In 1958, Harvey Jaeckle purchased the Madison, Wis., branch of his older brothers’ business, Milwaukee Building Supply. Harvey had worked for his brothers for years and in the spirit of sibling rivalry, they presented him with a challenge: “If you’re such a hotshot, why don’t you buy our Madison warehouse and go run it?” Never one to back down, he accepted and moved his family across the state to build his own business applying a new name for the venture: Jaeckle Distributors (JD).
Harvey and his wife, Hardy Jaeckle, operated the business side by side for more than 20 years. In the early years, Harvey took to the road to make sales while Hardy managed the bookkeeping and the company’s only warehouse employee. His knack for sales and her accounting savvy helped the business grow quickly. What started as exclusively a dealer for Formica plastic laminate expanded to incorporate various new products, such as ceramic tile, adhesives and carpet, including major flooring brand names such as Mannington and Johnsonite.
JD has continued to grow steadily for more than 50 years now. The couple’s son, Fred Jaeckle, took over the business in 1981. In 2000, Fred’s son, Jeff Jaeckle, stepped up to serve as president. Jeff works alongside his brother, Torrey Jaeckle, vice president of pricing administration. The duo works with 115 employees in five locations throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri.
Through the years, the company’s locations, product lines and customers have expanded. The business has changed in many aspects; however, Jeff and Torrey strive to maintain a family business feel with customer-focused service and a commitment to providing a high-quality work environment.
A growing market
The company distributes flooring and surfacing products to retailers, commercial flooring contractors, as well as surfacing fabricators in 10 states throughout the Midwest. “We serve both the residential and commercial markets with flooring, while our surfacing products are primarily commercial,” Jeff notes. “One of our primary surfacing markets is health care.” In such a rapidly expanding sector, quality is vital. By investing heavily in market research, JD is able to provide the high-quality products that these applications require.
“We are able to accurately gauge what is most important to our customers,” Jeff explains. “The most important thing they look for is accuracy at all levels. We rate significantly higher than our competitors on that scale. Part of the reason is that for years we have measured it. We even post it on our website. The more accurate and efficient we are, the better our customers look to their customers, and we take that very seriously.”
Jeff goes on to explain that one of the other things to set JD apart is the company’s commitment to technology. “While our industry is slower to adapt, we are ahead of the curve,” he continues. “For example, we’ve invested in an analytics platform both for our own use, and to use with customers. It gives us and our business partners much greater visibility into our business and what’s really happening in the market. It allows us to uncover opportunities and identify deficiencies that we would not otherwise have seen. As we develop our analytics capabilities, it can really change the selling relationship. My brother and I are 100 percent committed to technology and it is the area of our business that will see the largest investments in the months and years to come.”
The market has strengthened since the recession, although there were some tough years in the last decade for JD. “We took a different approach than our competitors during the downturn,” Jeff notes. “We invested in a lot of new products and it took a lot of capital. The reason we did it was because we thought when things picked up, our growth would be accelerated. Thanks to a strong management team, the investment has really paid off.”
The company is seeing that growth today, especially in the product categories of luxury vinyl tile (LVT) and hardwood flooring. “We are also always looking to grow through acquisitions,” Jeff details. “We’ve had a number of conversations with some companies, but haven’t found the right fit yet. While we look at that as a viable growth strategy, fit matters and we won’t make an acquisition just to make an acquisition. For the time being, we’re focused on organic growth and growth through additional product lines. One of our main goals in the coming year is to offer a quartz countertop line. Quartz is the fastest growing residential surfacing category and I believe we’ll have some exciting news on this soon.”
The surrounding region is picking up steam, albeit gradually. Jeff does not foresee another major dip in the market and remains optimistic. While embracing change and innovation, Jeff, Torrey and the Jaeckle Distributors team also look forward to continuing the family tradition of those things that will not change: high-quality products, value-driven services and commitment to a growing market in the Midwest.
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