When luck is defined as hard work, success is only option
People often wonder who is Jay Bernhardt? Many remember him as one of the three Bernhardt boys growing up in Richfield Springs, while others only know him as the successful businessman he is today.
What about the person that ties the boy and the man together? When did his dreams become goals, when did those goals become successes?
Like his father, Edward Bernhardt, who was also a self made entrepreneur, the CEO of JGB Enterprises and owner of the Richfield Springs Mercury is a business owner. Unlike his father's business, JGB Enterprises in Liverpool is expected to earn $100 million this year.
“I didn't really have a goal (while I was growing up),” he said. “My mother just wanted me to go to college.”
And so he did.
At Joyce Bernhardt's urging, after he graduated Richfield Springs High School in 1961, he headed south to attend classes at Oneonta State College where he earned a bachelor's degree in Science.
Straight out of college he went to work for a company in California, called Hewitt Robbins. The company's key product was industrial hosing. It was here that Bernhardt's seeds for success were sowed.
After a few years of living in Los Angeles, Bernhardt realized his home would always be central New York, and so he moved back east, settling in Syracuse. An offer of a position with Goodall Rubber company made leaving Hewitt Robbins easier, even after receiving counter offers to stay. “I wanted a company car,” he said, noting they had never given him one. When he announced his move, they finally countered with a company car, but he told them it was too late.
He stayed with Goodall until 1976. “I got to this point with Goodall where I had to do something. I had the opportunity to move to Richmond (Va.) and become branch manager or start my own company,” he explained.
On Jan. 1, 1977, the doors of JGB Enterprises were opened.
“It's 30 years as we speak,” he noted with a hint of realization. “JGB proved to be the competition for Goodall that this area lacked.”
JGB sold hose, rain suits, boots, hard hats – everything Goodall sold, to loyal customers of Bernhardt's who had followed him in his transition. “I had to know if people were buying from me or buying from Goodall. A year later, when Goodall left the area, I figured they were buying from me,” he said.
So, 1977 was a climactic time for Bernhardt. He started his first business with partner Dave Emmons. He married his wife, Kathy, in May of 1977. And by Dec. 31, 1977, he and his partner reached their projected goal of $300,000 in sales, marking a successful first year.
“We rented space from a machine shop, I'll never forget that. There were hoses hanging off the machines,” he recalled with a grin and a shake of his head.
“It was before computers, so we had to manually keep track of sales,” he began, preparing to launch into a story, something he does well when the mood strikes him. “It was the last day of the year, and we were at $299,925 in sales. We were talking about how we had wanted to make $300,000. Just about then, someone walked in and said they needed a hose and asked how much it would cost. I looked at (Emmons), he looked at me and we both answered at the same time, ‘$75.' We closed the books at $300,000 on Dec. 31.”
They had met their goal for the first year. In the second year, they doubled their goal and they did nearly $600,000 in sales “to the penny,” he recalled.
By the third year, they hit $1 million, he said, noting that “a lot of my customers stayed with me because they like to see people go out on their own and succeed.”
Success is not a given in life, and Bernhardt stressed this. Many people tell him he is lucky, but after contemplating the two, Bernhardt was able to differentiate between luck and success.
“There's good luck and then there is hard work. Good luck usually comes with hard work,” he noted.
“Success takes drive and vision and a little bit of luck – luck disguised as hard work.”
In order to succeed you also have to like what you do. “My game is sales. You have to have product knowledge and empathy for the customer.”
His two children, Erica and Jason, share that vision and hold key positions within his companies.
Today that success, knowledge, vision and empathy is spread across a good part of the United States. JGB maintains branches in Buffalo, Charlotte, N.C., St. Louis and Kansas City, Kan., with an approximate 250 employees sharing that vision of success. Some of JGB Hose's (a division of JGB Enterprises) customers include United States Armed Forces, NATO, and various foreign military services located world wide.
In addition to JGB Enterprises, Bernhardt also owns numerous rental properties along with Mercury Media Group, which consists of a publishing company and three printing companies. Some of the publications MMG has distributed include the Richfield Springs Mercury, the Route 20 Pulse, Route 66 Pulse, New York Canal Times and the Lake Country and Adirondack Country House and Home real estate guides.
“I never expected this,” Bernhardt said after recapping some of his achievements. “I never expected to do this, but it was something I always desired.”