Family-owned business celebrates 85 years on Main Street
By Aiesha Solomon
Mayor Craig Moe recognized H.J. Poist Gas Company for its 85 years in business by declaring Oct. 15 as H.J. Poist Gas Company Day. Moe presented Virginia Poist Underwood, owner and president of the company, with a proclamation during the city’s Main Street Festival.
“That was really quite an honor. I was very pleased,” said Underwood.
Underwood’s father, Hohman J. Poist, opened the H.J. Poist Furniture and Appliance Company at 308 Main St. in 1937. According to Underwood, the company sold “small appliances and larger appliances” when the business began.
Main Street was the only shopping center in Laurel when H.J. Poist opened, and many people shopped at the family business, according to Underwood.
“We used to have all the soldiers and race track people. All came to us and bought all their furniture for their house. There were only two furniture stores in Laurel at the time, so that was big back then,” Underwood said.
Duane Marshall, Poist’s CEO, recalled a story he heard about the company’s beginnings.
“[Mr. Poist] began to sell televisions, and somebody came in one day and wanted one. He was out of stock, so literally, his daughter and granddaughter have told me that he rushed from the store, ran into his home, unplugged the television, took it back to the store and sold it. That is entrepreneurialism at its finest,” Marshall said.
Poist soon shifted from furniture to selling appliances, according to Jeff Wiseman, the company’s COO, and eventually shifted to propane. Being a family business allows H.J. Poist to be different from corporate businesses, Wiseman said.
“The agents, the customer service reps [and] everyone involved, including myself, know a lot of these customers personally, so we’ve dealt with them one-on-one for years. I just think that that personal touch that we give is just a little bit extra,” he said.
Unlike many bigger companies, H.J. Poist is able to work with customers on payment plans, Underwood said.
“Even if they were having trouble paying, we had to keep supplying them. We weren’t gonna turn them off,” Underwood said.
“That gets back to what family owned and family values really mean,” said Ray Feldmann, of Feldmann Communications Strategies, in Annapolis, who handles the company’s media. “Here’s a company that’s been operating for 85 years, is continuing to operate, made it through the pandemic [and] continued to serve the people.”
To keep current, the company has made several improvements over the last two years, including redoing their logo, improving their offices and repairing their neon sign, Wiseman said. It also tweaked its website.
“So as much as anything, we wanted the website to be user friendly, we wanted people to know who we were; we wanted people to know where we were. And we wanted to rebrand, basically, to honor our heritage. And that’s what we did,” Marshall said.