“You could drive by this street 20 times a day and not know what D&H is or what we do,” laughed co-president Michael Schwab while sitting in the lobby of his family’s company on Seventh Street in Uptown Harrisburg.
D&H Distributing is a nondescript, concrete and brick building on the outside that’s making magic, and money, on the inside.
D&H is an electronics and IT wholesaler that does business with the biggest retail names in America like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and many more. It’s also well represented in academia.
“Whether it’s a flash drive, a digital camera, or the notebook computers, if you walk into any bookstore from Harrisburg Area Community College to Penn State to UCLA, their technology products come from D&H,” said co-president Dan Schwab.
Dan and Michael Schwab are third-generation owners. Their grandfather David started the company. Their dad Izzy is 83 and still comes to work every day.
“I go to meetings and they speak in acronyms and by the time I figure out what a BLF means, they’re five sentences further down the pike and I’m really lost,” Iz said.
That’s the one thing nobody should buy in this place.
Iz was shrewd enough to keep the company when partners bailed in the 1980’s. And he was smart enough to always stay ahead of consumer demand.
“We don’t necessarily fall in love with technology, a product, or a category,” explained Michael. “Our ability to move with the times, have the best in class products for that moment, and always looking into the future is the key to our success.”
Iz shrewdly works three computer monitors and a smartphone simultaneously while sitting behind his desk. He says change is the one constant and has preached adaptability to his sons.
D&H started in 1918, one hundred years ago, as a tire and rubber company. It then sold radios and Victrolas. It then focused on televisions and appliances. The company’s onsite museum shows the progression of the various products it hawked through the years.
Michael said a first-edition digital camera was a big hit.
“It could only take five pictures per floppy disk,” Dan laughed.
“We sold a million of them,” Michael countered. “It was one of our best sellers ever.”
Dan gravitated to a large, square hunk of plastic. “This was my notebook computer when I went to college,” he said. “It weighed 42 pounds. Can you imagine bringing this on the airplane and putting it on the flip-down tray?”
More important to the Schwabs than what they sell are the people they have selling it.
“There’s no executive bathroom around here,” Iz deadpanned. “We spend a lot of time trying to make it a happy place for the employees.”
Indeed, employees got really happy 20 years ago when D&H began distributing its wealth. It’s officially called an employee stock ownership plan. Basically, 36 percent of the company’s profits go back to the workers.
“We actually call each other co-owners. It’s kinda nice,” said Pat Donovan.
Donovan’s worked at D&H for 30 years, which is a familiar story. Employees rarely leave because, well, where are they gonna get a better deal?
“You end up not working for the paycheck at the end of the week, but you end up working knowing there’s something coming in the future, something bigger and better,” Donovan said.
Of course, that drab building could be bigger and better. It doesn’t exactly scream $4 billion a year in sales.
“We say to the employees, we could move to a big, fancy new headquarters or we could take that money we saved and reinvest it in the business and give it to you,” Dan said with a smile.
“Guess what they decide?”
Schwab says D&H is the fourth-largest privately-owned company in the state with 1,200 employees. About 800 work in Harrisburg facilities. The rest are spread across the U.S. and Canada.