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A History of Independence and Service

April 21, 2014

Baldwin Supply Company: A History of Independence and Service

For nearly a century, Baldwin has been providing quality products, services, and expertise for generations of customers and clients, and has grown to become one of the leading privately owned industrial suppliers in the country. Now operating in eight locations across the Upper Midwest, the company remains true to its spirit of independence and being part of the local communities it supports.

“One thing that fascinates me,” says Baldwin vice president of marketing Rob LaRue, whose father Dave now owns the company, “if you go out and visit our different customers, we’ve literally grown with them from when they started.”

The Baldwin story started back in 1920, when James Clark Rowett opened a small, one-room storefront at 428 South Fifth Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The business soon became successful enough to open two additional Minneapolis locations. Initially known as Baldwin Service Company, Rowett’s business also operated as The Baldwin Duckworth Chain Corporation, when it supplied the many of the logging chains that were used by the booming timber industry. The company also supplied industrial equipment and supplies to Minneapolis flour mills when the city was known as the milling capital of the world.

In 1941, Robert Nyrop, Robert Groen, James Craighead, and William Haag became owners of the business. Nyrop and Groen both went off to serve their country in World War II, but they returned and were able to take on full leadership by 1946. Five years later, the company opened a two-story building on Sixth Street, where it served customers for 14 years.

By 1961, Nyrop and Groen had become the sole owners of the company, and in 1965, they moved the business to its current home base at 601 Eleventh Avenue South in Minneapolis. The pair spent most of their adult lives running Baldwin Supply Company, with a special expertise in power transmission systems.

Nyrop’s son-in-law Dave LaRue purchased Baldwin Supply Company in September 1992 and has led the company through a number of new acquisitions and partnerships since then. For instance, in 1995, the company became a member owner of the power-transmission company IDC-USA, and in 2003 it acquired Arrowhead Belt Company in Hibbing, Minnesota. Then in 2006, Baldwin bought both Leader Bearing Supply in Des Moines, Iowa, and the Light Weight Belting Company in Minneapolis.

The company’s success has enabled it to expand and offer its unique independent service to customers through new branches in other Midwest communities. The Owatonna branch opened in 1998, then Fargo in 2000, then Sioux Falls in 2001, and Hibbing in 2003. As the company has spread out geographically, it has also diversified its sales and technologies, launching the Conveyor Services division in 2005, and the Baldwin Automation & Controls division in 2006. Baldwin expanded again in 2013, adding a new branch in St. Cloud.

Baldwin’s long-term growth and success is impressive, particularly in a market now dominated by large corporate chains, but that accomplishment is due to the loyalty of its customers, who have gone on to great success themselves. Many of Baldwin’s clients, Rob LaRue notes, have followed a similar path, starting with just one or two employees in a business operated out of a garage. “We’re still with them today, 30-plus years later, and they’re 300, 400-plus employees.”

Executive Vice President Jim O’Connor adds that customers value Baldwin’s team of dedicated experts, whose extensive product knowledge allows them to provide the best possible service. “It’s good sales ability along with good product knowledge,” he says. Customers appreciate that Baldwin employees work with them to find the best solutions to meet their individual needs. “They come back and ask us for additional help, and that’s where our relationship continues to grow with them.”

Ultimately, one of the reasons Baldwin Supply Company has earned the trust of its customers is its commitment to strong community values. As owner and CEO Dave LaRue puts it, “business is only as good as the people in the business.” The technology of industry has changed dramatically since the company began, “but we’ve always stayed a bit old-fashioned in the sense that we really care about the relationships with our vendors, and we care about the relationships with our clients and customers, but I think we really care mostly about each other,” he says. “I think that’s why we’ve been able to survive and thrive,” he adds, “we’re real clear on who we are.”