent in rehab that he was brought in to inspire and council other recent stroke victims about the importance of continuous rehabilitation.

Joel was an expert BlackJack player and has frequented many casinos in the US and around the world. It was common that he would arrange trips with his Suppliers and Manufacturer Representatives to Las Vegas after trade shows and conventions.

He is survived by his two daughters, Bonnie Fogel (Las Vegas, NV), and Phyllis Shapiro (Detroit, MI), and his son Aaron (Jasmine) Shapiro (Chicago, IL). Aaron now owns an Industrial Distributorship in Wheeling, IL named Colmar Industrial Supplies. He is also survived by three grandchildren.

The Industrial Distribution industry has lost one of its giants and he will truly be missed.

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