Kevin Condron grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While attending the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he met a local woman named Clare Kennedy and they later married in 1968. The couple settled in Pennsylvania, and Condron went to work as a stockbroker on Wall Street.
During this time, his father-in-law, William Kennedy—who owned a textile business in Worcester with his brothers—was interested in purchasing a distributor of gas, steam engine, and water supplies that he found for sale in the classified ads. The company was Central Supply and had roots dating back to 1901. Kennedy asked his son-in-law to analyze the business and help him secure the financing needed to make the purchase. Kevin Condron gave the go-ahead and secured a line of credit from the bank, as well as negotiated the business purchase on behalf of his father-in-law. Although enticed by Kennedy to join the company, Kevin Condron initially resisted. But for the persistence of his father-in-law, he and his growing family moved back to Worcester and joined Central Supply, which was generating $1 million in sales in 1971.
“We built up a good business based on the theory that our people had to be worth more,” Kevin Condron says. “I had a vision of becoming a $100 million company which would require more acquisitions and a bigger footprint geographically.” Through acquisition and natural growth, Kevin Condron did indeed grow the company, and in 1998 he moved its headquarters to Concord, New Hampshire and changed its name to The Granite Group.
Today, The Granite Group (TGG) celebrates its 50th anniversary. What started as a one-storefront company has grown into a wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating, cooling, piping, water systems, and energy products to contractors and fuel dealers across New England—impressively supported by its more than 600 team members. With a footprint of almost 50 branches that is being added onto aggressively, and with a robust online store launched in 2016, the company also operates 15 retail showrooms under The Ultimate Bath Store name. The showrooms are run by an expertly trained staff to assist with product selection, and display an extensive array of decorative plumbing fixtures and accessories.
Foundation of Solid Business Sense and Spirit is Rooted in Persistence and Service
Bill Condron, Kevin’s son, watched his father grow a business that was outside his wheelhouse. “My Dad took a chance on the business. Neither he nor my grandfather knew a lot about the industry…but they worked hard,” he says. “Pretty quickly, my father took the lead, and he spent his first ten years learning the business and built and launched his growth plan.”
Condron adds, “My father’s first big acquisition in the early 80s was a supply house in New Hampshire, which was a bigger company than his was at the time. It was this ambitious kind of swing-of-the-bat work that moved the business to New Hampshire. And then he continued to grow the business at a rapid pace through additional acquisitions—which was his growth model. He would make a big acquisition and spend a couple of years digesting it, and then go swing again. He has a sharp financial mind, and he surrounded himself with a lot of talented people. Through the 80s and 90s, they built the business throughout New England.”
Bill Condron—who started with the company in 2001 in the warehouse—now sits at the helm as President and CEO. He never imagined he would follow in his father’s footsteps, but that’s exactly what happened. Just like his father, Condron initially started his career on Wall Street. That ended when he and his father sat down for lunch in New York, and just like his father, he was offered a chance to work in the family business.
“My father told me that I can start in the warehouse and work my way up from there,” Condron recalls. “He offered me a base salary and said if I could show that I could handle the job, then perhaps one day I would have a chance to run a branch.”
Condron adds, “I recall telling my Dad that if this didn’t work out, I thought I was smart enough to do other things, and I wasn’t signing a lifetime contract. I remember he responded by telling me ‘Great, because I am not offering you a lifetime contract, so if it doesn’t work out you will need to find something else to do.’ If you know my Dad, you’d know this is a very on-brand response from him.”
Nothing was promised and Kevin Condron made sure his son realized that it’s only through hard work that one will succeed. “It’s been over 20 years now,” Condron remarks. “And I have been lucky enough to join this amazing industry filled with great people—from our team members to manufacturing partners and incredible customers. And it’s a place where, fortunately, relationships still matter.”
Bill Condron understands that service is what got the company to where it is today and where it will take it in the future. And service starts and ends with people—its people are the foundational strength of The Granite Group.
At the heart of the company is its commitment to customer service, as well as employee education, training, and advancement opportunities. “From day one,” Condron says, “my father instilled in all of us a belief that, ‘If we are going to do it, we are going to do it the right way.’ My father has always been very focused. He had a clear vision of where he wanted to go and how he wanted to get there. He surrounded himself with a team of talented individuals that set the bar high and then worked to exceed it. He takes great pride in a high level of professionalism. He brought a strategic mindset along with a financial acumen and an expectation of superior customer service that allowed him to be extremely successful. And I was lucky to be mentored by and learn from someone like that.”
Company Culture: Empowerment and Entrepreneurial Spirit
The leaders of TGG understand that when they empower team members with knowledge, they have a stronger connection to the business. It’s built into the company culture. Condron explains that everything the company sells can be purchased elsewhere. But what brings customers through their front door is the service the company provides and the level of pride that is evident in the ways the employees provide it.
“I tell individuals at our orientation, ‘Wholesalers extend credit and move boxes, we are in the service business,’” Condron says. He describes that by inverting the organizational chart so that the most customer-facing people are at the top, change happens through the empowerment of the team. “Our truck drivers see our customers every day. They know how they want their product delivered, and they are interacting with them every day. And they are more important in the organization than I am because of it. It’s the same with all of our counter sales teams who know our individual customers, as well as their wants and needs. Having empowered, energetic people on the ground right there in front of the customers is what makes a difference.”
The sense of empowerment and ownership is the backbone of the company culture that fuels the aggressive growth the company has had over the past several years. “We are unapologetically people first,” Condron explains. To build the internal team, the company has many opportunities for growth.
TGG has created career paths for advancement for every role in the company, which uses industry curriculum such as those from the American Supply Association’s Education Foundation, and others such as the company’s Learning Management System. Offering classes either online or in-person when feasible, the company is serious about investing in its most valuable asset—the team.
New team members can participate in an 18-month trainee program where they are taught about the business and all its moving parts. They also move around different branches to gain different perspectives. Once they graduate, they have the opportunity to step into a different role. “There is something for everyone — from outside sales to operations, warehouse and purchasing,” Condron adds.
“We put in place a career path for every role. If someone starts off as counter personnel and wants to become an inside salesperson, we have a curriculum that shows what we—the company and the individual—need to do together to achieve their career goals. We believe a career path is a two-way street. We need to offer the opportunities our team members need to raise their hands and grab hold of them,” Condron explains. Providing opportunities is vital, and it’s not just about changing roles—which is why the company puts an emphasis on product training as well. “Every branch is required to host a minimum of eight counter days a year, including a traditional lunch and product expo during the day, followed by spending the afternoon with the inside team to train on the product,” he states.
By providing an opportunity for growth and advancement, team members understand they are part of a community; they are the drivers to success.
Other ways team members can advance their careers is to participate in TGG University, which is designed to drive leadership and additional business acumen. “It started in January of 2020, and we had 50 team members apply to be a part of the group,” Condron explains. “We selected 12 who met monthly and were paired with a mentor and coached in leadership and business development.” From the group, a gentleman named James Currie now runs his own branch, and Erica Bates, another team member, was recently promoted to Director of Purchasing.
It’s not just about training and mentoring. Another vital part of the success of TGG is its ability and willingness to listen to team members’ ideas, concerns, and suggestions. It’s about letting each of them know they are vital to the success of the company. Several years ago, the company started a “town hall” approach of connecting. Each month, TGG runs one of these events after hours in a different branch. Before the event those attending receive an email from Condron with questions for discussion. He explains, “There are questions such as if you own the company tomorrow, what would you change? If you had a million dollars, how would you invest it in the business? What are we doing wrong, and what would you like to see us change?”
Team members are open to the idea of asking questions and providing feedback, knowing there is an action taken on the request. “Post meeting questions that need to be followed up on are sent directly to the leadership team, and if it is your area, you are required to follow up,” Condron says. “It’s great to get this open feedback from our team. What makes it powerful is the follow up. A counter person at a Town Hall may ask why we code our products a certain way. When she is at her desk the next morning and her phone rings and it is the VP of Pricing explaining our product coding methodology, then it becomes really impactful. The team member has been heard and gets an actual response to their comments and concerns.”
Condron drives home the need for the feedback loop as it empowers individuals to speak up and is essential as it solidifies the company culture of being relevant and being heard, which in turn, drives home the company culture of acting like an owner.
“We are trying to build a durable growth engine for our people,” Condron says. He explains that if you do that, everything else will fall into place. “If you have opportunities for people to move on and move up, everything takes care of itself. Sales, profits, expansion—it all flows from giving our people the opportunities they want to take the next steps in their career. By providing an environment enriched by growth and opportunity, you attract growth-focused people. We need to give you the opportunities, and you need to raise your hand and take it.”
The Granite Group Aims To Grow
TGG has an aggressive growth plan and relies on its team members, who are both drivers of the success of the plan and supporters in the way it is laid out. This plan includes four areas of growth: growth with current customers, launching new verticals, acquisitions, and new branch openings.
“We started as a plumbing and hydronic company, and in 2005 branched out to HVAC, and invested in it so now it is a core vertical for us. In the last five years, we launched the propane division, and last year we launched a well and water division. We will continue to add verticals that make sense and help serve our customers,” says Condron.
The company is also aggressively expanding its footprint. In the last five years, it has grown from having 30 branches to now having almost 50. “Our plan moving forward is to continue to aggressively open new locations throughout our footprint in targeted markets that are suggested by our customer base,” states Condron. To do so, the company has reinvested in its technology stack and its distribution center to make sure technology and inventory stay current with its growth plan. More importantly, the company wants to continue to provide service at the highest level as it grows. “The fuel for that growth is our people…and that’s why it all circles back to investing and focusing on our team,” Condron says.
As discussed earlier, employee empowerment and advancement are vital to the company and provided through the trainee program as well as TGG University and other opportunities. While it helps the individuals, it also helps the business. It is not unusual for team members to approach leadership and discuss where a new branch should be located as they are always on the lookout for how and where to service customers and where there is an opportunity.
An example is Reggie Hodgeson who was a long time inside sales presence in the Barre, VT branch. Reggie suggested at a Town Hall meeting that the company look into the Morrisville, VT area based off interactions he had with customers in the local area. Leadership heard from customers as well about where they would appreciate a branch. TGG opened up a branch in Morrisville, and Hodgeson is the branch manager. Condron gets animated as he describes the success of the team members, “Reggie is doing a great job! He is in his hometown, and seeing his success on a local level is just humbling and a powerful and exciting thing. In Morrisville, we are TGG but it is really Reggie’s supply house, and that is a great thing.”
Another example is Nate Grenier, who worked in inside sales at the Westerly, RI branch for 20 years. “He is now our manager in our Narragansett, RI branch that we opened in April and he is doing a great job. That, to me, is a real career path. The most impactful piece of this new branch model is what it does for our people in their local communities, the opportunity it gives them, and it goes to the durable growth engine because it’s for them. They are building this,” says Condron.
Each branch manager instills their entrepreneurial spirit into their branch, ultimately leading to excellence in customer service—which, in turn, spurs healthy competition between branches. Each quarter, Condron along with the company CFO and COO, visit each branch and show how the overall company is doing in sales. They discuss individual branch results and what needs to be worked on. With a healthy competitive spirit, branch team members always want to know who is up and who is down. “Everyone wants to be at the top of the list,” Condron says. “It would not be unheard of for a customer to call their usual go-to branch for a product, and if that branch doesn’t have it on the shelf, a team member may go pick it up at another branch and deliver it to the customer,” he says. While not exactly as efficient as a company could be, it shows the “hustle” as Condron describes it. “We are sales and service first, and we go and do what we can do for our customers, unapologetically.”
“If you feel good about what you’re doing, if you feel comfortable where you are, and if you feel respected and supported, you’re going to hustle ten times more than someone who is not,” Condron says. It’s that hustle that will allow The Granite Group to continue on its growth trajectory for the foreseeable future.
Celebrating Team Members
Many companies focus on adding new members to the team, but what should not be overlooked are the seasoned members of one’s organization. “You have got to keep your eye on and be attentive to the team you have built. This includes the senior group of team members that are the backbone to the organization,” says Condron.
Several years back, the company started a Quarter Century Club, where seasoned members are celebrated with a dinner held once a year. And it’s a healthy club, with a lifetime membership of more than 90 members. Pre-pandemic, the group would gather for dinner and awards, and many retired individuals came back to attend. In addition, each year the company holds an annual meeting filled with business and fun. This year, at its annual company meeting, the company bestowed more than 75 Service Awards. Condron describes the commitment, “For a company of 600 people, to give out more than 75 Service Awards, for tenure, is pretty impressive. Each year we hand out awards for 25, 30, 35, 40 even 45 years of service. Just last year I was able to hand out an award to a member of our accounts payable team that had been with the company for 54 years! That is pretty powerful.” He went on to say, “Celebrating tenure and service as well as investing in new talent is essential. Of course, you need to stay competitive and invest in pay and benefits, but it is more than that. When you talk to your team, it’s important that they feel valued and that they know their opinion is valued. They need to know that they are empowered and that we are investing in them as we look to the future. If you can achieve that and continue to grow without losing that small, family feel, we think you can succeed.”
The company also likes to have fun and does so at its Annual Meeting. Each year the company bestows Core Awards, imaged alongside an Employee of the Year award, but based on TGG’s core values of professionalism, relationships, aggressiveness, integrity, service, and entrepreneurship. One can nominate another or oneself, and two winners are selected each year and awarded a cash prize and a chance to travel with customers on the company’s Destinations trip program. The selection process is done by peers and announced at the annual meeting. This year, the winner was announced via video by Red Sox legend David Ortiz, AKA, “Big Papi.”
Another example of how the company celebrates its team is from Condron’s video message posts on LinkedIn. This allows him to connect with the entire TGG team and spotlight successes by sharing stories of how a team member has made an impact.
One such post was about Monica Apgar, people experience manager at TGG. Giving back is an integral part of the company’s DNA, and the TGG Cares Initiative which Apgar heads up, allows for that. Featuring TGG team members from all over New England, the committee is dedicated to giving back and helping its branches support and connect with the communities they serve. In his post, Condron describes how Apgar came up with a unique idea for an initiative this year. Team members could earn $1 per mile (up to 100 miles) by running, biking, hiking, walking, etc., and the funds would be donated in the name of the team member to their local food bank. Just another example of giving back.
Another post described how the company recently sent out a survey to its customers and received an incredible return rate of more than 1,100 responses. Included in the responses was a question which asked if the customer would like to give a shoutout or feedback for any specific member of the team, and what came back was more than 300 responses about how the team members were appreciated. Taking it one step further, it was a great opportunity to share the feedback with the individuals, and cards were created for each team member with the responses given. Condron personalized each card with a note of thanks. These small steps, and attention to giving back to the team, is invaluable.
Empowering, leading, and supporting people is built in the fabric of The Granite Group, and it extends into other areas of the channel as well. Condron is a big supporter of giving back and does so through other areas of volunteer work and leadership. As a longtime volunteer of the American Supply Association, he will lead the organization as its President in 2022. “The work being done by Mike Adelizzi and the team at ASA is phenomenal. There are so many exciting initiatives already underway, and I am excited to see what the future holds for our organization and the industry overall.”
Congratulations to The Granite Group and its half-century of service!