CRANE CO. BUILDING OF MEMPHIS History
Crane Co. Branch House History
In 1880, Crane Co. operated four manufacturing plants that employed more than 1,500 workers in Chicago. Its state-of-the-art elevators, steam warming apparatus, pumps and plumbing products were in increased demand across America as the nation expanded and industries modernized.
In 1884, a large distributor in Omaha was unable to pay for its inventory. Rather than incur the considerable expense to return the goods to Chicago, company founder R. T. Crane decided to experiment with conducting the selloff of inventory on site. The exercise proved so successful, R.T. Crane determined that instead of closing the site after all inventory was sold, the site would become a “branch house” operation and continue to supply products directly to local customers.
Over the following two years, the Omaha branch house operation confirmed its value thus leading to a second branch house built in Los Angeles in 1886 to meet the construction boom occurring in California. Others soon followed: Philadelphia 1890, San Francisco 1891 New York City 1894. R.T. Crane would later write, “The success of these branches led to the determination to start others and make branch houses a permanent and important feature of our business.”
Over a 25-year span, a network of more than 40 Crane Co. branch houses and sub-branch houses were built across America including in Memphis TN; wherever Crane Co. products were in demand.
Crane Co. Branch House Business Model Perfected
As R.T. Crane expanded the branch house model, he considered its function, design and internal workings as he did all his inventions; A system that could be modified and improved using analytical thinking. As the model evolved to achieve maximum efficiency for its intended local business performance, set rules and standards were implemented across all existing and future branch houses. Every detail from site selection, construction materials (all larger buildings were fireproof), floorplan layout and daily business practices were modeled. Each product bin and all inventory were placed according layout rules within the warehouses. Showroom layout, office management systems, sales and expense reporting were all standardized allowing staff to move about the network as needed, no matter the location.
The addition and success of the branch house model allowed the manufacturer to control all aspects of its post production business. The removal of middlemen immediately saved 3% - 4% in selling expense and permitted new products to be introduced directly to customers. Inventory return and payment default was greatly reduced. The remarkable efficiency of the branch house allowed the entire network to be overseen by a single general superintendent at the company’s head-office.
The combination of high-quality products and smooth downstream sales proved extremely profitable to Crane Co. for many decades. Annual revenue for the company, from the year of the first branch house in 1884, grew from under $2M to over $32M in 1907.
Of the branch house model, R.T. Crane wrote in 1910; “Although our business now is ten times larger than it was twenty years ago, we do not experience one-tenth the trouble and anxiety about our sales that we did then”.
Crane Co. Memphis Branch House History
In 1900, the city of Memphis had a population of 100,000. It was well established as home to the world’s largest spot cotton market and hardwood lumber market. Beyond these historical industries, Memphis was growing rapidly. Its strategic bluff location along the Mississippi River and intersection with expanding national rail network resulted in warehouse, manufacturing facilities and skyscraper construction. In 1904, Crane Co. began construction of a branch house at 254 Court Avenue to meet local demand for its products.
Crane Co. operated out of its Memphis branch house until the property was sold in 1982. In 2001, a user/developer recognized the beauty and potential of the old building at 254 Court as a Class “A” office building. Over $4 million was invested to refurbish the interior with finest materials and state-of-the-art mechanical systems. Following the 2008 financial crisis the building became near vacant and remained so until purchased in 2017 by its current owner Jefferson Court Properties Inc. Subsequent to its purchase, further upgrades and extensive exterior restorations were effected. Additionally, the building was rebranded “Crane Co. Building of Memphis” in recognition of the building’s historical importance .
Today, the Crane Co. Building of Memphis proudly represents R.T. Crane’s finest surviving branch house.
Crane Co. Building of Memphis