For approximately the first 20 years of its history, Sid Harvey's growth closely paralleled that of the industry in which founder Sidney W. Harvey had elected to do business in 1931. That was the year that he rented a second-floor office in Hempstead, N.Y., and began distributing oil heating with an inventory of 10 burners.
Automatic heating was still in its infancy then, and coal-to-oil conversions had yet to challenge coal as the heating fuel of choice. But as Harvey correctly assumed, oil heat would quickly establish itself as the dominant mode in the Northeast, and would offer a continually expanding market.
For that to happen, the fledgling business would have to survive the Depression and then wait until the end of World War II. That period probably proved beneficial to the young businessman, forcing him to develop more innovative marketing strategies than would have been necessary had the times been more prosperous.
That he was up to the challenge was made apparent by the publication of the first Sid Harvey catalog in 1934. A meager affair by today's standards, with only 20 pages, it still was an ambitious undertaking for a new business in the middle of the 1930s. Although the catalog has grown considerably larger since then, its format remains essentially the same. Parts are still grouped according to function rather than manufacturer in order to enhance the catalog's value as a comprehensive cross-reference.
Harvey used the catalog as a way to expand the business. If mail order volume grew large enough, an outside salesman was hired to make calls in the new territory. Eventually, the company would open new branches in these growing markets.
As the Depression wore on, Harvey saw a need for inexpensive but reliable repair parts. In 1935, he started a small repair station to serve those needs. Before long, he was accumulating defective parts and repairing them in advance. That way, customers could exchange old parts for new without delay. The tradition continues to this day with the remanufacturing/manufacturing operations recently moving from its cramped Long Island plant to new facilities in South Carolina.
It wasn't until after World War II that the company began its territorial expansion. At first, this growth mirrored the growth in oil heating business. Back then, Sid Harvey's business consisted of a growing number of small stores carrying inventory for fuel oil dealers in the New York metropolitan area.
As coal-to-oil conversions continued, company salesmen would report the need for stocking stores on the periphery of their territories. The company opened its first branches in Lynbrook, Jamaica and Mt. Vernon, N.Y. After establishing a group of stores in the New York area, Harvey spread out north toward Boston and south toward Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the company was also looking at the air-conditioning and refrigeration parts business, which began rapidly expanding in the 1950s. In 1962, Sid Harvey's entered this new market by buying Victor Sales & Supply, a one-branch HVACR supply house in Philadelphia. In 1969, single branch outlets were acquired in Mississippi and Tennessee, giving Sid Harvey's its first authorized Copeland branches.
From that point, the company continued to grow both in terms of new branches and acquisitions, as it expanded throughout the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic area. After the Northeast, the second big pocket of oil was in the Midwest. The company opened branches in Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Cleveland as the decade came to a close and the 1970s began.
During the energy crisis of the early-70s, management continued to move the company into the HVACR equipment business through acquisitions and branch openings in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. At the same time, the inventory mix at existing branches changed in terms of equipment and additional refrigeration products like compressors. During much of the 1980s, the rapid pace of diversification continued by acquiring other companies, opening branches in new markets and changing the product mix.
By 1988, the company had expanded throughout the South and as far west as the Rocky Mountains. In a Supply House Times article written that year, the company had topped 100 branches and $100 million in sales.
The company reported sales of $126 million in 2005. At that time, Sid Harvey's operated 70 branches in 18 states. It just picked up four more outlets and one more state with the purchase of part of Danzer at the end of 2005.
Editor's note: This feature was adapted from features published in the October 1988 and the January 1994 issues of Supply House Times.