Industrial supplies distributor Mars Supply is celebrating 100 years in business throughout 2024, and it didn’t achieve that milestone by happenstance. The company’s President, Bob Mars, has been there for 48 of those years, giving him a wealth of perspective on the industry.

Bob Mars

Bob was my guest on our latest MDM Podcast episode, which offered a discussion on the history of Minnesota-based Mars Supply and what it’s up to today, and everything that he’s seen change in-between, as well as what hasn’t changed.

Based just north of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Mars Supply’s roots date back to 1893, and the company was officially founded in 1924 as the W.P. & R.S. Mars Company, serving as a distributor to the mining and timber industry in northern Minnesota. Bob has been its President since 1976. The company rebranded as Mars Supply in 2017 alongside some recent expansion.

The industrial distribution sector has a growing number of companies that have reached the century mark, but it’s a little more special when it’s achieved by an independent, employee-owned firm like Mars Supply amid the various competitive elements working against them.

“With the 100-year anniversary, we’re hearing a lot from our retirees and how they’re really proud of the part they played,” Bob told me. “We were fortunate that we got a great crop of people over the years that liked working for a smaller company. They know when we hit 100 years, they had something to do with that, which is really cool.”

Besides Mars Supply’s history, we discussed what the company is up to today, which includes an ongoing “finding money” initiative that has helped the company eliminate considerable hidden operational costs that are easy to overlook. 

One of the company’s most recent milestones was its 2020 acquisition of Machine Tool Supply — based in fellow Twin Cities suburb Eagan. That deal closed in June of that year, right at the height of COVID-19 shutdowns and civil protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It was a chaotic time for anyone around the metro area, but Mars said the business shutdowns actually made the acquisition integration easier as things were relatively quiet on the business front.

At the end of 2019, Mars Supply procured what would normally be an eight-month supply of respirators from 3M so it could reach a growth goal bonus, which turned out to be a very timely move just before the industry’s scramble for PPE supplies beginning in March of 2020. A little luck can go a long way toward helping independents compete.

On that note, Bob also shared his thoughts on why customers choose Mars Supply over larger, national competitors in the upper Midwest region that his company serves.

Before we signed off, Mars had a book recommendation: “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement” by business consultant Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Originally published in 1992, it details a fictional but very applicable case study in factory operations management, focusing on the theory of constraints and bottlenecks and how to alleviate them.

Listen to our full podcast conversation via the audio player above, and check out our full library of MDM Podcasts here.

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