Turning Over a New Leaf

Why Bostwick-Braun picked distribution over its legacy hardware business.

The Maumee River, Toledo, Ohio.
The Maumee River, Toledo, Ohio.

Bostwick-Braun went more than a century and a half in business before getting into industrial distribution.

A little more than a decade after adding its first distribution operations, however, the company determined that it wanted to be in that market exclusively.

This column usually tends to focus on companies looking to add market share in a consolidating industry, but this one will examine a company that’s deliberately getting smaller — a sign of just how bullish it is on the distribution sector.

Screen Shot 2024 05 09 At 3 14 40 PmBostwick-BraunBostwick-Braun earlier this year announced an agreement to sell its hardware business to House-Hasson — a fellow hardware wholesaler based in Tennessee — including its inventory and its warehouses in Indiana and Arkansas that are staffed by a workforce of 110 people.

Just over a week later, the company offered a look at the rationale behind the deal: a strategic decision by company officials to dedicate “100% of its focus” to industrial distribution.

The move marked an astonishing turn for a company with a history dating back to before the Civil War.

W. & C.B. Roff & Co., a wholesale and retail hardware business, was founded in downtown Toledo, Ohio, in 1855. The following decade, Oscar Bostwick and Carl Braun each joined the company; they would wind up leading the business and giving it a new name.

For more than 150 years, Bostwick-Braun supplied independent hardware stores, growing into one of the largest wholesale distributors of its kind in the Midwest.

Just over a decade ago, however, Bostwick-Braun began acquiring businesses operating in a different market: specialty industry and distribution. Today, the company’s industrial business comprises five subsidiaries — Columbus Fasteners, EBN Industrial, JMC Sales, MSI and Wayne Fasteners — and 13 warehouses across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, distributing some 125,000 SKUs from 13 warehouses to thousands of customers in four states, as well as nationwide through its e-commerce operations.

Bostwick-Braun CEO Pete Richichi characterized the sale of the hardware business as the type of natural evolution that must occur for a company to last for nearly 170 years and counting. He said that Bostwick-Braun subsequently plans to deepen its relationships with its industrial customers and expand its product portfolio.

“Selling our hardware division enables us to focus all our energies on Bostwick-Braun Industrial," Richichi said.

He added that the company’s owners — its 240 employees — each have a “personal stake” in doing the right thing for its customers, including making the decision to hone in on the distribution segment while finding, in House-Hasson, “exactly the right company” to carry on its hardware business.

"We're excited about our new focus and moving forward exclusively with industrial distribution."

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