Bliffert Lumber & Hardware
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Industry: Lumber and Building Materials
After graduating from college, Eli Bliffert started working at his family’s business, Bliffert Lumber & Hardware, which traces its roots to the 1880s, when Bliffert’s great-great-grandfather launched a business to serve the building and heating needs of its Milwaukee neighbors.
Today, Bliffert Lumber & Hardware supplies building materials and hardware to contractors and homeowners primarily in southeastern Wisconsin. The company’s mission is to help the community grow by supplying building materials to hospitals, stadiums and new homes, as well as a variety of other projects.
Bliffert started from the bottom as a delivery driver, working his way up from there to inside sales, store manager and vice president to his current role as owner. Under his leadership, the company has expanded from two lumberyards and 24 associates to eight lumberyards and more than 250 associates.
The road to success has been challenging at times. During the Great Recession in 2008, Bliffert depleted his 401(k) and invested everything he had into the business to keep it afloat.
“My greatest leadership lesson learned arose from the last recession,” Bliffert said. “I put off some difficult decisions, I did not anticipate the length of the recession, and I waited too long to take the necessary cost control measures to better survive the economic times we were going through. This situation taught me that great leaders prepare for the worst by putting a plan in place, and they make decisive decisions using their best judgment in order to put all stakeholders in the best position possible to succeed.”
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bliffert continued to employ and pay each of his associates even as some stepped away to care for sick family members or themselves. Sawmills shut down, freight carriers increased demand and there was a worker shortage, but Bliffert managed to build up inventory, navigate supply chain issues and double his company’s business.
Sales and associate headcount have grown nearly 200% in the last five years, and the company foresees more growth on the horizon.
“Bliffert Lumber & Hardware is what it is today because we focus on doing the right thing,” the company said. “We provide our customers with high-quality products and services. We empower our employees with proper training and pay competitive wages and benefits to provide for their financial security. Our vision is to utilize this foundation of values to strengthen our positions in existing markets and grow into new ones.”
Bliffert serves on the board of directors for Do It Best, a member-owned hardware, lumber and building materials cooperative based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “Being on the board of directors of Do It Best Corporation helps me get a national perspective on the state of our industry (and) allows me access to business leaders across the country,” he said.
When in college, Eli thought he would be a history teacher.