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Part II: Wolf of York, Pa., builds from deep foundation on banks of Susquehanna River

Tom Wolf, CEO of the WOLF Organization, gives a tour of the showroom at the Wolf Distribution Center in West Manchester Township recently. Also of interest: Check out this drawing of the original Wolf lumber yard in Mount Wolf.

For years, The Wolf Organization has quietly operated as a wholesaler of building products.

Wholesalers in the Wolf mold operate directly with customers and  don’t have to depend on mass marketing.

Of course, this quiet company has not been an unknown company locally. It long has been on a short list of top community philanthropists. If you’re a non-profit head and have a capital campaign, you go to Wolf’s.

The Wolf Organization, now commonly known as Wolf, is still in wholesaling, but this subhead on a recent York Daily Record/Sunday News article (2/2/12) sums up the company’s transformation: “Along with distributing products from other manufacturers, the Wolf Organization markets its own brand of cabinets and other building products.”

So, after a tour of Wolf’s West Manchester Township distribution center and showroom, here are some random observations about this venerable company that has worked with and sold wood products since 1843:

1. Credit for this re-invention goes to former state revenue secretary and current CEO Tom Wolf, who gave up a political career to re-engineer his family business.

2. The names of the various kitchen cabinets that make up the bulk of the Wolf Product Lines are interesting: The Dartmouth line comes from Tom Wolf’s alma mater. Saginaw cabinets come from the York County Susquehanna River town where patriarch Adam Wolf began company operations. I raised the point that it could be known as the New Holland line because the village was known as such when Adam Wolf was fishing logs from the Susquehanna to saw into lumber for building and other purposes. The company later gave up water transportation of its raw material for rail, and the town that grew around its office became Mount Wolf.

3. I joked with Tom Wolf and other company executives during the tour that it is an interesting combination of a Pennsylvania Dutch-owned company (Tom Wolf) offering Shaker-style products made by Amish craftsmen. To which, Tom Wolf remarked that the company is ecumenical.

4. Tom Wolf is a pioneer among local private-sector CEOs in offering a public blog, “Build Your Business,” explaining his company’s initiatives to customers at all levels. The titles of sample posts: “The Independent Dealer and the New Normal,” “Buy Local, Buy Smart,” and “A Re-Declaration of Independents.”

In the “Buy Local” post, he writes with a bit of opinion important for successful bloggers: “When it comes to the products serious remodeling projects require, buying local – from independent building materials dealers – is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.” The company is also on other social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and has posted videos on YouTube.

5. Wolf is betting on moving its own products through its network of independent dealers. John H. Myers is an example of such a dealer in York County.

I’m not sure if Wolf would put it this way or not, but this is my opinion about the company’s rebirth:

It appears that the bet here  is that Americans are tiring of browsing for kitchen cabinets and other home furnishings at impersonal big boxes.

It’s a good wager.

As in many things, Americans are turning from malls and large established sellers toward smaller, boutique-like retailers with storefronts or selling on the Web.

We live in a post-modern world with its skepticism toward institutions and most things large. Wolf is counting on the sales and service acumen of independent dealers to effectively sell its Made in America brands to people who are increasingly inclined to move away from the big and impersonal.

The move toward Wolf’s own brands shows the company understands how people are thinking today. Considering the company is in its sixth generation, figuring out what people want is a quality that must run in Wolf’s DNA.

Also of interest

Part I: Wolf of York, Pa., builds from deep foundation on banks of Susquehanna River.

Check out these stories and photos about Mount Wolf.

*Photo, York Daily Record/Sunday News