Wittichen Supply Company is a wholesale distributor of heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration parts, equipment, and supplies, which has been serving the industry since 1914, a span of over 100 years. The Supply Company started as a small division of Wittichen Chemical Company, a chemical distributor founded by Carl F. Wittichen.
In 1930, Wittichen pioneered the first use of Anhydrous Ammonia, Sulfur Dioxide, and Methyl Chloride for refrigerant systems. When “FREON” was introduced by DuPont in the mid 1930’s; and cooling and heating systems began to develop as we know them today, under the direction of Mr. Carl F. Wittichen and Mr. Drexel Daily, Wittichen started stocking all of the refrigerants, parts, supplies, and equipment needed to service this industry. It was during this time that the long-time relationships with the standards of this industry such as DuPont, Allied Chemical Company, Honeywell, White Rogers, Johnson Controls, Tecumseh Compressors and others were formed.
As was the case throughout America, the early to mid-1940’s saw little growth for the company while our country was at war. Both Mr. Wittichen and Mr. Daily went off to war but came home to continue where they left off. The Supply Company moved out of the Chemical Company’s operation and was officially separated from it in the mid 1950’s. Wittichen, being a chemical engineer focused most of his efforts with the Chemical Company, while Daily took control of the Supply Company. With a small group of employees, Fred Sharp, Ferrell Stephens, Jim Hallmon, J.C. Herring, Jack Cummings, and then later, Waylon Taylor, Daily groomed and cultivated Wittichen Supply into the company it is known as today.
The 1960’s saw many changes as Wittichen took great strides to serve their market. The first of these changes involved opening branches throughout the state of Alabama. In 1963, Fred Sharp moved to Huntsville, and opened the company’s first branch outside of Birmingham. In 1967, Jim Hallmon and Jack Cummings opened the company’s Tuscaloosa store, and in 1968, Ferrell Stephens and Waylon Taylor opened the company’s Gadsden store. Then in 1969 as the decade was coming to a close the Huntsville store oversaw the opening of the company’s Sheffield store. Another major change that occurred in the 1960’s was when Wittichen sold Wittichen Chemical Company to Thompson Hayward Chemical Company, which later sold to Harcross Chemical Company. Carl Wittichen served as President of Wittichen Supply Company and oversaw the financial side of the company’s business. Drexel Daily served as Vice President and General Manger and oversaw the day-to-day operation of the company, while J.C. Herring served as manager of the company’s home office in Birmingham.
The 1970’s took an interesting turn for Wittichen. The company started stocking and selling various lines of air conditioning and heating equipment, as well as air movement supplies in its branches. In May of 1972, Wittichen opened its Anniston branch, and then opened its Decatur branch in January of 1973, bringing the total to seven branches throughout north Alabama. In 1977, David Henderson, son in law of Mr. Wittichen joined the company as a warehouse/delivery person and began working in various positions within the company. The plan was for Henderson to be groomed to someday take over for Mr. Wittichen. An abrupt change had to be made to this plan when Vice President and General Manager Drexel Daily was diagnosed with cancer in 1979 and passed away December 2nd of that year. His contribution to the industry will long be remembered. He pioneered refrigeration and air conditioning in the state of Alabama, and his servant’s heart was the key to the success of Wittichen Supply Company. To this day, the RSES organization gives an annual Drexel Daily award to a deserving individual based on attitude, service, and contribution to the industry. Daily’s philosophy of customer service is still preached within the company today. Henderson quickly had to assume Daily’s position and began overseeing the daily operation of the company along with J.C. Herring, and other key people within the organization.
Wittichen began moving south in the 80’s. They opened a branch in Montgomery in 1981 and in Dothan in 1987, bringing the total to nine. The company also began its transfer of ownership, to take care of any future estate tax issues, and Mr. Wittichen became less active in the organization. Some of the other key people began reaching retirement age, and the company began putting its second generation of managers in place. In 1986, Copeland Corporation came calling, and Wittichen became a distributor of their line of air conditioning and refrigeration compressors and condensing units in many of their branches.
The 1990’s brought another wave of expansion for Wittichen, as they began to open smaller, satellite branches in existing marketplaces to better solidify their position. Under the direction of Charles Herring, who became the Birmingham Manager in 1989 when his father, J.C. retired, the Birmingham store opened satellites in Pelham in 1991, Trussville in 1992, Bessemer in 1993, and Jasper in 1995. The Decatur branch oversaw the opening and operation of satellites in Athens in 1993 and in Cullman in 1995. In 1997, the Montgomery branch oversaw the opening of a satellite in Opelika. In less than a year, the Opelika branch grew from a satellite to a fully stocking, stand-alone branch. The company also restructured its management team in the 90’s. David Henderson, now President of the company, appointed Charles Herring as the company’s General Manager in 1998, a position that had been vacant since Daily’s death in 1979. Herring started at the bottom with the company in 1973 and worked in several positions within the company. From 1989 to early 1998, he served as the area manager for the company’s Birmingham area stores.
Wittichen was determined not to sit down and rest. A 1998 venture took them out of the state of Alabama for the first time, with an acquisition in Rome, Georgia. Wittichen assumed ownership and operation of Refrigeration Air Conditioning Supply on May 1, 1998. On May 1, 2000, the Gadsden branch oversaw the opening of store number 18, a satellite operation in Albertville, Alabama. Shortly afterward, in June 2000, store number 19, another fully stocking, stand-alone branch, was opened in Columbus, Georgia, fully staffed, and ready to serve. On April 2, 2001, Wittichen Supply Company purchased a location in LaGrange, Georgia from Refrigeration Supplies. The LaGrange store operated as a Satellite of the Opelika branch until it closed December 31, 2018. Determined not to stop there, Wittichen opened a branch in Foley, Alabama in May 2003 to serve the rapidly growing Baldwin County and Gulf Coast areas.
On February 1, 2006, Wittichen purchased the assets of Refrigeration Supply Company, and assumed operation of their branches in Mobile, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. These branches helped to round out Wittichen’s presence in southern Alabama, and along the Gulf Coast. Like all the others, they are fully staffed, and continue the company’s philosophy of being that one-stop-shop for the HVAC/R industry.
In the spring of 2009, Wittichen opened a new branch in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to further strengthen their position along the Gulf Coast. Then, in April of 2011, Wittichen opened another Birmingham area satellite in Gardendale, just north of Birmingham. This addition put 5 fully stocked branches in the Birmingham metropolitan area – north, south, east, west, and central. In February 2015, Wittichen moved its Birmingham branch and corporate offices to a newly renovated state of the art facility in the Birmingham Central Business District to better serve their Birmingham customers.
In the spring of 2015, the Mobile branch oversaw the opening of a satellite branch in Daphne, AL, to service their customers on the Eastern Shore. The company now operates 25 branches, with 21 in Alabama, 2 in Georgia, and 2 in Florida. Under the leadership of Henderson, Herring, and the managers of the company’s branches, Wittichen is determined to go to the next level, providing the service the Alabama market area has come to expect to an even greater area. The company also made a major investment in the late 1990’s to fully automate and computerize its branches with a state-of-the-art point of sale system and expanded that in 2000 to include a revolutionary website for its customers. As with all technology, they continue to stay at the forefront by upgrading their systems as they grow.
In July 2021, the Wittichen family decided it was time to “pass the torch” and sold their interest in the company to Gryphon Investors, a mid-market private equity firm that focusses on well-run, successful family businesses, providing them with the capital and resources to continue building upon their legacy. David Henderson retired in October of 2021 after over 44 years of service and Charles Herring was promoted to President and continues to serve as General Manager. Matt Helms was moved to the corporate office from Tuscaloosa, where he previously served as the Tuscaloosa Branch Manager, and was promoted to the newly created position of Branch Operations Manager to assist Herring with the day-to-day operation of the branches. Helms joined the company in June of 2000 and has worked in several roles at multiple branches. He joins a corporate leadership team that is well positioned to carry the Wittichen torch well into the future.
Experience over these many years has taught the management of Wittichen Supply Company that their many customers must be served with complete inventories, product knowledgeable employees, and emergency after hour service for the inevitable occurrence of a system breakdown. They recognize the “hidden expense” of waiting around in a supply house. Wittichen takes pride in earning the patronage of its customers by having an eagerness to give fast and friendly service. They like to welcome their customers as they enter, and thank them as they leave, to show appreciation for their support. After only a few purchases, customers quickly sense the strong commitment from Wittichen to earn their business by offering competitive prices, and having what the customer wants, when he needs it. Even though many of the key people responsible for laying the foundation that Wittichen was built upon have either retired or passed away, it is great to see that their legacy lives on.