Rochester-based Dillman & Upton has been serving homeowners in the community since 1910.
By Susan Peck
Photography by Alyssa Lopatin
If you wanted to call the Dillman & Upton company in 1910, you would turn the crank on your telephone and ask the operator to connect you to No. 25. The phone would’ve been answered with their original name and greeting, “C.W. Upton Wood & Coal Company, may I help you?”
So much has changed since the business started over a century ago. After a new name, and moving to three different Rochester locations, family-owned Dillman & Upton has transitioned from a coal dealer, to a premier lumber and home improvement center in Metro Detroit. Their current location — including a state-of-the-art showroom— is on Woodward Street, a short drive from where the coal company began on University, in downtown Rochester, where Jerry’s Gun Shop stands today.
“My great-grandfather C. W. Upton started the company over 100 years ago and quickly became a colorful personality in town,” says the fourth-generation business owner, Brad Upton, 60, of Rochester.
According to a Pontiac Press Gazette article in 1914, C.W. was passionate about Rochester’s municipal issues and was once arrested after an altercation over a school board election. (There were rumors he bit off the tip of newspaper editor W.A. Fox’s finger.)
“C. W. was a character who made a name for himself, but there was much more to keeping our business going for as long as it has,” Brad says. “Because of our dedication to our customers and reputation for providing the highest quality building products, we’ve had the unique privilege of supplying something to most every construction or remodeling project in the Rochester area during the last 100 years. We like to say we’re proud to have helped Rochester become the outstanding city it is today.”
The Uptons say their company has created a strong connection and loyalty with their community, and customers respond by coming back generation after generation. They’ve also been honored to be a part of some high-profile projects locally, including renovations at historic Meadow Brook Hall.
“Another factor to our success is the continued influx of our family members into the business — it’s been vital to our growth,” Brad says. “The torch was carried by my great-grandfather and passed off to four generations after him, with my brother Todd and I currently running the operation.”
“Since 1915, when the first two relatives came aboard with C.W. (nephew Roy Upton and son-in-law Arthur Dillman), key members of both families have kept our company relevant for the homeowner and home builder,” adds Brad’s wife Sue, 60, the bookkeeper for the company. Roy Upton and Arthur Dillman bought out C.W.’s interest in the company in 1919 for just $1 and began to focus on building products. (Roy died in 1963 and Arthur in the late 1970s.)
Roy’s son Terry Upton, now retired, earned a bachelor’s degree in building construction from Michigan State University and entered the family business in 1963. “My father Terry put a total focus on construction products and services, and formed tight bonds with building contractors that still stand today,” says Todd Upton, 55, of Metamora.
Bob Watson, owner of Watson Custom Builders in Rochester, says he is the second generation of his company working with Dillman & Upton. “My father worked with Terry Upton, and I continue to count on them for special orders and the highest quality custom building products like specialty crown molding.”
Brad explains that the industry has changed over the years, and their products have evolved with it. “Many of our building products are now made of high-tech composite materials, engineered for better performance like those from AZEK. And we have found our niche with our own design and installation team, high-end special order products like LaCantina large opening door systems and Dura Supreme Cabinetry.”
Competition from big box stores has “had a very huge impact on us,” Sue says, “but the one thing they can’t provide is the personal relationships we have with our customers and the contractors.” Rodger Rewold, owner of Colony Cleaners & Laundry in Rochester, says the 8 a.m. coffee klatch he attends daily in the kitchenette at Dillman & Upton gives you an idea of the kind of ties the owners have with the tight-knit community of Rochester.
“We’re a group of local business owners, contractors, sales reps and retired tradesmen who get together there for a cup of coffee and conversation about what’s happening in town and in our lives,” Rewold says.
The Uptons say these connections keep them passionate about coming to work every day. “It’s the people that count most to us,” Brad says. “That’s the important philosophy Dillman & Upton had from the very beginning, and it’s the reason we’re still going strong over a century later.”
Dillman & Upton
607 Woodward Ave., Rochester
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