Our Story: A Century of Family Tradition – and Counting
You can’t stay in business for long unless you’re really good at something.
You can’t stay in business for nearly 115 years unless you’re really good at a lot of things.
Johnson Brothers, the Idaho Falls-based architectural supply company is a perfect example.
Johnson Brothers today
Since its establishment in 1905, the company has continually re-shaped itself to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace. Originally a residential contracting business operating its own planing mill, today, the company’s facets are wide-ranging:
- A distribution company supplying building materials ranging from windows and doors to stair railings and countertops
- A progressive custom-cabinetry department specializing in commercial casework
- A custom millwork shop capable of creating moulding and trim pieces in virtually any size needed, including the ability to match profiles found in historic restoration projects
- A door shop with capabilities in both wood and hollow metal
- A retail showroom selling professional-grade tools, hardware, and any accessories you can imagine
- And perhaps most importantly, a problem-solving help desk that provides solutions for builders, general contractors, building owners, and do-it-yourselfers as they navigate the array of obstacles that crop up during building projects big and small.
The common thread through all of these facets is a commitment to quality: quality products, quality service and quality craftsmanship.
That devotion to high standards cuts both ways. As an employer, Johnson Brothers is a top-tier organization. Need proof? The average term of employment is more than 15 years. It’s an indication that they do right by their employees. It also means that no matter what service their clients are seeking, Johnson Brothers’ 60-plus employees have an unparalleled depth of experience and skill to tap. This is a particular point of pride with company ownership. “I’ve always said the success of Johnson Brothers is due to our employees,” says co-owner Chris Sargis. “They’re very knowledgeable and professional. We’re low pressure with our sales process and we are committed to providing high quality products with great customer service at a fair price. It’s been our formula for the past 114 years.”
The consistency and quality of goods they deliver has garnered Johnson Brothers a reputation that has created a growing demand throughout Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon and Utah.
A bit of history
In 1905 Carl Johnson and his wife Maria moved to Idaho From Illinois with their sons Robert, Oscar, Fred, Adolph, Ernest, Eno and Emil. Within a year they had established a family residential construction business and had purchased one of the young city’s two planing mills.
This purchase was key to their longevity and success. Soon the Johnson Brothers were transforming rough-sawn lumber delivered by horse-drawn wagons into doors, sashes, windows and casework for their own projects, and selling it to other contractors as well.
The tight-knit family learned the business from the ground up, and first employed their construction and woodworking skills by building residential homes for some of the 1,200 residents of Idaho Falls.
The Butte County Courthouse and the Masonic Temple in Arco were some of the company’s first marquee projects, which they undertook in 1916. Eno and his wife Lelah spent six months living in a tent on the desert. He managed and worked with the crew while she washed the workers’ laundry in a nearby creek and also cooked them three meals each day.
The company’s work on public and commercial buildings helped them survive the great depression. They were able to negotiate government contracts and also put up schools, churches, service stations, and even took on remodeling projects in downtown Idaho Falls businesses.
The 1970s saw the inception of a sales distribution division. Starting operations in a few hundred square feet of office space in the millwork building, demand necessitated a move to larger quarters a block south on Basalt Street. In 2000, a new 7,000 square-foot showroom was added next door.
Over time, they’ve honed their skills, upgraded their tools, and built a reputation solid enough to provide millwork to iconic building projects such as the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium and the original Idaho Falls High School. Their work is in LDS Temples from California and Oregon to Colorado, the Jackson Hole Airport, Melaleuca headquarters, and countless banks, hospitals and dental offices throughout the Intermountain West.
These efforts built a bedrock business, becoming the cornerstone of specialty construction and millwork enterprise, with a focus on architectural detail.
In 2004, a fire decimated the moulding shop, claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory, equipment and structural loss. After only four months, the facility was once again operating at capacity.
In 2005, a sales and distribution center was established in Boise. Earlier this year, that center was moved to a larger location with a retail showroom/design center.
Currently, business continues to boom on both sides of the state.
Their roots are beneath their feet
In 1905, the entire mill was powered by a single water wheel on a drive shaft. This mechanism drove all of the equipment in the Johnson Brothers mill until 1914, when the drive shaft was moved to the company’s present shop location on Cliff Street and coupled with a 15-horsepower electric motor.
This configuration powered all of the shop’s woodworking equipment until the shop was upgraded in the early ’60s. The entire shaft is still outfitted with drive belts and accessible today, idled in a timbered basement beneath the company’s Cliff Street cabinet shop. It’s a tangible reminder of the company’s deep-seated roots in the region.
The new guard
Current ownership is largely held by the members of the Sargis family. Here’s how this transpired: Eno Johnson’s daughter, Bernice, married David Sargis Sr. in 1945. Three of their five children, David, E.J., and Lindsay, representing the fourth generation of family ownership, now hold stakes in the company. In 1970, Gene Johnson, the last of the namesake Johnson family line, passed away. The fifth generation has also begun their investment, with E.J.’s son, Chris Sargis, and David’s son-in-law, Zac Bodily rounding out the family team and taking the helm. Like their predecessors, the new leadership crew plans to continue the family tradition of balancing opportunity with excellence. “Our products and processes will continue to change with the times,” said Chris Sargis, “but our commitment to quality never will.”