The story of Sam’s Safety Equipment is about family, service, and Spring Branch. Our company was founded by two brothers, Jimmy and Sam Wolfe. They ran the business since 1956 after their time serving in World War II and Korea. In 1972 they opened their first brick and mortar store in Spring Branch, which was considered to be on the fringes of Houston in those days.
The Wolfe brothers were great salesmen and loved working with customers in the oil & gas and construction industries locally. In the late 70’s Larry Doffing, a friend of Sam’s came in to take over day to day operations and would eventually buy out Sam and Jimmy. Larry had recently returned from serving as an officer in the Army Infantry in Vietnam. Together the three found a great deal of success running the small business in Spring Branch.
While Sam left the business in the early 80’s Jimmy and Larry continued to run the business together without incident for over 30 years, working 6 days a week together. They rode out oil booms and busts together, and were best friends. Every day Jimmy would welcome customers with a laugh and bellow out, “Buddy, I’m gonna save you a lot of money today!” Larry would always call after customers as they left, “Come back!” Which confused a lot of people until they realized he meant “Come back… again!” Larry always assumed everyone else knew what he meant. Luckily the customers did come back. Usually.
In the 80’s and 90’s Larry would bring his sons to work with him on Saturdays in the school year or week days in the summer, when his wife needed a break from 3 rambunctious boys. Even at a young age the boys loved to run through the warehouse, make forts, or jump on the empty cardboard boxes to flatten them so they’d fit in the dumpster. The boys could make a dollar if they swept the warehouse or washed the dishes for their father. Jimmy would pretend that some of the welding gloves that they sold were boxing gloves and spar with the boys.
Each boy would work summers with Larry once they became 14 and continue to do so through all of high school. After high school Larry was proud to send all three boys to Texas A&M. His youngest son Kevin was at Texas A&M on Tuesday September 11th, and would go on to join the Army and serve as a light infantry platoon leader in combat like his father. This time instead of the humid jungles of Vietnam his father experienced, Kevin would serve in the hot sands of Iraq.
After returning from combat Kevin discussed coming back to Sam’s Safety Equipment to work for Larry, but was receiving larger offers from corporate America. A few months in corporate America was all it took for Kevin to realize that was not the right place for him. After doing some soul searching Kevin decided that he wanted to start and turn around businesses, and make them great places for employees looking for greater responsibilities, as well as time with their families. Some of the things he did not find in corporate America. Kevin realized that he didn’t know how to run a business, but did know that the infantry taught him best to learn by doing. So he called Larry and laid out his intention to come back, turnaround the business, build a great team, and go on to start other businesses. Larry was quiet on the phone at first then said, “Well if you told me when I was 64 that you were going to come into my business and tell me what to do I’d tell you to go —- yourself. But I’m 67 and can’t do this forever, so what the hell. Let’s do it.” With that enthusiastic response Kevin moved back to Spring Branch to run the business.
Kevin found out that the prior year in 2008 had done major damage to the oil & gas industry and the company was on life support. Kevin working for an effective pay rate of $4/hour as he put in ~100 hours a week to get the business back on track. The first few months were just cleaning.
When his sons worked for him Larry would often make the joke when one of them would start cleaning up, “Don’t get rid of that dust! I’ve been saving it so I can sell it.”
The team always tries to have some fun. Safety is usually seen as a distraction or an obstacle to getting work done. A little sarcasm might be left over from Larry and Kevin’s time in combat, but it’s all in good fun. Like our popular safety briefing t-shirts. Can you guess who missed the safety briefing?
Over the coming years the business would have a surge of growth unlike it had ever seen. The company would grow with new locations and would eventually ride out t
he most recent oil & gas crisis to find itself back in it’s original location with some of their longest term staff. The new goal not being expansion, but becoming more ingrained in the Spring Branch business community, focusing on serving the veteran community, and providing a great place for their employees to bring their families.