76-year-old service and parts company relocates close to Bartlett

Business is good, and owner Jason Philpot has moved his business to a new, bigger location. The new address is 2099 Thomas Road, Suite 17, Memphis, just west of Bartlett. Henry T. Smith Co. Inc. is a service agency and parts distributor for commercial and residential cooking and heating equipment. Photo by Carolyn Bahm.

Jason Philpot brought 76 years of customer-friendly business history to the edge of Bartlett with his company’s recent move. The change of address was for a good reason: Business is growing.

“We needed a larger facility,” said sole owner Jason Philpot. “As business grows, we decided to up our space.”

Henry T. Smith Co. Inc. – founded in 1942 on Airways Boulevard in Memphis – is a service agency and parts distributor for commercial and residential cooking and heating equipment. If needed, they can even build the parts for older equipment if parts can no longer be found.

It’s one of the oldest companies of its type in Memphis, Philpot said.

They provide service equipment for major lines such as Frymaster, Cleveland, Convotherm and Garland. Commercial customers include brands such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Sonic, Subway and Wendy’s and area eateries such as The Bar-B-Q Shop and Frida’s Mexican Restaurante. Bartlett City Schools and Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett also are among their customers.

A lot of their customers also are neighbors in their new industrial complex, in fact. And, while commercial work is the bread and butter for Henry T. Smith Co., they still provide residential parts and service to the general public.

The business recently relocated from its longtime location at 588 S. Cooper St. in Memphis to an industrial park on Thomas Road, just outside Bartlett’s western city limits. The company is now at 2099 Thomas Road, Suite 17, Memphis, and includes a current staff of five. Philpot said he’s currently taking applications, too.

Henry T. Smith Co. has grown over the years and continues to grow on the wisdom of a simple formula, Philpot said: “Deal with problems as they come in, and keep the customers happy.”

Henry T. Smith and his wife, Lydia, founded the company in 1942 to supply just residential cooking equipment, parts and service. During the ’40s and ’50s, it was a rebuild station for Robert Shaw Controls, the major supplier of controls for cooking equipment, thermostats, water heaters and other items.

Business grew, and the family did too with the addition of Henry T. Smith Jr. The company began branching out. In the ’70s, the company moved to Cooper Street and began serving commercial customers.

It was an opportune time, Philpot said, because commercial food equipment was booming, and the industry relied heavily on companies like Henry T. Smith Co. that were already well established in parts and service.

In 1958, Mr. Smith Sr. hired Philpot’s father, Major Philpot, to throw papers, sweep floors, rebuild controls and do whatever was asked. Around 1970, the longtime employee was given some shares in the business.

Then around 1980, when the founder died, Philpot’s father bought the remaining shares of the company. Major Philpot owned and operated the business up until about four years ago, when he retired and his son bought the company.

“He is well known through the whole industry,” Philpot said, gesturing around toward the neighboring businesses in the complex. He added, “He is the old man that trained everybody that’s here. They had to work under him at some time or ask his opinion, or he’s trained them, kind of hands off, on the phone.”

In the ’80s and ’90s, the company veered more strongly toward commercial work rather than residential, because sturdy commercial equipment is designed to be serviced over the years, while residential equipment was trending toward the use of disposable parts.

Philpot said that he worked for many years himself as the primary service technician, a job he still does for his company’s after-hours on-call service.

“I put just as many hours in here as everybody else,” he said.

Nancy Miller, a happy employee who says she hopes to work there until she retires, said he actually works more than anyone else.

Today, he’s content with his work and likes coming into the office each day. He calls himself a hands-on person who enjoyed majoring in shop at Bartlett High and studying mechanical engineering in college.

“I always love working on things,” he said. “I always have a project I’m working on.”

He’s just as practical when it comes to his management philosophy, doing without layers of middle management and staying in close contact with all aspects of his company.

“And with me, I like to be here every day, do my thing, go do my service and hopefully everything would run on its own, giving the employees a chance. Why would you want to get management involved? I think pretty much everybody else is do-it-themselves.”

Henry T. Smith Co. continues to find success today because it fulfills a need. And after 76 years as a fixture in the industry, the company’s reputation still holds true for customers today, Philpot said. “We’re the people they call when things go to pot.”

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to carolyn.bahm@journalinc.com.