The test of time: How some of Dayton’s most durable companies have endured

What are Dayton’s oldest businesses doing right? We asked them

Standing the test of time for some of the Dayton area’s oldest businesses has meant more than merely sticking around.

It can mean evolving in a process that hasn’t always been pain-free.

The region has it share of older companies. Named after a Hamilton native, Esther Price has been synonymous with boxes of chocolate since the 1920s. Though it was acquired by Minnesota’s Taylor Corp. in 2015, Standard Register traces its origins to 1912. Bicycle maker Huffy is more than 130 years old and retains a Miami Twp. office and design team presence.

Among those is the Dayton Daily News, which published its first edition on Aug. 22, 1898. To recognize that 125th anniversary, we’re spending this week telling stories of the city, its history, our history and the future of both the region and the news organization that has been there marking milestones since the late 1800s.

Today, we recognize businesses that have also been serving Dayton for generations.

Requarth Lumber: ‘An evergreen business’

In downtown Dayton, Requarth Lumber has been in business since 1860.

Alan Pippenger, president of Requarth, says there’s no secret to staying in business a century and longer. For him, it’s about been about selling the right product — a product still very much in demand.

But it’s more than product. Pippenger’s great-great-grandfather, Frederick August Requarth, started the business as a millwork shop. Though Requarth started in millwork, making stairs, handrails and bannisters, it soon got into general contracting, raising buildings.

A more recent example of that adaptability was seen in 2011, when Requarth acquired Supply One, getting into the kitchen and cabinet business — a big step for the company.

“We’ve always been managed to be an evergreen business,” Pippgenger said. “It has never been a business where we were looking to sell it. The family always kept cash in the business.

“The family has been patient. I mean, there have been some bad years here.”

When hard times struck, as they inevitably did, that cash helped keep the business going.

The 2008 “Great Recession” was tough, as housing construction all but stopped. By 2010, Pippenger said Requarth had about half of the employees it had in 2007.

“The shareholders hung in there, the family hung in there. We even invested in Supply One,” he said.

Another strength: Reliance on good advisors. Pippenger has a paid board of outside, non-fiduciary advisors who meets quarterly, formed in 2006.

In business, entrepreneurs want to be good. But a little luck can go a long way, Pippenger acknowledged.

“There is that element of luck when you are in a recession and in a downturn. I’m sure that’s part of our success,” he said.

Woolpert: ‘We’re trying to be one of the world’s best companies’

Charlton Putnam and Ralph L. Woolpert founded an engineering and surveying firm in Dayton in 1911 — just in time to help the area respond to the Great Flood of 1913 with its services.

For a company that’s well over a century old, Woolpert has a “progressive side,” said Scott Cattran, CEO of Woolpert, now based in Beavercreek.

“We’re the only company listed on the ENR (Engineering News Record) as a AEG (company) — architecture, engineering and geospatial,” Cattran said. “And I definitely think the progressive side of our company, the geospatial side of our company, gives us an edge and always has given us an edge.”

Like Requarth, Woolpert makes acquisitions when those make sense. A look at the company’s recent moves shows not just a willingness to work almost anywhere but an ambitious pace in picking partners and acquisitions.

“If you don’t have growth, you really don’t have opportunity,” Cattran said. “I think for me, that’s one of the key things that have driven the growth strategy that we’ve been following for the last decade or so.”

One example: Woolpert made an acquisition last year (of Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects) to help support Meta, the company’s largest customer.

That acquisition will help Woolpert support Meta’s architecture and design services, but in time can also help with engineering and geospatial services for other customers.

Of course, making customers happy is fundamental to any long-lasting business. But employees need to be on board, as well.

“Quite honestly, we have for some time focused on the employees first,” the CEO said. “Create happy employees. Then you have happy employees who will naturally be the best to serve the clients.

“We’re trying to be one of the world’s best companies. If you do that, it will just naturally serve the client, too.”

Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce: ‘We’ve had to adapt’

The Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1907. John H. Patterson, founder of NCR, and other local leaders came together under the idea that they can do more as a business collective than as individuals, said Chris Kershner, the chamber’s president and CEO.

And the chamber ended up being one of the founding chambers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce a few years later, Kershner said.

“I feel honored to stand on the shoulders of the business leaders who have come before me,” he said. “And the reason the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce is successful today is because of the foundation that has been laid over the past 116 years.”

Again, the need to adapt comes to the fore. What was the Dayton chamber has become a chamber for a 14-county region.

“We’ve had to adapt,” Kershner said. “Over time, we’ve realized that Dayton is not just the city of Dayton. Dayton is the region.”

The Dayton Daily News celebrates 125 years

The first edition of the Dayton Daily News published on Aug. 22, 1898. We’re celebrating that anniversary this week with stories, photos and graphics about the past and future of the Dayton region and the role of the Dayton Daily News in covering and participating in that path.

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