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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.