Celebrating a century which has seen consumers go from buying wheelbarrows to driving CAT trucks, the local Whayne Supply Co. continues to consider the future as the parent company marks 100 years in business.
“We’re not as big as we were at one time. Fifty percent of our business was related to coal,” said Ernie Steele, vice president and branch operations manager of the Ashland Whayne Supply, now at the former site of Twin Valley Golf Course. The local Whayne Supply Co. has gone from a peak of more than 110 employees to a current level of nearly 90 workers, Steele said.
Even with the coal industry in a slump, Steele said the local business has continued to thrive by diversifying operations to address the needs of customers, such as wood companies in Rowan County, and remaining ready to respond when those customers need their help. Equipment rentals, he said, also have contributed to their longevity.
“You don’t see a lot of small companies anymore,” he said, explaining the majority of their customers are building homes or offices, landscaping or otherwise “digging” as part of their business operations. “Industrial types ... people who use this stuff to make their living.”
Whayne Supply Co. was founded by Roy C. Whayne, Sr. in 1913. Whayne’s first job was as tool boy on the original construction of the Louisville-Portland canal in the early 1900s. He later formed the company using $3,500 to lay the foundation. The small mail-order company sold tools, small engines, pumps and bicycles, and if someone wanted to make a purchase, they would order from a catalog and pay for the item before Whayne, who maintained no inventory, would order it. When the item was shipped, Whayne would tell his customer where to pick it up.
After World War II, demand for coal was growing in eastern Kentucky, along with river traffic and construction along the Ohio River with dam projects. A resident field serviceman, Louis Neichter, moved to Ashland in 1948 and worked what is now the Ashland and Pikeville territories. Most service work was done in the field because there was no shop. “The ‘shop’ was actually my house,” Neichter said. “The components I could fit in the back of my service truck I took home to work on in my garage. My basement was the parts department.”
The decision was made in 1950 to open a full-service branch in Ashland, and a year later, the first branch in eastern Kentucky was opened at 23rd and Greenup Avenue in downtown Ashland with one service bay.
“His wife got mad about all of the heavy stuff in the yard,” Steele said with a smile.
In July of 1984, Neichter, then president of Whayne, had a heart attack and retired the following year.
Whayne Supply Co. is actually 13 years older than Caterpillar, whose name is practically part of the Whayne Supply brand. The company is now owned by Monty Boyd, who became president after a 25-year career in various roles with the organization. Under Boyd’s leadership, the company has continued to grow and now employs more than 1,300 and operates 15 facilities in 12 cities across the state, as well as in Indiana.
“We are privileged to have outstanding, loyal customers and this year we want to thank them for their continued confidence,” Boyd said. “Our company has always delivered quality products, superior support services and the highest ethical standards. That’s a model we plan to continue in our next 100 years.”
Steele said he believes the “family” aspect of Whayne Supply has much to do with the company’s long life.
“We’ve got good people here, and we all work together,” Steele said. “We want to be sure we can be the best we can be for our customers. That’s why we’re still here after 100 years. We are never satisfied with where we are. We want to be the best, and we are passionate about that.”
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.