Colonial Electric Company began operations in the early 1900s at 10th and Vine St. in Philadelphia. With more than one million residents as of 1915, Philadelphia was the country’s largest city at that time. As the city’s electrical demands increased through the middle of the century, Colonial responded and flourished.
By 1970, Philadelphia’s population was two million. The road systems badly needed updating and Colonial’s turn-of-the-century office building and warehouse was taken by eminent domain to make way for the new Vine Street Expressway. Rather than endure a move, Colonial’s president and the founder’s son, John Wilson, opted to close its doors and liquidate the inventory.
At that time, Joe Bellwoar had been Colonial’s star outside salesperson. He offered to buy Colonial’s inventory and was given permission to use the Colonial name. Square D, one of country’s largest electrical manufacturers, agreed to transfer the franchise authorization to the new Colonial Electric Supply. In 1972, Joe Bellwoar moved the inventory to a warehouse at 40 N. 2nd St. in the Old City section of Philadelphia. He renamed the business Colonial Electric Supply Co. Inc. to reflect the company’s focus as a wholesale supplier.
Joe grew the business, focusing on his core lines : Square D, Thomas & Betts, and General Electric. He was legendary for his incredible service to his three largest accounts: Scott Paper, U.S. Steel, and Conrail. It was not uncommon for Joe to get an emergency call in the middle of the night to bring a transformer or some desperately needed cable to these manufacturers. His motto was always, “Service After the Sale.”
In 1976, Colonial moved its operations 15 miles away to King of Prussia, Pa. With suburban sprawl taking over farmland and the King of Prussia mall quickly becoming a regional attraction, Colonial was poised for the construction boom of the 1970s and ’80s. Colonial’s 20,000-sq.-ft. warehouse enabled the company to stock more inventory and efficiently deliver supplies to the growing tri-state area. The company continued to out-service its competition through its dedicated workforce led by Joe Bellwoar.
The next generation of the Bellwoar family arrived at Colonial in the early 1980s. By the end of that decade, the company had grown to $20 million in sales and had about 50 employees. The company jumped into the computer age, well ahead of other distributors, making inventory control, order entry, and purchasing virtually paperless.
The 1990s were huge years for Colonial as Jay, David, Steve, and Peter Bellwoar took over running the company. Sales grew from $20 million to nearly $70 million. The company also became the first electrical supplier in Pennsylvania to achieve ISO certification. Colonial opened its first branch location in 1991 in Downingtown, Pa., with more than five regional branches opening by the late 1990s.
As the millennium grew near, the Bellwoar family partnered to make the company stronger. They purchased a building complex on a five-acre lot and quickly filled 50,000 square feet of warehouse and office space. In addition, a 50,000-sq.-ft. warehouse was procured to help execute the company’s plan for a central distribution system with barcoded inventory.
By the year 2000, a retail lighting division of Colonial debuted: Bright Light Design Centers. These consumer-friendly showrooms are stocked with elegant lighting products, lamps, mirrors, and occasional furniture plus decorative accessories. Bright Light also employs Certified Lighting Consultants (CLC) who work on-site or in-house with architects, interior designers, and residential builders.
Today the company has 300+ employees, 40 delivery trucks, and more than 12 branch locations in five states. Colonial is still family-owned and operated by the Bellwoar family.
Read about the most recently Bright Light Design Center, which opened in Newark, Delaware, in the Nov/Dec issue of enLIGHTenment magazine.