Albany Steel & Brass Corporation was founded in 1918 by Eugene "Jake" Lebovitz, a Hungarian born immigrant. He sought refuge in America to escape both religious persecution and the life of poverty in which his family had existed. Today, Albany Steel is one of Chicago's oldest and most progressive family businesses, distributing fastening products, construction and industrial supplies. Albany is presently managed by the third generation of this family, David Lebovitz. However, many things that originally made this business successful still remain the same today. True dedication to provide its customers with high quality products, promptly delivered at competitive price levels, are the principles on which this 79-year-old business continues to operate. While originally a "ma and pa" hardware store catering to the local neighborhood residents, Albany's markets include OEM, MRO and construction in addition to wholesaling a rather unique line of tapping screws, special wing nuts, thumb screws and the nations largest inventory of Swageform® thread rolling screws. Customer managed inventories, along with special customized reporting, are becoming part of Albanys everyday business. Gone are the days of cutting and threading pipe, glazing window sash, and cutting keys - - - but the service and customer interest still remain keen and attentive. Phone lines that open at 7:00 A.M. and a service counter that operates 6 days a week, coupled with a fully integrated computer system offering EDI and remote customer order entry, allow efficiencies necessary to serve the ever increasing demands of today's customer.
David Lebovitz, the grandson of the founder, proudly relates the history of how his grandfather borrowed $250.00 in 1918 to purchase the store front operation from a retiring neighboring retailer. Thus, sprung Lebovitz Brothers Hardware. David's grandfather had learned a trade as a youngster in Hungary and was eager to own his own business and be his own boss. He worked in the Chicago Stockyards for several years as a "tinner" making specialized sheet metal products for this then thriving industry. He grew progressively disenchanted with the long 12 hour days and low wages and yearned for the opportunity that this new land had promised. After all, if you had to walk 6 miles to work to save five cents for the streetcar, you may as well do what you do best for yourself. With the savings of his wife Fanny, a self-employed seamstress and Jake's only "real" boss (a small lady, 4' 10" who was the only person ever to strike fear in his heart), this entrepreneurial venture commenced in 1918. The hours continued to be long, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Living above the store, it was not unusual to receive "after hours" requests. A big day was $30.00 - - no credit cards, mainly cash but "running" charge tickets were begun in the late 1920's for the "industrial" accounts. Some original sales journals have endured through the years as well as the original receipt for the purchase of the business from a Mr. J. C. Wirths. This memorabilia, as well as several scrapbooks, is often shown to visitors and guests who have an opportunity to visit the corporate headquarters.
Feeling that the success of their children would depend strongly on education, Eugene and his wife insisted that their children's education lead to college degrees. The oldest child, a son Alexander, attended Northwestern University and later John Marshall Law School, passing the Illinois State Bar only to have his professional career interrupted by World War II. "Al" had always enjoyed the hardware business, especially the industrial aspect and had hopes of making his father's business more of an industrial mill supply. This opportunity came following a 3-1/2 year tour of duty overseas with the U. S. Army.
The return to a peaceful post-war economy brought all kinds of renewed demand for industrial products. Housing, automobiles and durable goods were needed to provide a whole new lifestyle for the victorious U.S. The factories surrounding the environs of Lebovitz Bros. Hardware were no exception to this onslaught of orders. Tools, fasteners and shop supplies were necessary for all businesses. Meanwhile, the local families improved their residences with newly painted rooms, improved wiring and plumbing.
It was in the early 1950's that Al Lebovitz recognized the increasing demand for threaded fasteners. At the time, the domestic fastener industry was flourishing and many manufacturers sold through selective distributorships. Many of Lebovitz's customers manufactured metal related products and the need for Types "A" and "Z" (now called type B) was extremely high.
Coincidentally and contrary to the economy, Albany Steel & Brass Corporation, a Parker-Kalon distributor, had fallen upon hard times due to an aging management with no apparent heirs. Despite Albany Steel being on the verge of bankruptcy, Lebovitz Bros. purchased all the assets and the liabilities with the understanding that all old debt would be retired with a 2% cash discount applying even to the mostly overdue invoices. Among Albany Steel's suppliers was Parker-Kalon, the originator of the sheet metal screw. (Incidentally, Albany Steel had been Parker-Kalon's first distributor and remains today as one of its oldest and largest distributors.) In the days when Parker-Kalon manufactured all kinds of fasteners including socket screws, thumbscrews, wing nuts, wing screws, screwnails and pipe plugs, Albany was known to stock "every size in the book." Most of these items continue to be stocked today; many continue to be made by Parker-Kalon.
Albany's current inventory consists of over 25,000 sizes ranging from 00 through 2" diameter in all materials including exotic metals. All items are fully lot traceable. Unlike the quarter or eighth keg quantities that have been developed based on what fit in the box, all products are sold in quantities as requested by the customer. The entire inventory is maintained in a 30,000 square foot warehouse. Plans are being made for a Winter groundbreaking that will add an additional 27,000 square feet of warehouse, showroom and parking. This will allow Albany to even better serve its ever growing list of industrial, construction and MRO customers.
While all companies must establish and maintain a strong balance sheet, the present management under the direction of President David Lebovitz, (son of the former Chairman Alexander who passed away in 1987) believes the company's greatest assets lie within its employees, customers and suppliers. "We have a wonderful group of experienced and dedicated people. Our management team is very experienced and energetic with a mean age in the mid forties. Over 200 years have been accumulated among our top managers alone. Our customer base has a lower than average turnover. Each customer, as is each employee, is welcomed with the thought that they have made a lifetime decision". Albany still has its very first charge customer who has done business with all three generations.
"We are a very informal company", says David Lebovitz whose normal attire is blue jeans and sneakers. "We are functional not fancy. The products we sell often require demonstrations. We encounter all kinds of conditions in the various factories and construction sites upon which we call. We want our customers to know that we're here to do a job for them - - - not just talk about it".
"Systems selling" remains a priority for this unique distributorship. Albany currently belongs to two major trade associations, STAFDA (Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association) and NFDA (National Fastener Distributors Association). In addition to these two (2) leading associations, Albany has been welcomed as one of only two (2) Chicago companies to become a member of the Evergreen Marketing Group. This premiere organization consists of less than 100 industrial/construction suppliers. It is recognized as the industry leader in promoting total customer satisfaction and extremely close partnerships with all of its business partners. Membership is by invitation and only extended to a select group demonstrating customer commitment and a strong financial backbone. This tells both their customers and suppliers that turnkey service is always provided. Situations where a fastener problem implicates an incorrect installation tool are easily remedied. Similarly, the proper anchor or insert can easily be suggested to match an existing installation tool. The customer is provided with TOTAL support and soon develops complete confidence in ALBANY'S ability to service all of their fastening requirements.
The caption on their catalog says it all; "We are a customer oriented distribution center for high quality fastening products and related items". This certainly describes Albany's operational style! They only know how to do things for their customers with a sense of total commitment. "Whether the sale requires engineering, blanket orders, bin programs and managed inventory, contract pricing, or a structured finance plan for a capital piece of equipment, we are willing to listen and implement a solution totally satisfactory to our customer. "Just in time" has been in our company for 79 years" says David Lebovitz. Too much rhetoric has been devoted to just an old fashioned simple concept of taking care of the customer. Our customers are simply used to calling, faxing or now through EDI, entering an order for immediate pick-up or next day delivery."
While David Lebovitz candidly admits he somewhat misses some of the aura of the old local hardware store, he cannot be disappointed with the fine position his company has taken in the Chicago market. He still remembers where the roots of his company were planted and continues to manage along the principles of people working with other people. While David's 21 year old son, Andy, continues to pursue his doctorate in Chemical Engineering, there is much hope that Albany Steel & Brass will continue to prosper under the direction of the fourth generation!!