What’s the Best Known Address in Orlando?

In 85 years of corporate history a great deal can happen. Companies with such a legacy discover that they have to adapt—to change their business model to accommodate the changing business and geopolitical landscape. One prime example of such adaptability is Mills & Nebraska of Orlando, Florida.
Their name is one example. The company was founded as Central Florida Lumber and Supply Company in 1933. Yes, that was in the height of the Great Depression. Their chosen location was the north end of North Mills Avenue at Nebraska Street. In the early 1950s, a marketing campaign asked: “What is the best known address in Orlando?” The response? “Mills & Nebraska!” Soon, customers were chanting the response and the name stuck. Today, Mills & Nebraska is actually a dba for the enduring corporate name, Central Florida Lumber and Supply Company. The name isn’t the only thing that has changed however.
According to M&N owner and CEO, Bridget Pulsifer, “We have morphed 8 or 9 times in our 85 years. We were founded by the directors of a company selling aggregate and concrete block. In early years we were a hardware store with a little bit of lumber. We added a mill shop, metal plated wood trusses, a pre-hung shop, and finally a window department. Then the concrete block company was sold, however the buyer did not want the hollow metal door/frame business that was part of it. We saw the opportunity and started a Door Division to include the hollow metal and existing pre-hung business. That was in the 1970s and served as the birth of what we know as Mills & Nebraska today.”
M&N Principal, Bridget Pulsifer
From the beginning, M&N became masters of adapting, re-identifying, and transforming themselves. As sole owner, carrying out those evolutions now falls on Bridget’s shoulders. According to her, it requires keeping some fundamentals or constant business characteristics in mind while instituting changes. Here are a few examples:

Community and Employee Relations

“We have always been a good community partner,” Bridget explains. “We support local charities for the homeless and less advantaged. We also work with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Habitat for Humanity, and many Boy Scout Eagle candidates (my father was an Eagle). I take a personal interest in NAWIC, the National Association of Women in Construction and I combine my work with young women to encourage them to seek careers in construction. We have started a Community Outreach Committee that identifies additional charities to support, by involving individual employees as well as each department of the company to volunteer together.”
Even with all this work with the community, that does not mean that she forgets about her employees. “In fact, “she says, “I have had to adapt my management style to serve them best!”
She points out that company ownership has always felt a responsibility to keep families employed and secure. “To me that’s the real job of the owner—to not just look at the bottom line, but to give job security and opportunity to those that are willing to work with them to improve the company for everybody else,” proclaims Bridget.
To further that thought, she was reared under the belief that, as owners, you don’t share information—good news or bad news—and certainly not company financial news with employees. Today, opening the books and sharing is the new norm. Employees have shown a great interest in learning and growing into understanding what business ownership entails. “Our employees are much more engaged in the business,” Bridget says. “They know how we are doing and what each of them can do to ensure not only our business success but their own financial success.”
To further build the M&N team, she has provided regular trainings through M&N University, such as in personal finance. This has led to individual success stories, such as an employee being able to pay for a long-postponed medical treatment from a health savings account. Bridget has also led them in several team building events. In the Spring of this year, for instance, she shut down operations for a day to take all employees to a low ropes course. Everyone was assigned to cross-functional groups as they tackled more than a dozen exercises that required working together. Next up, an escape room exercise!
Individuals were challenged during the low ropes event. But success was possible only as teams performed.
Each of these events is accompanied by a lunch, a corporate financial update, a review of recent wins, and ideas to serve customers and each other better. Through such activities, employees get to know one another on a more personal basis. As a result, cross-department communication improves while silos are torn down.
Earlier this year, M&N kicked off their 85th anniversary recognition with a half-day employee celebration. After a nice luncheon, employees made a presentation about company history and success testimonials followed. The next 85th event is a customer appreciation cookout and facilities tour.

And Speaking of Customers . . .

“Another fundamental element of our success is our work to build strong customer relationships,” says Bridget. “We have always done that through complete honesty and by being super responsive. However, I have had to change our organizational structure and adopt technology solutions to continue to maintain and strengthen these relationships.” In terms of organizational structure, Bridget has sought to align it with marketplace needs.
The M&N over-the-counter “Inside Sales” team focuses on transactional sales, fast paced and smaller projects involving 1–20 doors at a time. They are also very capable of handling larger projects for customers who need a fast turnaround. While there are experienced members of this team, Bridget has discovered that when growing this team, she can hire talented sales people and teach them the industry versus the other way around.
Meanwhile, her contract team takes a longer and more patient view of business by serving contractors engaged in both bid scenarios as well as design-build and owner-negotiated projects. Team members in the contract group know their contracting customers well, as they are working with and applying their extensive industry knowledge to advise their clients and to put together all of the supporting documentation required.
“Members of these two teams have different skills sets,” she says. “What works for one team won’t necessarily work for the other, but each is able to serve their respective customers in the best possible manner.”
M&N employees gather for their 85th anniversary celebration.

Inventory +

M&N also keeps a plentiful supply of inventory on hand. Their 36,000 square feet warehouse is used for hardware, hollow metal frames and doors, and wood doors. As a result, they can provide immediate solutions for local jobs and follow customer projects across the country.
Yet, even inventory isn’t the best answer for all customers. “Some of our distinctive customers, such as Disney, require specialized opening solutions,” Bridget explains. “For these customers we have a dedicated sales person and installer to handle the materials they require, such as Special-Lite doors.”
Amanda Wilson, of Southeast Architectural Solutions, represents Special-Lite and other manufacturers to M&N. She says: “When it comes down to it, a manufacturer has to put its trust and reputation in the hands of its distributors. Special-Lite could not ask for a better partner than Mills & Nebraska in the Orlando marketplace.”
In another move to further grow the business beyond Orlando, M&N has maintained a branch in Lakeland, Florida for almost fifteen years, recently purchasing their own building. According to Bridget, M&N will maintain Orlando as its central hub and diversify by adding spoke locations. This approach translates to growth, adds a layer of practicality and protection to the business.
Likewise, M&N is employing updated technology solutions. To maximize inventory success, a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) system will soon enable RFID scans on all incoming and outgoing products, track labor efficiencies in the production shops, and give real-time dash boarding for the teams.

And Now

A lot can happen in 85 years. For instance, during World War II, M&N was called upon to use German POW labor to provide materials that would build wooden boats for the war effort. As challenging as coordinating that effort was, their challenges and contributions are far different today.
Today, M&N business remains steady with work in hospitality venues, healthcare facilities, educational projects, retail establishments, and senior housing. In this dynamic environment, M&N has adopted a practice of business-to-business partnerships; partnering with subcontractors or other organizations to ensure end user success.
“No two days are the same when you’re in this business,” Bridget concludes. “That’s both the challenging and rewarding aspect of this work and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”