Family Within An Industry at Fifth Generation Bliffert Lumber Co.

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Family Within An Industry at Fifth Generation Bliffert Lumber Co. 1
Bliffert’s first full-service hardware store was built in 2009 next to the family’s original North Side Lumber & Fuel Co. location.

“We are proud to be family-owned and operated, and we make sure that the personal service we’re known for shines through at all of our locations.” ~ Eli Bliffert, Vice President, Bliffert Lumber Co.

Bliffert Lumber and Hardware, headquartered in Milwaukee, WI, supplies Hardwood and softwood lumber and building materials. The operation has served contractors and homeowners in southeastern Wisconsin for over 115 years.

The company handles approximately 12 million board feet annually and inventories between 1 to 2 million at all times. Bliffert Lumber purchases over 100,000 board feet in Hardwoods including Ash, Maple, Cherry, Alder, Birch, and Red and White Oak. 

Softwood species available include douglas fir, spruce, Eastern white pine, engelmann spruce, hemlock, white fir, and Southern yellow pine.

Since the company’s inception in 1904, Bliffert has helped the community grow by supplying building materials to hospitals, stadiums, new homes and other projects. Now in its fifth generation of Bliffert family ownership, current owner and Vice President Eli Bliffert said the family is the key to longevity in the lumber industry. “Certainly our biological family has been involved in the business and continues to be. We also consider our employees, vendors and partners our family. We love lumberyards. We are the Bliffert family of lumber companies. We’re continuing to grow and the goal is to bring in other good family lumber folks. Lumber is a family business. We all know each other, and we have a mantra that we’re all in it together.”

Family Within An Industry at Fifth Generation Bliffert Lumber Co. 2

Bliffert Lumber and Hardware announced that it has recently merged with Portage Lumber in Portage, WI. Portage Lumber was founded in 1953 and has served the building material, hardware and home decor industry in the Portage market for the majority of their 70 years in business. “We believe that merging with the Bliffert family of companies allows us to continue to serve our customers and community for generations to come,” said Dennis Dorn, CEO of Portage Lumber.

Bliffert has also merged with Chase Lumber and its three locations in Sun Prairie, DeForest and McFarland, WI, and these locations will be rebranded under the Bliffert brand in 2024. “We want to continue growth and we want other companies to come to be a sister, a brother or an uncle. I have many lumber uncles in this business. We learn from each other and with each other. That’s the best part of this business, the family.”

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“Joining forces with Bliffert and combining nearly two-and-a-half centuries of serving the building industry in Wisconsin is a giant step forward for Chase Lumber’s customers and employees,” said Valerie Stiener, president of Chase Lumber.  “We know that Bliffert is a company that shares our values, especially concerning employees, customers and the community. We believe Bliffert Lumber does that and more. A large firm that operates as a family-run business, Bliffert brings buying power and expertise that should allow Chase Lumber to operate as a premier supplier of building materials for many years to come.”

In 2022 Bliffert merged in Fillinger Millwork, a single-location millwork manufacturer of Hardwood moulding and custom millwork products in Milwaukee, WI. That move followed on the heels of the acquisition of Milwaukee Cabinetry. “My brother and I managed A. Fillinger, Inc. through its fourth generation, and we’re proud of securing a long-term future for our staff and product lines,” said Justin Fillinger, co-owner of A. Fillinger, Inc. “By joining the Bliffert team, we align our mutually beneficial goals of building a sustainable and high-efficiency production environment in the moulding and cabinetry industry. We are thrilled to join forces with another historical Wisconsin family business.”

“The Fillinger family has been an institution in Wisconsin for generations. Their reputation for innovation and old-world craftsmanship is unparalleled,” said Eli. “Adding the Fillinger manufacturing and custom cabinet lines gives our customers more options. Without a doubt, we are stronger together.”

Fillinger Millwork is a fourth-generation, family-owned business founded in 1938. Fillinger has evolved over the past 84 years from its humble beginnings as a cabinet shop to a lumber mill, retail hardware store and lumberyard. Today, Fillinger Millwork focuses on manufacturing Hardwood mouldings and custom millwork products.

With seven acquisitions over a two-year period, Eli said the key to Bliffert’s operational success has been to provide good jobs for good people. “This is not a get-rich-quick business, but it is a steady, sustainable income,” he explained. “Most of the companies we have acquired are situations where the owners are retiring and not moving into anything different. They want to make sure their people are going to be taken care of and we have that ability. There’s a comfort level. Two years ago, we became a 30 percent employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and we gave a third of the company shares to the ESOP trust for everyone and that level of involvement speaks volumes from an employee/employer standpoint.” Eli said the company has over 400 employees across its 14 locations. 

Bliffert has always been deeply committed to their local community’s quality of life, and in late 2022 the company invested in a solar solution that benefits the health of the environment and the community. The first full month of solar energy production exceeded expectations with a calculated environmental benefit of 9,606.1 pounds of carbon dioxide emission saved or the equivalent of 72.58 trees planted.

In the 1880’s Christian Meckelberg established North Side Lumber and Fuel Co., which operates today as Bliffert Lumber and Hardware. According to the company website, it was a staple of the near-northside community. Many homes built in the area of North Avenue, Holton Street, and Chambers Street were supplied with lumber, nails, windows, roofing material and more from North Side Lumber. North Side Lumber not only stocked building materials, they also sold millwork and manufactured flooring along with all softwood and Hardwood lumber. Lumber was from North American and some South American forests. They also provided the fuel (eastern anthracite coal) for homes and businesses of the area to cook, keep warm, and operate steam boiler-driven machinery. 

In those days coal and lumber delivery to the distributors was done by a rail spur that fed the business from the Milwaukee Road’s northbound City Line. In 1904 the business was finally incorporated and the name North Side Lumber and Fuel Company became official. During that time young J.P. Bliffert came to work for the company and eventually married the daughter of the owner. J.P. Bliffert took on more responsibility over time and managed the location for several years under the North Side Lumber name. 

The company name was changed to reflect Bliffert ownership shortly after World War I, under which it still operates today. Bliffert Lumber and Hardware. Continuing the family-owned and operated tradition Eli said the company goal is to make sure that the personal service shows at each of their 14 locations. “All locations are unique,” he said. “Each location serves its own specific type of customers and each manager has his or her own strategy of how to obtain repeat business. It’s nice to have a company that is working for you that’s not a supplier or vendor, but a business partner. We are proud to be family-owned and operated, and we make sure that the personal service we’re known for shines through at all of our locations.”

Eli Bliffert serves on the Board of Directors of Do It Best Corp and Bliffert Lumber Co. is a member of the National Association of Remodeling Industry, Building Material and Lumber Dealers Connection and Metropolitan Builders Association. For more information visit www.bliffertlumber.com.

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