Like most companies that have lasted for 110 years, ILMO Products Company
bears little resemblance to the company founded in 1913. When D.O. Floreth and his father, Henry Floreth, decided to open their doors, the company was a wholesaler of automobile accessories called Illinois Tire and Vulcanizing Company. Later, as the company evolved, it began going by Illinois Tire & Battery.
It was through the automobile industry that today’s ILMO Products entered the gas business.
“[ILMO] got into the gas business through the carbide acetylene headlights for automobiles,” says Executive Vice President Liz Standley
. “We slowly transitioned from automobile accessories to welding supplies. We started carrying oxygen cylinders and related welding equipment to go with the acetylene. It took off from there.”
But while the company’s name and primary products have changed over the last 110 years, its culture and ideals have remained constant. And it’s those bedrock principles that have allowed ILMO to thrive for more than a century.
The company, founded in Jacksonville, Illinois, has not only evolved its product offering. It has also undergone massive growth.
“There’s been growth organically through scratch starts and through acquisitions,” Standley says. “We eventually expanded into Missouri, which is how the name ILMO came to be. It stands for Illinois Missouri. Throughout our history, our name has changed; from Illinois Welding Supply to Illinois Missouri Welding Supply, then ILL-MO Welding Supply, and today we’re ILMO Products Company. But even with all those names and iterations, it’s the same family owned-and-operated business.”
As D.O. and Henry (a Methodist minister by trade) grew the business, more family members joined. D.O.’s brother Ralph Floreth
joined the company. Eventually D.O.’s sons, Earl Floreth
and Dean Floreth
, joined, following World War II. Earl and Dean were the principal owners and operators of the company beginning in the 1960’s. Dean’s daughter, Linda Standley
, joined the company in 1979 and served as the company’s CEO until her retirement in 2022. Linda’s daughter, Liz, today serves as Executive Vice President. Meanwhile, Earl’s son, Brad Floreth
, joined the company in 1982. Today he serves as the company’s President and CEO.
Together, Brad and Liz represent the fourth and fifth generations of the Floreth family to shepherd the company into its next phase of growth. The family-owned legacy is poised to continue, as Brad’s daughter, Abby Floreth
, joined the company as Sales Coordinator in December 2022.
“I am more than thrilled to be back at ILMO and in the position that I am. ILMO is amazing to place to be with a great culture. It excites me every day being able to provide for the different communities we serve within Illinois and Missouri while carrying on the 110-year-old legacy,” says Abby Floreth about beginning her fulltime career at ILMO.
“There’s a lot of pride there,” Standley says. “I think it speaks to our family’s entrepreneurial spirit. Each successive generation has been able to build on what its predecessors have done. And each generation has grown the company and expanded our product offerings and territories. [Our longevity is] a tribute to the family and to all the people that have worked hard for us over the last 110 years. We couldn’t have done it without the excellent employees that we’ve been fortunate enough to have.”
Today, ILMO Products comprises 110 employees and 11 locations. The company has also added new business areas, including ILMO Medical Gases, ILMO Specialty Gases, and ILMO Propane.
“The medical and specialty gases were organic growth for us. We had cylinders and the ability to fill cylinders, so it was a natural outgrowth,” says Standley. “The propane is a related product. Our propane division is focused on bulk propane and residential propane. We are like a utility for that portion of our customer base, which is a completely different mindset than a distributor.”
And, in all facets of the business, ILMO relies on its strong supplier relationships to confidently deliver the best products and services to its customers.
“We do business with many major gas and welding suppliers,” says Standley. “We buy gases from Air Products, Linde, and Air Gas. We buy equipment from Lincoln, Miller, Hypertherm, and ESAB. And we’re members of IWDC, so we have access to their distribution centers and can stock or source any products they carry.”
That ability to draw on a wide range of top-tier suppliers has been instrumental in the company’s growth, especially as customer demands have shifted in recent years.
“Customers today expect distributors to offer more and provide more services while at the same time keeping costs low,” Standley notes. “We’ve had to work on investing in our people and technology offerings to keep up with those demands.”
She continues, “Even since I joined the company in 2017, there has been a shift. The number of customers coming in and knowing exactly what machine they want and how much it should cost has changed drastically. People are doing research online on their own, which we’ve had to adapt to. We want to be the source of information for our customers. We focus on our B2B customers, not B2C. We want to invest in technology to help our B2B customers have access to pricing and availability, quality information from the manufacturers, and the ability to pay bills and place orders online. We’re in progress on that project.”
However, even as customers have become more price-driven and educated through online research, ILMO is very good at communicating its mission statement and value-added properties that have helped the distributor thrive for 110 years.
“We have a very clear mission statement,” Standley says. “’ILMO products company will be your first-choice organization. We want to be the first choice to our customers, to our employees, to our suppliers, & our community.’ Our vision explains what we mean by that. It’s a good testament to our culture. ‘In order to be the first choice, we’ll be the high-value, hassle-free provider of goods and services that our customers want, need and will buy. We will provide a home for hardworking, dedicated, knowledgeable, and ethical people who believe in the company and its philosophy. We’ll be the best marketing opportunity for the manufacturers whose products we represent, and we’ll be an asset to every community in which we have a presence or do business.’”
She continues, “I hope that through our actions, we demonstrate value to our customers. We may not always be the low-cost provider, but we want to be the high-value provider. We want it to be easy to do business with us. We want it to be a great place for our employees to work. Everyone talks about customer service; everyone tries to have great customer service, but you must define what that means. For us, we want to be able to provide services that we know we are good at.”
The Next 110 Years
As ILMO Products begins its march towards the next 110 years, it is well-positioned to be the single-source provider that its customers have come to know and expect. In the next five years, the company anticipates building up its wholesale business. With the acquisition of an acetylene manufacturing facility and ILMO’s spec gas capabilities, they’re in an excellent position to do so.
Says Standley, “We’re focusing on building a wholesale base to sell to other distributors in and around our area. I foresee us growing that business while looking for more acquisition opportunities.”
The company has also worked hard to build a sense of continuity even as it grows.
“We’ve had some key retirements in recent years. But it has allowed us to bring in some vibrant and exciting young talent. The biggest issue we have is brain drain. You’ve got people who were in the industry for 40 or 50 years retiring from your company, and they take all that knowledge with them. No matter how much time you give them with their replacement, they can’t transfer it all. But we work hard to provide opportunities to train our upcoming leaders. Recently, five employees attended the University of Innovative Distribution taking courses in distribution strategy, leadership and professional development, management, marketing, operations, and sales,” Standley says. “I think it speaks to the caliber of employees we’ve been able to hire. Both people at the end of their careers and people we work hard to identify and develop to fit our culture.”
With a clear path forward and 110 years of experience to draw on, ILMO Products should be able to carry on that vision for several more generations.