The humble history of Shade & Wise began in 1949. Though the family business is based on hard, uncompromising products like brick and stone, the heart and soul of the company is based on a much softer element: the extended Frayser family and the friends who work with them. Together, they’ve stood the test of time. Now, nearly 70 years after its inception, the original building supply company has blossomed into the largest independent masonry products distributor in Central Virginia.
Shade & Wise Then
“Shade & Wise was founded by John Shade and Louis Wise in 1949,” says John Frayser Sr. “That’s when John Shade and Louis Wise broke away from Massey Building Supply and decided to go into business themselves on Hamilton Street. In the 50s, the business moved to Tomlin Street, about half a block from where it is now.”
“After Louis retired, John sold the business to me and my family in 1970, when he was ready to retire,” explains Frayser. Shade & Wise has been a family business ever since.
The business was much different in the 70s, when the Frayser family came on board. The company was primarily a building supply company, carrying mortar, sheet rock and roofing supplies. It had fewer than eight employees, including yard workers. The company had no forklifts at the time, and it was a full day’s work to unload the trucks by hand.
These days, Frayser’s children, Jay and Julia, own the business. John still comes in three days a week, but leadership responsibilities fall to his son Jay and Julia’s husband, Chris Currie. Grandchildren John Frayser III and Tyler Currie are third-generation Shade & Wise owners-to-be.
Shade & Wise changed profoundly in the late 90s after the family realized a stronger presence in the masonry market was required if they were to reach the level of growth they desired. This meant they also needed to hire key sales personnel and move to a bigger space. That brought the business to its current location on Dabney Road in Henrico County.
“We moved into the old Hyman Brothers Pontiac Service Department building on Dabney in 1996,” says Jay Frayser, President, Shade & Wise. “Like our old Tomlin Street location, it, too, was in Henrico County. We had been looking for a while, because the space on Tomlin Street was way too small. Now we have about 4.5 acres, and it’s given us the ability to transform into the business we are today.”
The company has also added a 25,000-square-foot distribution center in Powhatan. “Chris, my sister’s husband, joined us at the time of our move in the late 90s,” explains Jay Frayser. “He added much foresight and depth to Shade & Wise. The expansion to Powhatan was his project, from finding the location to design and overseeing the construction.”
Both locations serve Shade & Wise well. The Dabney Road headquarters measures 34,000 square feet and carries four to six million bricks in stock. “This location is by far the best,” says Jay Frayser. “With (interstates) 95 and 64 here, this is a stellar location that brings us a lot of traffic. We serve customers from Petersburg, Dinwiddie – even West Point, Montpelier, Fredericksburg and the Northern Neck – from our Dabney Road location.”
Shade & Wise Now
Fast-forward to 2016. Every brick truck at Shade & Wise has a forklift, and business is booming. The company employs approximately 25 people, has an ample sales team, and is a full-service brick and masonry company, carrying a variety of stones, including blue, travertine and limestone, both faux and real. “We’ve really become very focused and specialized in masonry,” says Jay Frayser. “Today we represent 14 different manufacturers across the Central Virginia market. If a mason uses it, we handle it.”
Materials from Shade & Wise can be seen in many familiar commercial landmarks in the Richmond region, including buildings at the University of Richmond, Hanover Courthouse, parts of Short Pump Town Center and the new Libbie Mill Midtown complex – all projects that will keep the family’s legacy alive for many generations to come.
Still, the heart and soul of the company is its people, says Jay Frayser. “My goal is to keep this business successful for my employees, my son and my nephew. It’s great to work for a small business. We’re all friends here. If you’re willing to give it your heart and soul, you’ll find the more you give to it, the more it gives back to you. I really like seeing my friends at work do well in life.”
Jay’s son, John III, says he’s eager to continue in the family business, as well. “I look forward to learning what it takes to make a company last as long as this one has, and I look forward to learning how to adapt to changing markets.”
Congratulations to Shade & Wise on their growth and success in Henrico!