Morris Black & Sons, Inc.

Morris Black & Sons, Inc.

By Nancy Moffett

What can you say about a company that is 105 years old? What can you say about a family-run company that has thrived through four generations? The most important elements aren’t just age and longevity. They are the ideas and determination of the people at the helm and those they employ that have allowed Morris Black to evolve, survive and meet many demands and challenges along the way… changes in the economy, in the way people live, in the technology of the building industry. But meet them they have.

The Past

Morris Black was 21 years old in 1908 when he asked a vice president of the Penn Dixie Cement Company to give him credit to buy carloads of cement to sell to local contractors. He started the business with a wagon and a team of horses and was so successful that by 1928 he had expanded his building material supply company to two locations – in Bethlehem and in Allentown. By then, he was selling brick, sand, stone and other masonry supplies as well as concrete products. In 1933, Morris’ son Samuel joined the business. In 1943, son Benjamin came on board, Morris retired due to ailing health; and the company was renamed Morris Black & Sons, Inc. An example of the foresight and innovative thinking of the Blacks was the establishment of an insulation subcontracting business in the early ‘40s, one of the nation’s first. Soon after, a roofing and siding department was added. A new facility in Bethlehem – along with new ways of handling materials – carried on the company’s innovative movement.

In the 1950s and 1960s, they added such products as drywall, kitchen cabinets and appliances, along with state-of-the-art delivery and conveyor systems. The third and fourth generations joined the ranks during the 1960s to the 1980s (Benjamin’s son Ronald; Samuel’s son Robert and his son-in-law Steven Blumberg; Ronald’s sons Daniel and Jonathan). Ronald’s son-in-law Tom Levy joined the company in 2006.

In the 1970s, a commercial door and hardware department was added, along with continued growth of the kitchen cabinet business. Previewing the era of the big-box home centers, Morris Black opened a home center in 1976… the Lehigh Valley’s first DIY retail store. Although that was not as successful as other parts of the business, the “ahead-of-its-time” venture highlights the business’s focus on innovation.

The Present

Today Morris Black occupies a 50,000 square-foot building on Marcon Boulevard in the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park III, and employs more than 80 people. It also has a satellite kitchen and bath showroom in Bartonsville, Pa. The company is divided into four units: Kitchens, Baths and Custom Interiors; Commerical Doors and Hardware; Fiberglass Insulation for Residential and Light Commercial and Commercial Casework and Architectural Millwork. Ron Black serves as president, and Bob Black is vice-president.

“We have been lucky,” Bob says, “in that the family members all get along,” and that the passion Morris had for the business continued through the generations. Bob worked in the warehouse while he was in high school, going on to earn a Master’s degree in Industrial Administration and to work for Shell Oil Company and the Federal Trade Commission before returning to Morris Black in 1973. “I came in to help computerize the operation during a time when my father and uncle were aging,” he says. “I love the business and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Although best known for their custom kitchen and bath business, the company’s millwork division occupies 10,000 square feet and produces cabinets, countertops, desks and reception areas for schools, health care facilities, restaurants, hotels and more. They made specialized cabinetry for the Sands Event Center’s Vision Bar, Shula’s Steak House and Maxim’s 22, among others. “This was an outgrowth of the kitchen cabinet business and is the fastest-growing part of our business,” Bob explains. “We’re about to start a 200-unit luxury apartment building in Philadelphia with orders for 2,500 cabinets.”

Jonathan Black heads the Commercial Doors and Hardware division, providing a single source for steel and wood doors, architectural finish hardware and access control systems to industrial and institutional building owners, architects and contractors. The division provides turn-key installation and stocks a large inventory.

In another case of adapting to changing conditions, in 2007 the Insulation division began offering services to homeowners when the home building industry slowed. They offer a free Home Energy Assessment and services such as blown-in attic insulation, fiberglass batting for basements, garages, crawl spaces, etc., and other services to make homes more energy-efficient.

Of course, the most visually impressive part of Morris Black is the kitchen and bath showroom. Covering more than 4,000 square feet, it has more than 20 fully furnished displays that range in style from Tuscan to traditional to modern. Here, customers can see the quality, creativity and innovation that are hallmarks of a Morris Black-designed kitchen or bath.

The Future

“We’re proud of our business,” Bob says. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but we have reinvented ourselves throughout. Our future is bright. We have great people who live the high service level we strive for, with many employees with over 20 and 30 years of service.”

Morris Black died in 1975 at age 88. He would be pleased to know that his great-great-grandson Tyler does social media/marketing for the company while attending college and that 15-year-old great-great grandson Aaron will be working in the warehouse this summer… marking the fifth generation of the family involved in the business he started more than 100 years ago.

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