BORN IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION, THIS FAMILY OWNED BUILDING SUPPLY COMPANY CONTINUES TO HELP INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS AND HOMEOWNERS CREATE THEIR PERFECT NEST
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN
When Shaheen A. Shaheen immigrated from Lebanon to America in the late 1800s at the age of 16, there were many promising opportunities as the second Industrial Revolution loomed. Settling in Cranford, New Jersey, awaiting his bride, the daughter of a noble family, Shaheen slowly started to build a small construction business, acquiring real estate, brokering insurance, and building homes.
The Great Depression altered his plans. Real estate suddenly held little value insurance policies were cashed in and home building halted. In order to provide for his wife and eight children, Shaheen launched Builders’ General, a building supply business, in 1931.
“My grandfather was a local builder in Cranford, and he thought it would be a good idea to start his own supply company so he could supply himself and some of the other local builders in the area,” noted Tim Shaheen, Builders’ General’s previous president who now serves as chairman of the board. “My father, along with a couple of his brothers, joined the company, and we’ve expanded to where we are today.”
Now in its fourth generation, the family owned business sells lumber and building materials to professional builders, remodelers, and general contractors. Operating seven locations throughout the state with 170 employees, the 90 year old venture continues to thrive, but the past nine decades haven’t been without their challenges. “In the 40 years that I’ve been involved we’ve seen recessions, we’ve seen building bubbles, we’ve seen building slumps,” noted Phillip Shaheen, Tim Shaheen’s brother and the current president. Tim Shaheen added: “ is Little Silver location we’re at today, which is our headquarters, sat vacant for quite a few years because nobody wanted to be in the lumber business. But we had the foresight to acquire it knowing that the business would come back. And it did.”
When Tim and Phil’s father, Victor Shaheen, took over in 1946, Builders’ General slightly shifted its focus during his tenure, concentrated on becoming the state’s premier supplier in the lumber and building materials industry. The company fed a booming housing market in the 1950s and soon the Little Silver location became its second, acquired in the 1970s.
“In the company’s earliest years, Victor Shaheen aggressively solicited new business and new products and developed a modern and well established chain of building material yards with a reputation for service and quality products,” noted TJ Shaheen, the company’s executive vice president. Today, the third and fourth generation of the Shaheen family, Tim, Phil, Mary, Betsy, TJ, Michael, Phil Jr., and Brian, are working together to provide a more diversi ed product line for the contractor as well as the homeowner. “We’ve enlarged our footprint by gradually adding locations with showrooms, new trucks, and equipment. Our employee roster naturally grew as well, and many have been with us more than 20, 30, even 40 years. When you have that sort of commitment, it definitely helps separate our company from the pack,” said TJ Shaheen.
Currently, the company has four full service lumberyards with showrooms and retail hardware stores, along with two high end design centers spanning Monmouth, Ocean, and Middlesex counties. With over 60 delivery vehicles, Builders’ General is able to serve customers throughout the entire state, as well as New York and Pennsylvania. The company’s recent acquisition of Direct Millwork (Warren County) in January 2020 brought the company’s tally to seven locations.
In addition to showroom space, each Builders’ General location features a retail center filled with hardware accessories like drill bits and nails, plus other ancillary products like drywall and insulation. They have a well-staffed lumberyard for easy drive thru pick up where employees help customers load materials onto their trucks. These are the details that the Shaheens attribute to the business’ keen focus on customer service. “We want people to know that by shopping local, you may discover that we are just around the corner and have most of what you are looking for. We aren’t a big box store, but we can be the first place you think of when you need building materials, service, and product knowledge,” explained TJ Shaheen.
It’s this steadfast commitment to their customers and employees that has made the family owned business a success for nine decades and counting. But for them, it’s tradition. “Multiple different people would come in and say, ‘Your father was the best… when I was in trouble he lent me $5,000,’” added Phil Shaheen. “I think that resonated in all of our hearts and that’s how we continue to do business today.”
Builders’ General Supply Company
800.757.7227 / buildersgeneral.com
Little Silver / Long Branch / Edison / Freehold / Toms River / Perth Amboy / Washington