Family hardware business marks 50 years

Published on Sunday, 26 January 2014 22:27 - Written by CASEY MURPHY, cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

When W.E. Sword began a hardware business out of his garage 50 years ago, he never imagined it would grow to what it has today.

“I found the harder I worked, the luckier I got,” W.E. Sword said, adding that it took a lot of working 16-hour days, seven days a week. “It takes love for your job and dedication. If you’ve got that, you’ve got a lot of that stuff whipped.”

He said it is very satisfying to see his son, Michael Sword, and grandson, Ryan Sword, continue the business.

W.E. Sword, 84, grew up in Tyler and worked for Peden Iron and Steel in Houston and Tyler before starting W.E. Sword Co. with his wife Beverly out of their garage in 1964.

He said he began by calling on a few architects and contractors and “from there, it just grew.”

In 1968, he constructed the company’s 12,000-square-foot building on South Broadway Avenue, across from the intersection with Robert E. Lee Drive. At the time, Broadway was a two-lane road and there was only a small grocery store across the street.

His attorney told him Tyler would never grow southward and projected that the city would only expand east and west.

His wife also didn’t want him to build there because it was outside the city limits. Jokingly, he told her that one day it would be the center of Tyler. He was simply defending himself, W.E. Sword said, adding that of course he didn’t know then how much Tyler would grow south.

The company also has a 10,000-square-foot fabrication shop on Old Noonday Road. Sword Co. has 21 employees, a handful of which have worked there for more than 30 years, and has clients throughout East Texas.

Michael Sword, 61, said only 5 percent to 10 percent of the business sells residential hardware, including front door/entry sets and bath accessories, while the majority of the company works with general contractors and architects to supply commercial items, including doors, frames, flag poles, fire extinguishers, interior and exterior signage, toilet partitions and several types of hardware.

The company is supplying the hardware for Tyler Independent School District’s current projects, including the renovations to Rice and Dixie elementary schools, as well as construction of the Career and Technical Education Center. They also have done several projects for East Texas Medical Center, one of their first commercial clients, and Mother Frances Hospitals & Clinics.

“The odds are you’re going to touch something we supplied,” Michael’s son, Ryan Sword, said about people walking in to a Tyler school or hospital.

Michael Sword has been working for the family business full time for 40 years but began making deliveries and keying locks when he was in junior high school. After earning a degree in business marketing from The University of Texas at Austin, he worked for his father’s business in Austin. They also had stores in Beaumont, San Antonio and Arlington and had clients across the country, including Alabama, Massachusetts, Illinois and California. One of their larger projects was the 72-story InterFirst Bank Building in Dallas.

In the late 1980s, the business was consolidated back to the Tyler store.

Ryan Sword said they now have clients as far north as Texarkana, east to the Louisiana border, west to Terrell and down to the Beaumont area.

Michael Sword said it was never his intention to work for the family business, but after college he thought it might not be such a bad idea after all. In 1992, he began running the project management and estimates side of the business.

In 2001, he bought the business from his father and changed its name from W.E. Sword Co. to the simpler Sword Co. He said having the family business continued on with his son is a good feeling.

“It’s not easy because there’s a lot of family involved in it,” he said.

But Ryan Sword said he and his father work well together and when not at work, rarely talk about business.

Ryan Sword, 31, worked for the business in high school, making deliveries and working in shipping and receiving. After earning a degree in agricultural development from Texas A&M University, he worked for a plumbing distributor company in Fort Worth for more than a year before returning to work for Sword Co.

He said that like his father, he never felt he would return to work for the family business but working somewhere else first to learn the basics of the real world helped him to not take it for granted.

“I liked the legacy of the (family) business,” he said, adding that he knew he could dig into operations at Sword Co. He has worked there for seven years.

Michael’s older brother, Stephen Sword, 64, also has worked there since he was in the seventh grade.

Stephen Sword said he started working there full time in 1973 and left in 1992 to work for his father at B&W Porcelain, a cabinet hardware and toilet accessory manufacturing business he started after selling Sword Co., as well as an oil and gas pipeline construction business. After both of those companies were sold, he returned to Sword Co. in 2009 and works in sales.

After selling his businesses, W.E. Sword has continued to manage about 20 commercial buildings he owns in Tyler.

When he started Sword Co., W.E. Sword said he had no idea it would grow to what it is today.

“I was just putting one foot in front of the other,” he said. “You always have dreams of expanding, but you never know.”