Tales from a SurvivorJuly 20th, 2012 by DWM Magazine
How does a company reach its half-century mark when it’s competing with big box stores that cut prices, when gas prices are at record highs and when overall it’s still a tough market, plain and simple? DWM asked Anthony J. Martorana, Sr., CEO and founder of Madison Township Lumber and Supply Co. Inc. based in Matawan, N.J., that very question. He should know, as the company is celebrating 50 years in business this year. But that doesn’t mean things are easy for him. In fact, the company isn’t planning any special celebrations.
“Normally, we would do customer appreciation events but, quite frankly, with the way business has been we have cut back,” says Martorana. “We used to do cable ads—a lot of our expenditures had to be put off and anyone else who doesn’t tell you the truth about this is dreaming.”
Still, DWM thinks this is a milestone to be celebrated so we asked him a few more questions about his 50 years in business and the challenges he has faced along the way.
But first a little background on the company that distributes lumber, millwork, windows, hardware and paint throughout all of New Jersey. Martorana, Sr., runs the company with his wife Louise Ann, chief financial officer, and son Anthony, Jr. vice-president sales and operations.
DWM: What has made your company successful for 50 years?
Martorana: I never try to leave the core principles of my company. I have diversified throughout the years and there were times when we did everything. There were some things that didn’t work but we never left the parts of the business that we started on. A lot of times people get carried away and they venture into other things that are not related to their core business. At times it was difficult not to venture into other things. We had the opportunity to go into partnership with builders but I wanted to stay and maintain my longevity.
DWM: Why have many of your competitors gone out of business?
Martorana: The biggest reason is they become far removed from the day-to-day operations. What you have today you don’t necessarily have tomorrow and a lot of these companies got carried away in the good years and they tended to get detached from the basic day-to-day and you can never do that. Some consider me an oddity because I have my hands in everything.
DWM: What has been most challenging in the millwork and window industries specifically?
Martorana: The millwork is not so much of a problem as we are able to maintain a foothold with interior doors and mouldings. The real problem has been windows. We always had Andersen and they jumped in with Home Depot and that caused a problem with their pricing. People could go to Home Depot and get it cheaper. A lot of times you can quote the job, but if Home Depot quoted it also they would always drop it, even if it was at peanuts to begin with. That’s one of the disadvantages of big boxes to independents such as my company. This happened before the downturn and we were able to sustain our businesses but then the downturn came and this had more of an effect. It was only a matter of time and eventually I switched to another vinyl window manufacturer.
DWM: What is it like working with your son? How has he handled these difficult times?
Martorana: I have always tried to tell him that what you have today doesn’t mean it will be what you have tomorrow. Young people tend to get overconfident as they haven’t been through hard time as I have been. It is important to keep yourself level as things can change on a dime.
At times it is sticky when you have family in business. He had his hands burned a few times, and sometimes I have to bite my tongue and walk away.
The business has really gone 360 so many times–It’s really unbelievable. Being a person entering the twilight of my career, that is tough to swallow and change is hard.
DWM: Do you have plans to retire?
Martorana: I don’t know I would ever fully retire. Right now I have to stick it out. Things are below toilet level right now. There is business but it’s like a 2 when it should be a 7 or 8. I have been through a lot of ups and down but this has been really crushing.