MHD Celebrates 125 Years

125 Years of Qual­i­ty and Ser­vice from Our Fam­i­ly at Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot

Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot is extreme­ly proud, and also very thank­ful to be cel­e­brat­ing our 125th anniver­sary as a fifth-gen­er­a­tion, fam­i­ly-owned and oper­at­ed com­pa­ny serv­ing the mul­ti-hous­ing and apart­ment indus­try. 2019 will be a very spe­cial year for Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot, as we cel­e­brate our roots – our cus­tomers, our peo­ple, and our com­mu­ni­ty.

Ear­ly Philadel­phia Roots – A Ware­hous­ing and Deliv­ery Com­pa­ny

The year is 1894.

Grover Cleve­land is Pres­i­dent, and Adlai Steven­son is his Vice Pres­i­dent. A sweet lit­tle start­up com­pa­ny is formed and its first prod­uct, Hershey’s Cocoa is a big hit. Labor Day is first estab­lished as a US Fed­er­al hol­i­day. Coca-Cola is sold in bot­tles for the very first time, in a small can­dy store in Mis­sis­sip­pi. The Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee is found­ed in Paris. This year also sees the births of future poet E.E. Cum­mings, come­di­an Jack Ben­ny, and illus­tra­tor Nor­man Rock­well. And a busi­ness­man in his 30’s named Edward Robert Bell starts his own small enter­prise, Bell Stor­age and Ware­house, locat­ed on Chris­t­ian Street in South Philadel­phia. His new ven­ture will see 125 years of progress, ups and downs, evo­lu­tion and suc­cess, and will span 5 gen­er­a­tions of his fam­i­ly.

Oper­at­ing in South Philly, and serv­ing down­town Philadel­phia, Bell Stor­age and Ware­house orig­i­nal­ly serves its local cus­tomers using the most mod­ern trans­porta­tion tech­nol­o­gy of its time – hors­es and wag­ons. Local grow­ing depart­ment stores, like the John Wana­mak­er Depart­ment Store, Straw­bridge and Cloth­ier, and the new­ly opened Gim­bels see Edward R. Bell’s deliv­ery carts and dri­vers pulling up with house­hold fur­ni­ture and goods on a dai­ly basis. Bell Stor­age and Ware­house is becom­ing more suc­cess­ful, and employs about 13 peo­ple in these ear­ly years, rolling into the turn of the cen­tu­ry. Busi­ness is grow­ing. This is a good thing, because, the Bell fam­i­ly is also expand­ing, and soon grows large indeed, with 14 chil­dren, who Edward R. Bell needs to sup­port!

 Hav­ing a large fam­i­ly proves to be very prov­i­dent for Edward, and dur­ing the Great Depres­sion of 1929 the com­pa­ny sur­vives by hav­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers work for lit­tle or no pay. By own­ing their own fleet of five deliv­ery trucks, the fam­i­ly busi­ness also avoids los­ing their equip­ment to cred­i­tors.

Three Gen­er­a­tions of the Bell Fam­i­ly at MHD. Pic­tured left to right: Matt Bell, Sean Bell, Ed Bell, Noah Bell and Eamon Bell.

After these ear­ly years of foun­da­tion and strug­gles in Philadel­phia, Bell Stor­age and Ware­house con­tin­ues to grow. Two of Edward’s sons, Edward Joseph Bell and William Bell also join the com­pa­ny in the ear­ly 1930’s. The sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of Bells see their core busi­ness evolve, and the name of the com­pa­ny is even­tu­al­ly short­ened to the more appro­pri­ate Bell Dis­trib­u­tors, Inc.. The com­pa­ny will con­tin­ue work­ing out of its South Philadel­phia loca­tion until the ear­ly 1980’s, when it moves to a new loca­tion in Ben­salem, Penn­syl­va­nia.

 The 3rd Gen­er­a­tion Joins the Com­pa­ny

Though he had already worked as a young boy, part time, In 1961, one of the founder’s grand­chil­dren, also named Ed Bell, joins his grandfather’s and father’s com­pa­ny – full time after grad­u­at­ing from Vil­lano­va Uni­ver­si­ty. Ed’s Vil­lano­va edu­ca­tion will serve the com­pa­ny well, and help guide it over the next few decades. Cus­tomers are still from var­i­ous indus­tries, but now also include builders, apart­ment com­plex­es, and appli­ance man­u­fac­tur­ers, and com­pa­ny is deliv­er­ing appli­ances, and mod­ern kitchen equip­ment, and is form­ing valu­able part­ner­ships, and long term rela­tion­ships. Though his father con­tin­ues work­ing for many more years, Ed assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty for man­ag­ing the fam­i­ly busi­ness in 1965 and grows the com­pa­ny to over 90 employ­ees over the next 20 years.

A New Name, More Space in New Jer­sey, and George Steps Up  

By 1987, the Bell’s deliv­ery busi­ness has changed so much that one of their good cus­tomers for whom they are haul­ing appli­ances and equip­ment, Gen­er­al Elec­tric, sug­gests a name change, to let peo­ple know that the com­pa­ny is in the appli­ances busi­ness. The name Appli­ance Replace­ment, Inc. is quick­ly adopt­ed, and the com­pa­ny becomes known to its cus­tomers as ARI. ARI con­tin­ues to deliv­er great qual­i­ty and ser­vice for its cus­tomers.

The com­pa­ny has also grown so much that it requires a more cen­tral­ized loca­tion and larg­er space. In 1990, relo­cat­ing to Pennsauken in South Jer­sey helps the com­pa­ny serve more cus­tomers through­out a larg­er ter­ri­to­ry. The new space the com­pa­ny moves into grows to about 55,000 square feet. Deliv­er­ies are now made through­out New York, Penn­syl­va­nia, and Delaware.

Around this same time a young George Cow­den, who recent­ly joined MHD as a helper and truck dri­ver, is noticed by Ed Bell who asks if George would like to come inside and become a sales­man. George’s per­son­al­i­ty and can-do spir­it quick­ly gain him the admi­ra­tion of his cus­tomers, and col­leagues alike. George will work thir­ty-plus years for the com­pa­ny, and as the V.P. of Sales he becomes a sta­ple of the orga­ni­za­tion. When asked what has kept him at MHD for so long, George replies, “The peo­ple! They depend on me and our com­pa­ny. When they do busi­ness, they treat us like one of their employ­ees. But what makes me proud­est is our integri­ty, hon­esty – our ethics, which stem from Ed and Matt Bell.”

George Cow­den, Vice Pres­i­dent of Sales

Rapid­ly becom­ing the Pre­mier Sup­pli­er to the Mul­ti-Hous­ing Indus­try.

New Man­u­fac­tur­ing, and The 4th Gen­er­a­tion Joins the Com­pa­ny.

 In 1990, con­tin­u­ing in the fam­i­ly tra­di­tion, a fourth gen­er­a­tion of Bells joins the com­pa­ny. Matt Bell begins work­ing at ARI full time short­ly after grad­u­at­ing from Vil­lano­va Uni­ver­si­ty with a degree in Finance. With fresh ideas, and a deep knowl­edge of the fam­i­ly busi­ness, Matt starts his career at ARI work­ing in the sales office.

The com­pa­ny is now sell­ing kitchen cab­i­nets, and coun­ter­tops, and real­izes that the next step, to bet­ter serve their mar­ket, is man­u­fac­tur­ing their own lam­i­nate coun­ter­tops in-house in 1994. ARI also starts man­u­fac­tur­ing com­mer­cial case­work. As ARI’s skills and capa­bil­i­ties grow, they begin sell­ing cab­i­nets and appli­ances to many dif­fer­ent indus­tries. See­ing the suc­cess from their in-house man­u­fac­tur­ing take off, ARI real­izes that their cus­tomers are also demand­ing a bet­ter qual­i­ty cab­i­net prod­uct, and one that is made local­ly, read­i­ly avail­able, and also cus­tomiz­able.

Aca­cia Cab­i­net­works is cre­at­ed in 1998 to meet this need, and offers ARI cus­tomers a wide range of cus­tom solu­tions, as well as fin­ish­es, and help­ful ser­vices.

We want­ed to be mas­ters of our own future.” Says Matt Bell, VP of MHD, “At the time, the appli­ance indus­try and mar­ket was fluc­tu­at­ing unpre­dictably, and hav­ing that be our main source of income was trou­ble­some. Cre­at­ing Aca­cia Cab­i­net­works gave us much more con­trol over the des­tiny of our com­pa­ny.”

Matthew Bell, Vice Pres­i­dent

The name Aca­cia Cab­i­net­works comes from the Aca­cia tree, which in the Bible gave its wood to cre­ate the Ark of the Covenant, one of the “first cab­i­nets.” The wood was spec­i­fied for its strength and longevi­ty as a build­ing mate­r­i­al. Aca­cia Cab­i­net­works being man­u­fac­tured in New Jer­sey, now pro­vides local builders, ren­o­va­tors, and the apart­ment indus­try great high qual­i­ty option for their new projects and ren­o­va­tions.

By the year 2000, ARI has come to the full real­iza­tion that they should be entire­ly devot­ed to the mul­ti-hous­ing indus­try. This spawns the need for a name that is more appro­pri­ate than Appli­ance Replace­ment, Inc., and in 2001 the name Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot (MHD) is born.

Over the next few years as Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot is expand­ing its capa­bil­i­ties, and also tech­nol­o­gy, it acquires an excit­ing new Wemhon­er Press, which applies ther­mo­foil to cab­i­net doors. This machine opens up a world of oppor­tu­ni­ty for unlim­it­ed design and cre­ativ­i­ty, as col­ors, pat­terns, and wood grain styles offer a new world of options for design­ers and their projects.

The Wemhon­er Press

By 2006 MHD adds a Win­dows and Doors divi­sion and can pro­vide win­dows and glass slid­ing doors to builders and devel­op­ers. And in 2012 MHD cre­ates their Envi­sion line of plumb­ing and light­ing fix­tures, round­ing out a much larg­er offer­ing in their cat­a­log for the mul­ti-hous­ing indus­try. By 2015, it is obvi­ous that the com­pa­ny has out­grown its space once again, so the com­pa­ny moves into its new­ly built, cur­rent 100,000 square foot head­quar­ters In Burling­ton on Elbow Lane. The com­pa­ny grows to about 160 employ­ees.

 The 5th Gen­er­a­tion – The Next Wave Arrives at MHD for a New Mil­len­ni­um

MHD Now enjoys see­ing three gen­er­a­tions of the Bell Fam­i­ly work­ing togeth­er in their Burling­ton facil­i­ty. Like his Grand­fa­ther Ed before him, who also still works at MHD, Matt’s eldest son Sean Bell start­ed ear­ly at the com­pa­ny, help­ing with sea­son­al work, and then becom­ing an intern. Sean joined full-time in 2016 and is cur­rent­ly an esti­ma­tor for MHD. His broth­er, Eamon Bell, who works in IT Devel­op­ment and is involved with the com­pa­ny web­site and the eCom­merce pro­gram, and an excit­ing upcom­ing tech­nol­o­gy, start­ed in his senior year of high school 2013 as a drafts­man and con­tin­ues work­ing at MHD while attend­ing col­lege. Noah Bell, their younger broth­er, start­ed work­ing at MHD in 2015 help­ing with sea­son­al work, and also con­tin­ues work­ing here while attend­ing col­lege.

 Com­mu­ni­ty Strength through Com­mu­ni­ty Lead­er­ship

 Some­thing very impor­tant to MHD and very dear to the Bell Fam­i­ly, and its lead­er­ship over these 125 years has always been giv­ing back to help sup­port our local com­mu­ni­ty. MHD is very proud to sup­port such out­stand­ing com­mu­ni­ty char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions as Habi­tat for Human­i­ty, St. Jude Children’s Hos­pi­tal, The Nation­al Kid­ney Foun­da­tion, Cys­tic Fibro­sis Foun­da­tion, and The Fra­ter­nal Order of Police. MHD has helped raise or sup­ply dona­tions in kind val­ued over $1.6 mil­lion to help fund impor­tant mis­sions and caus­es, and sup­port impor­tant com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tives. We firm­ly believe that help­ing to cre­ate strong and healthy com­mu­ni­ties is a respon­si­bil­i­ty for every suc­cess­ful enter­prise.

A Very Impor­tant Thank You!

 Mul­ti-Hous­ing Depot could not have achieved this amaz­ing mile­stone of reach­ing our 125th Anniver­sary with­out the sup­port and love of our cus­tomers, part­ners, employ­ees, and sup­pli­ers. To cel­e­brate this his­toric achieve­ment for MHD, through­out this year we will be hold­ing exclu­sive events for our cus­tomers, part­ners and employ­ees, some who have been with us for 30 years or more. Stay tuned for these spe­cial events, cel­e­bra­tions, sem­i­nars, and spe­cial announce­ments through­out the year, as we cel­e­brate our 125th Anniver­sary in style, and thank you for mak­ing MHD a suc­cess for the past one hun­dred and twen­ty-five years! We look for­ward to serv­ing our cus­tomers, and to sup­port­ing our com­mu­ni­ties, for the next cen­tu­ry, for future gen­er­a­tions, and far beyond.

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