Andrews & Hamilton Co. Celebrates 35 Years
Through good times and bad, this family business has weathered the storm and continues to come out on top.
By Lindsey Quick
Bernie Andrews had already retired from a successful career before he founded Andrews & Hamilton in April 1987. Bernie’s work ethic had been formed at an early age: Family legend has it that his mom changed his birth certificate at the age of 12 in order to allow him to go to a summer work camp in Vermont.
“Bernie has been working ever since,” said John Andrews, Bernie’s son, and general manager at Andrews & Hamilton.
Bernie graduated from Villanova University with a degree in civil engineering and moved with his wife, Cathy, to Youngtown, Ohio, to begin his career with Republic Steel, a leading supplier of Special Bar Quality (SBQ) steel bars, a highly engineered product used in axles, drive shafts, suspension rods and other components of automobiles, off-highway vehicles and industrial equipment. Bernie worked in various divisions across Republic, from reinforcing bars and joists to corrugated steel pipe, and ending with the storage products division.
Through good times and bad, this family business has weathered the storm and continues to come out on top As Bernie was building his career, he was also growing his family, including three sons, John, Jim, and Joe, and one daughter, Alice. After 30 years with Republic, including moves to Miami, Atlanta, Buffalo and Binghamton, New York, Bernie and Cathy moved to Canton, Ohio, where Bernie retired. But that wasn’t the end of Bernie’s story.
For some, beginning work at an early age and working a full career as an adult would have been enough. But Bernie wasn’t quite ready to call it quits. He had connected with Bill Hamilton, owner of the WA Hamilton Company in Beltsville, Maryland, and in April 1987, the two discussed the idea of Bernie relocating to Maryland to work for the company. In the midst of these discussions, however, a distributor in Raleigh, North Carolina, announced their plans to go out of business. As a result, Bernie and Bill changed course and decided to start Andrews & Hamilton. The new plan would be that one of Bill’s sons would work at Andrews & Hamilton in North Carolina and another would go to work at WA Hamilton in Maryland. However, plans changed again after Bill Hamilton’s untimely death in September 1987.
The Andrews family pivoted once again. Bernie’s sons John and Jim joined the company, opened the installation arm of the business, and have been key drivers of the business ever since. Over time, the two transitioned into sales, with John continuing to have a hand in the operations side.
Their sister, Alice Lynch, started with the company shortly thereafter and also played a vital role in the early years. Bernie’s wife Cathy joined the company as the accountant, and John said Cathy regularly joked that accounting wasn’t much different than narcotics control in the hospital where she had been a registered nurse prior to joining Andrews & Hamilton.
“In 1987, we started with a small cargo van, a dock plate and a pallet jack in a small 1,500-square-foot warehouse near the airport,” John said. “Our projects in 1987 were smaller and required more internal resources to accomplish.” As the company began to grow, they were able to learn from past mistakes. “With experience, we were able to foresee the pitfalls that made us struggle in the beginning,” said John. “We grew slowly over the years and were fortunate to weather some of the turbulent times in the economy.”
In the early days, materials for most of the company’s larger projects were shipped directly to the jobsite and the team assembled the projects onsite. “The growth of the company and the advantages of having our own large facility and equipment meant we were able to preassemble lockers in our building and transport them to the job site,” he said. “This protects both Andrews & Hamilton and the contractor from additional risks associated with personnel of varying skill levels on a particular construction site.” John said the company was also able to provide better project management and have more control over on-time delivery of products and equipment to industrial equipment projects.
“Andrews & Hamilton has always provided contractors, small and large businesses, and the State of North Carolina with quality lockers, shelving, pallet rack, and other industrial storage equipment as well as layout, and installation services,” John said. “We provide turnkey solutions including planning, sales, delivery and installation with the ability to perform all of these internally.”
A true test for any organization is how they handle tough times. Throughout multiple downtowns, Andrews & Hamilton found ways to persevere by pivoting strategy in order to meet customer needs.
“There have been many times when the going was difficult, from the tech bust in 2000 to the great recession in 2008,” John said. “We had to change our focus from new products to used products that were lower cost and readily available. This change in strategy helped our customers who were not as affected by the downturn complete projects within their budgets.”
According to John, the company has and always will be focused on what’s right for the customer. “We’ve had the pleasure of serving some of our customers for many years – we have repeat customers and customers who have been referred to us,” he said. “We’ve made mistakes, but we will always do what’s right for the customer and look for opportunities to better serve our customers.”
This focus on the customer was core to Bernie’s way of doing business and was a priority for Andrews & Hamilton from the beginning. “He is a great listener and is always trying to give the customer not just what will work, but what will work best for their project,” John said of his father. “Bernie is very analytical and will work tirelessly to find a solution. Whether it is a drawing or pricing, he wants to make sure everything meets the needs of the customer.”
The company’s employees are also very important to the business. When Andrews & Hamilton started 35 years ago, it was Bernie, his two sons, John and Jim, his daughter, Alice, and Bernie’s wife, Cathy. As the company expanded, the employee base grew beyond the Andrews family, even though everyone felt like an extension of the family. When the pandemic hit and forced the business to lose some of its staff, it hit the Andrews family hard.
“The pandemic was very difficult,” John said. “Just before the pandemic, the average length of service was more than 10 years. We lost some long-time employees during that time that I wish we still had.”
Today, the company employs approximately 20 people, some with more than 20 and 25 years of service who started with the company right out of high school or college. “We would not be here without the dedication of our employees,” John said.
When asked what has led Andrews & Hamilton to its success, John didn’t hesitate on his answer.
“The shear stubborn determination and hard work of our founders, Bernie and Cathy Andrews,” he said. “We moved to Raleigh not knowing a single person. Through my parents’ ability to build relationships and put customers first, we’ve had the good fortune to work with many successful companies and their people in our market. They have thanked us with repeat business and referrals to their friends, neighbors and coworkers.”
The foundation built by Bernie and Cathy has led to a strong business that continues to grow. “In the beginning it was just the family, with Mom, Dad, my brother, Jim, my sister, Alice, and me,” John said. “Today we are close to 20 total employees and 60,000 square feet of warehouse space. Everyone working together and doing their part to provide solutions that help our customers succeed.”
Today, Bernie and his two sons, John and Jim, are still active in the business. Bernie’s wife, Cathy, is retired, and Bernie has said he plans to retire soon. Bernie and Cathy built the company from the beginning, and Bernie is incredibly proud of what they’ve accomplished. “We’ve proven that with proper management and hard work, you can succeed,” he said.
As they celebrate 35 years, John believes their key to future success is their local advantage.
“The catalog houses that sprang up and dominated the mailboxes of many businesses could never provide the customized services that a local distributor can,” said John. “That’s not likely to change, whether it is internet-based or catalog-based.” John believes customers need the experience, advice and “That’s not likely to change, whether it is internet-based or catalog-based.” John believes customers need the experience, advice and knowledge that a local distributor provides.
As for Bernie, after beginning his working life at the age of 12 and working a full career, followed by founding a successful business celebrating 35 years in business, it’s hard to believe he’ll be able to fully step away, especially when that business was founded on changing plans. When asked what he plans to do in his retirement, his reply left opportunity for another pivot.
“That’s the problem, what would I do?” he said.
About the Author
Lindsey Quick is a writer and communications professional based in Eagan, Minn. She spends her free time planning road trips to help her escape Minnesota winters.