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Published: Tuesday, 4/27/2010

Local firm glows bright 100 years in same family

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Not many firms can boast of having been in business 100 years and still being operated by the family that founded it.

But Gross Electric Inc. in Sylvania Township joins that elite group this week and plans to share the celebration with customers who have contributed to its longevity.

The company will hold a product expo today at its store at 2807 North Reynolds Rd. for contractors, builders, designers, and architects. From tomorrow through Saturday the company plans an anniversary sale at the store.

"We don't have a definitive day as to when the business actually began, but we do know that 1910 was the year," said Sue Sweeney, Gross Electric's director of marketing. So this week is dedicated to the anniversary."

The company sprang from the Peerless Light Co. of Chicago, a large manufacturer of gaslight mantles. Peerless sent George J. "Joe" Gross from Chicago to Toledo in 1910 to close the firm's Toledo store.

But Mr. Gross saw an opportunity, and rather than close the store he agreed to manage it for six months for a percentage of the profits.

The Reynolds Road store, one of three in the chain, 
trumpets the anniversary. The Reynolds Road store, one of three in the chain, trumpets the anniversary.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Midway through the year, he purchased an interest in the store, at first operating it as the Toledo Glass Appliance Fixture Co. and selling gas mantles.

A year later, he changed the name to the Gross Electric Fixture Co., becoming its sole owner in 1913, selling "chain and pan" units, a now-obsolete type of fix-ture that combined both gas and electricity.

Gross Electric today carries more than 24,000 products for wholesale and retail customers.

George Gross, who died in 1959, was succeeded by his son Richard, who retired as the company's chairman.

Gross Electric is currently owned by Richard Gross' children, Laurie and Joseph.

"It's still a family-owned and operated business, now on its third generation," Ms. Sweeney said. "It's very unique in this day and age with big businesses buying out smaller businesses like Gross, but the family has no intentions of giving up the business."

The company had five stores at one time, then cut back to three - the Reynolds Road store, a store on Woodville Road in Northwood, and a store in Ann Arbor.

It has about 50 employees.

Gross Electric began strictly as a retail operation, but in 1954, Richard Gross set up a wholesale operation to cultivate building contractors' business.

"He made a real concerted effort to reach out to the contractor business. He would go to their work sites and talk to them about their projects and what kind of products they needed," Ms. Sweeney said.

Contractor accounts now generate about 70 percent of its revenues, she added.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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