Lewis Industrial Supply celebrates fourth generation in family-run business
Just three out of every 100 family-run businesses make it into the fourth generation and beyond, according to the Family Business Institute.
Count Harrisburg-based Rubin Industrial Co. Inc., which does business as Lewis Industrial Supply Co., in that minority.
The fourth generation — Scott Rubin — entered the family business two years ago. He is currently comptroller of the 100-year-old wholesale distribution company that specializes in industrial packaging, safety and maintenance supplies, as well as equipment, fulfillment services and warehousing.
Rubin, whose father and first-cousin-once-removed run the business, plans to carry on the family legacy.
"It's not a short-sighted company. We do things the right way," said Scott Rubin, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 2006 with degrees in marketing and logistics and worked in accounting and sales positions before coming home to Harrisburg.
Lewis Industrial, which has seen modest annual sales growth, has lasted a century because it goes above and beyond to meet customer expectations, said Steve Rubin, the company's co-president. That means finding the right product to fit their needs.
"We put ourselves in their shoes," he said. "We keep it simple. We do what's best for the customer."
That has meant smaller margins but long-term customers, he said.
"Our salespeople are urged to sell on a consulting basis, providing recommendations that are the best solution for our customers and not the most profitable choice for us," Steve Rubin said.
Today, the company distributes nationwide and into Canada and Mexico. It has other facilities in the Lehigh Valley and Pittsburgh areas.
One of those longtime customers is D&H Distributing Co. Inc., a Harrisburg-based wholesale technology products distribution company. D&H, the largest-known private company in the Business Journal's coverage area based on reported revenue, has been a Lewis customer for almost 30 years.
Lewis supplies D&H with corrugated box needs, mailer envelopes and all of its packaging machines, said Dan Schwab, D&H's co-president.
"The quality of all the packing supplies is excellent and has significantly protected our products and shipments from damage claims," Schwab said. "As D&H has grown, their business has also grown. Their scalability to manage and grow with our rapid growth has never been an issue."
The Rubin family would not disclose current sales but did say they have grown about 5 percent annually.
"Their response time has always been excellent," Schwab said. "They have a great sense of urgency in their customer service, especially as our needs are always evolving and changing. We need to spin on a dime for our customers, and Lewis Industrial does the same on their end. Whenever we need an emergency shipment, they have delivered on our behalf."
Family companies have to realize they are companies first and family businesses second, said Schwab, whose family-run company is coming up on 100 years in business.
Through advances in technology, the current Rubin generations are continuing to diversify the business as they compete with other distributors in a world moving more and more to e-commerce. One of the biggest drivers today is environmentally friendly products, said Scott Rubin, citing ongoing changes in its product line, which comprises many one-time-use items.
"New technology will allow us to grow with the younger generations coming into the industry," he said.
Keeping up with those product evolutions will be his task and that of any future Rubins.
"There is a lot of pride in the fact that we've been able to accomplish (a fourth generation and 100 years)," said Steve Rubin.
"That's what they worked for," added Bert Rubin, Scott's father, referring to his grandfather, father and other family members who have worked at Lewis through the years.
History of Lewis Industrial
Harrisburg-based Rubin Industrial Co. Inc., which does business as Lewis Industrial Supply Co., was started in 1913 by Aaron Rubin.
With his horse and buggy, Rubin started collecting and distributing textiles to be sold as either used clothing or wiping cloths for various industries, or to be processed into fine paper products. The business sold primarily to Central Pennsylvania companies.
By the 1950s, it was exporting used clothing to countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, Russia and India.
Also in that decade, Aaron’s son, Robert Rubin, took over the company.
With the creation of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, or OSHA, Lewis Industrial branched out into the distribution of personal protective supplies for the workplace.
By the mid-1970s, the company started distributing industrial packaging supplies.
High-speed packaging equipment was added in the 1980s to complement supplies.
Lewis Industrial, which now distributes thousands of products through more than 300 vendors, added contract packaging and warehousing for its clients in the early 2000s.
First cousins Bert and Steve Rubin are co-presidents of the company today. Bert, 60, is Robert’s son. He has been with the company for more than 40 years. Steve Rubin, 49, has been there for about 28 years.
Bert’s son, Scott Rubin, 29, is the fourth generation to get involved in the family business. He is the company’s comptroller.