Evergreen Supply Co., Chicago, threw open the doors of its totally refurbished, company-owned warehouse, brought in a live band, food and flowers, and performed a champagne toast to the customers, vendors and colleagues who helped them grow from a tiny start-up into one of Chicago's largest electrical suppliers. The company is celebrating 25 years in business this year.
Founder Patt Gallagher and her daughter Colleen Kramer, now company president, started the business in the basement of their home with two product lines. As women business owners, they struggled to get a line of credit and convince lighting manufacturers to provide them with distribution rights.
Today, the two are recognized as trailblazers and role models. They stock more than $2 million in lighting and electrical supplies and carry 450 product lines. Deliveries are made by seven company-owned trucks. The number of employees has grown from two to 35, and sales, which were $90,000 the first year, topped $17 million in 2010.
Though its status as a certified WBE/DBE/SBE company may have opened doors, it was quality service, competitive pricing and a complete line of supplies that helped them win a reputation as a premier electrical supplier, they say. Evergreen Supply also has contracts to deliver lighting supplies to many of Chicago's largest buildings and institutions. A sister company, EverLights, owned by Colleen's sister Kelly Aaron, provides lamp and ballast recycling services and sells energy-efficient lighting.
Evergreen Supply customers include Millenium Park, McCormick Place, O'Hare Airport, Harpo Studios, and large office buildings owned by The John Buck Company and Tishman Speyer. They still have their first client, the Museum of Science & Industry.
The company is committed to giving back to the community, supporting various causes like universal waste recycling drives and Girls in the Game, which provides inner-city girls with sports, leadership and educational opportunities. Colleen is active in Women Presidents Organization, Claretian Associates, Federation of Women Contractors and the Women's Business Development Center (WBDC).
For their entrepreneurial success, the company has received several honors and awards, including the WBDC's Women's Business Enterprise Award, the Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Small Business Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Colleen was inducted into the Chicago Area “Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame” by the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2009, she was named an “Enterprising Woman of the Year” by Enterprising Women Magazine.