MHS Industrial

Brad, Philip and Ann Downs pose for a photo outside MHS Industrial Supply. MHS is the area's only locally owned industrial supplier and has been a family business for three generations.

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield’s own MHS Industrial Supply has weathered recessions, undergone name changes and made it through the industry’s shift towards big box and online retail.

This month, the company celebrates its 80th anniversary.

“When we started in 1940, we were the only locally-owned general line industrial distributor and today we still are the only locally owned general line industrial distributor in Mansfield,” said Ann Downs, CEO of the company.

MHS is celebrating its 80th anniversary with 80 hours of volunteer service to the community. The company’s ‘80 hours of giving’ is ongoing -- so far, employees have lent a hand during Shelby Bicycle Days and helped with a Christmas party for needy children at the Richland County Fairgrounds. The company will also participate in United Way’s Days of Caring fundraiser.

As an industrial distributor, MHS primarily serves manufacturers and construction companies by helping them find products that meet their needs.

“I like working with manufacturers and being able to see what they do and how we can help them in different ways, whether it's improved processes or improving the safety of their employees,” said Brad Downs, MHS’s sales and marketing manager. “We work very closely with the manufacturers of the products we sell to bring solutions to our customers.”

Through its co-ops and partnerships, MHS has access to millions of products from approximately 5,000 manufacturers. 

“We have to partner up with co-ops, or buying groups, to be able to survive, against some of the national competition,” Downs said. “That way we're able to take advantage of the combined buying power of everybody.”

The business’ beginnings go all the way back to 1940, when Charles R. Underhill opened Mill Supplies Inc. at 70 N. Foster Street.

Underhill was originally from Cleveland, but saw the potential of a booming railroad town with a brand new steel mill.

In December 1945, Ann’s father Joseph Miller returned to the United States after serving in World War II. Underhill hired him as sales manager. By 1963, the company employed 15 workers and thrived thanks to a growing customer base and increased demand.

Two years later, the company officially changed its name to Mansfield Hardware & Supply Co.

After Underhill’s passing in 1974, Miller became president and owner of Mansfield Hardware & Supply Co. His son-in-law, Philip Downs and daughter Ann Downs joined the company not long afterward. Upon Miller’s retirement in 1983, Philip became president and Ann became CEO.

In 2010, the company rebranded once again as MHS Industrial Supply to better reflect its new client base, which consists mostly of commercial and industrial accounts.

In 2015, MHS Industrial Supply was named Small Business of the Year by the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce. The following year, it was recognized as a Blue Ribbon Award winner by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“We're always evaluating ways that we can tweak how we do things to provide better service, provide better value and a better experience for our customers,” Philip Downs said.

The emphasis on customer service was one of the biggest business lessons the Downs learned from Miller.

“If you got a call at three o'clock in the morning on a weekend, you were over here, getting product for (the client), if they had a shutdown or something,” Ann recalled.

The Downs family also credits the community’s support of small businesses with MHS’ ongoing success.

“Some of our competitors have all gone all online and some of our customers appreciate still having that face to face,” Ann said. “I think one of the big things is the Mansfield Richland County community -- a lot of our customers and manufactures still embrace the importance of supporting local vendors.”

MHS also benefits from a hardworking, loyal staff and a much lower turnover rate than typical suppliers. Prior to a few recent retirements, the average employee tenure at MHS was more than 15 years. 

“We just have such an awesome staff. And I really enjoy working with all of them, getting to know them and their families,” Ann said. “This really isn't about us. This is about those people that are out there every day working, and our staff is just phenomenal. They all do a great job.”

MHS Industrial Supply is located at 70 Sawyer Parkway. The business’ former location was approximately 18,000 square feet. MHS currently occupies 25,000 square feet, but with a total of 42,000 square feet, there’s plenty of room for growth.

“When we moved out here in 2015, it was an investment into the future of the business and also to kind of show the community that we are you know committed to the community,” Brad Downs said. “We're growing and we're investing towards our future, to be better for our customers.”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie.ellington@richlandsource.com