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Consistently expanding its customer base

Jeske Hardware Distributors distribution scale allows visibility on both coasts

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September 8, 2022

APPLETON – Over the past decade-plus, CEO Erich Russ said growing and gaining business has been synonymous with Jeske Hardware Distributors (formerly The Jeske Company).

“I’m a big promoter of the customer experience,” Russ, who joined Jeske in 2004 and has served as CEO since 2010, said. “I want our customers and suppliers to have an excellent experience. No matter where you are on the supply chain, there are an amazing number of companies that are spectacularly difficult to deal with.”

Russ said it’s about going back to the basics.

“A lot of things can sort themselves out, and you can win a lot of business,” he said.

A nationwide reach
Headquartered in Appleton, Russ said Jeske is a wholesale hardware distributor.

“We specialize in mechanical door hardware – such as door locks you would find on homes, door closers and exit devices – and supply those products to building professionals, lumber yards, kitchen and bath design centers and interior design showrooms,” he said. “Really, it’s any kind of retailer that’s servicing contractors or consumers.”

Currently, Russ said the store serves customers nationally – featuring more than 50 product lines (including Stone Harbor, which was founded by the company in the mid-2000s), a vendor network of more than two dozen partnerships and a distribution scale that allows visibility on both coasts.

“We have deliberately diversified our suppliers and our customer base,” Russ said, noting the company also has additional distribution centers in Nevada and Mississippi. “We’ve also done a lot to connect data seamlessly with our customers and suppliers. When we can make that a seamless experience where there’s not a lot of drama, it works.”

Russ said an investment in technology and providing products to customers in an efficient and swift manner has also helped.

How it started
The story behind Jeske Hardware Distributors started in 1962, when Elmer Jeske purchased Action Products, a wholesale company in Appleton that sold door hardware.

Soon, the one-man operation began expanding – adding customers in both Illinois and Minnesota.

As business took off, Russ said Jeske’s sons – Jim and Jay – joined the business, first in the warehouse and then as salesmen.
Operations at the company’s present location, at 1800 W. Capitol Dr., began in 1975, after calling four prior addresses in Appleton home.

When Elmer Jeske passed away in 1988, Jim and Jay took over the company.

With an increasing Minnesota customer base, Russ said a distribution center was added in Eagan, Minnesota, to allow one-day shipping to customers throughout the Midwest.

From there, shortly after the dawn of the 21st Century, he said a new distribution center was added in Memphis, Tennessee, subsequently expanding its customer base throughout the south.

Over the next few years, Russ said the company moved its southern warehouse twice, finally settling in Southaven, Mississippi.

Russ said Jeske was one of the first companies in the area to utilize mechanical order pickers and computers.

Rapid growth
Russ said following the passing of Jim Jeske in November 2010, he moved into his current role and sought to ensure growth would continue within the company.

“When I originally came to the company in 2004, we were a smaller company,” he said. “We wore a lot of hats. I did customer service, IT support and started our import program for our proprietary brand. I’ve done several things throughout the company and had a good understanding of what goes on in each area. That prepared me for my role as CEO.”

In the 12 years since, Russ said Jeske has grown at a brisk pace.

Erich Russ said the company carries more than 50 product lines. Amanda Lauer Photo

“We’ve had multiple years of double-digit growth,” he said. “We are problem solvers and more nimble than larger companies. Our tagline is delivering hardware solutions. We like the action word of delivering, and since we are distributors, we ship stuff and then we solve people’s problems. Overall, through building a great team, we’re approaching four times what our revenue was in 2010. There are a lot of fun things going on.”

Russ said during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeske was not impacted in the same manner as the majority of its business counterparts.

“First off, we are in an industry which, at the outset of the pandemic, was deemed ‘essential,’” he said. “We kept working and going to work. Secondly, we’ve got great relationships with some major e-commerce partners, and we do fulfillment for them. We saw a big increase on that side of the business the last two years, both as a direct seller and fulfillment partner.”

Russ said, in addition to Jeske’s lumber yard customers experiencing massive growth, the more traditional business-to-business business grew because of the strong housing market.

“We are in the supply chain providing door hardware, such as door locks, coat and hat hooks, towel bars and closet hardware,” he said.

In March of 2020, the company launched a rebranding campaign, and Jeske Hardware Distributors was born – complete with an updated logo and a tagline: Delivering Hardware Solutions.

Russ said the company’s ascension in recent years is an area of pride and achievement, but not an opportunity to become complacent.

“We will always make tweaks to things and find more ways to create an excellent customer and supplier experience,” he said. “It’s probable we will add additional distribution centers in other parts of the county to put more products closer to customers and to cut down on lead time – while adding additional products and suppliers and growing our traditional field sales team. 
Being strategic pays big dividends.”

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