REED CITY — It takes hard work and dedication to keep a business successful, and providing a specialized skillset doesn't hurt, either.

D&E Supply Co. in downtown Reed City is closing in on its 50th year in business.

TDale and Eva Williams founded the business in 1965 at the Reed City building in which the shop is currently located. Starting first as a supply company for oil fields and water wells, it diversified through the years into plumbing supplies, such as pipes, fittings and valves. D&E Supply Co. serves an area of about a 35-mile radius for customers in residential, commercial and industrial atmospheres.

Dale and Eva's three sons, Geoff, John and Doug, began working at the store as teenagers after school and on weekends. For a couple of years, the family lived in the apartment above the shop.

"My back yard play area was a pipe yard," Doug said with a laugh.

Training the sons took place through the years, and when Dale and Eva retired in the 1980s, John and Doug chose to became co-owners. The biggest lesson they were taught, John said, was about debt.

"Our dad told us: in order to have a successful business, you have to pay your bills. If your bills are paid, you eat. If they aren't paid, you don't eat," John said.

Dale Williams passed away earlier this month, and although memories are bittersweet for John, he is happy to take part in the D&E legacy.

"It's been nice being able to carry on what our parents started," John said. "I like being able to help people when they need it and I'm proud that we've worked with the same pump company, Flint and Walling Products, because they're an American company."

Due to the complexity of the field, and the constant technical changes to pumps and motors, the sons' skills are prized by their customers. It shows, as the business handles about 1,000 repairs each year and offers a store full of perfectly lined equipment on red shelves.

John said the relationship with customers is unique, informal and built on trust, which saves time for individuals who need to stop in quickly or who are on a time limit due to their job.

Doug agreed.

"We do far more business outside of Reed City than in the immediate neighborhood," he said. "Most of our customers are good friends."

Although the brothers are close to retirement, neither is sure what will happen to D&E Supply in the next decade. Either way,

"It really has been a long time," John said. "We made a good living here."