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Tracy Bond is a character. He’s got a big personality, and doesn’t mince words. Underneath he’s got an even bigger heart. He’s been in this business a long time, taking over for a legend of a dad who had put Bond Plumbing Supply on the map and built personal relationships with some of the biggest names in manufacturing back in the day.
“Dad could talk to anybody about anything,” Tracy says of O.P. Bond. “Everyone loved him and thought he could do anything in the world. He was a big risk-taker when it came to the business, and often got himself over-obligated, but somehow it always worked out. Most of his success came from the fact that he knew every vendor personally — so he could just pick up the phone and call them when he needed something. Most of the time, he was able to get whatever he needed; often when others couldn’t. That made us the go-to supply house, because customers knew we could always get product. We’ve been fortunate to continue those relationships through the generations. One of the things I’ve learned is that you treat everybody with respect — because the guy sweeping the floors could one day be running the company.”
Wade and Cody Bond have joined their dad in the business, and each is carving out a niche for himself. They’re the kind of guys you want in your corner — loyal to the core. Wade has a magnetic personality that lights up a room, and Cody has a shy warmth and soft-spoken way. Both have disarming smiles and a knack for making anyone feel comfortable around them.
Together, the three are turning up the heat at Miami-based Bond Supply.
Wade serves as Vice President and shares an office with Tracy — a tactical decision, explained Tracy, because he wanted Wade to watch, learn and listen so that he would know how Tracy liked to operate.
Cody — who can rattle off the model number of virtually any product in the warehouse — concentrates primarily on the materials, purchasing and logistics, while Wade focuses more on marketing, customers and the books.
“Working in different areas of the company has allowed us to keep an eye on more things,” Wade said. “Dad really molded us by putting us in different areas of the company as we got our start. He let us explore to figure things out, and we now know our strengths and weaknesses.”
Baptism by fire
Tracy graduated from a high school in Miami that had a lot of rioting and required boys to learn toughness at an early age. They had to position themselves carefully to earn respect. After attending the University of South Florida, he decided to take up a trade, becoming an apprentice plumber with Miami Local 519 and then getting his license.
He laughs heartily when telling the story of how he decided to end his plumbing career. “I was a lousy plumber,” he said. “But I really knew this wasn’t the job for me when I installed a toilet in the middle of a customer’s living room! The living room and bathroom shared a wall, and I had roughed it in on the wrong side. I had recently gotten married, wanted to start a family, and knew I needed some stability. This was the mid-70s, when the economy tanked, so I decided to approach my dad — O.P. Bond — about a job.
“I had worked for him off and on over the years to pick up extra cash. So Dad put me to work unloading trucks. After a while, I moved inside, and then later to outside sales. We didn’t have computers; everything had to be priced by hand and the tickets written up.”
Around 1980 — after building a string of branches all over Florida — O.P. decided to return to his roots and moved to a 1,500-acre ranch in South Georgia. His son, Perry Bond, who had been Bond Supply’s Vice President, followed him and went to work on the ranch. So Tracy started taking over the business, and became President in 1982. O.P. still owned the majority of Bond Supply, however, and over the next five years, sold off most of his stores. When Tracy bought him out in 1987, only the Miami stores remained.
As his Dad did for him, Tracy Bond wanted his sons to learn by doing. So instead of teaching them what to do, he let them figure it out themselves.
“My Dad wasn’t the type of guy who’d teach you what he wanted,” Tracy explained. “Instead, he’d just throw you into the fire and then observe if you did it the way he thought you should. If you did it right, he didn’t say anything, but he sure let you know if you did it wrong.
“What he did do was put me together with people he respected, who he thought would be good mentors. One of those was H.J. Lamar, his best manager, who really taught me what it took to run a store. And when I became President, Carol Cherry taught me all the nitty-gritty things I needed to know about running the business — everything from who our banker was to how to write a business letter.”
Similarly, Wade and Cody have benefited from the folks who have been long-time Bond Supply employees.
“Everyone here has helped guide us,” Cody noted. “Most have been here 25 years or more. They’ve been great influences on Wade and myself, and we’ve learned so much from their wisdom.”
Tracy added, “In all honesty, I have the easiest job at Bond because I have a staff that knows what they’re doing, and how to handle any situation just like I would.”
It’s got to be hard for the folks at companies like Bond Supply — who work so closely together every day — to separate business from family. And as Wade explained, that never truly happens.
“When we get together for dinner or on a weekend, we often have a pow wow and talk about everything that has been happening at the office — good and bad,” he said. “It never ends. There is virtually no separation between family and company.”
Tracy described it even more vividly: “There is pride in what we do here. This company has been around so long, it’s almost like a sibling to me. This business talks to me, and has since I was a little boy. It’s part of our family — Bond Supply is a living, breathing entity to us.”
Changing the course
At one time, Bond Supply had branches throughout Florida, but when O.P, was getting out of the business, he sold almost everything off. During Tracy’s tenure, he has rebuilt it to four locations in Miami (headquarters), Riviera, Princeton/Homestead and Port St. Lucie.
They have 10 trucks on the road every day, servicing the east coast of Florida from Melbourne to Homestead. (But they’ve also developed a website with full e-commerce that now allows them to efficiently serve customers anywhere in the world. More to come on that later in this article.)
“I decided not to try to re-open branches in many of the cities my dad serviced, because it seemed like there was already enough competition to handle those markets. In a small business like ours, you as an owner have to be very hands-on to stay on top of things. Branches need oversight. I thought it was in our best interest to concentrate on South Florida where my time could be better spent building relationships and gaining marketshare.”
“In the past 20 years, we’ve been very heavy on the commercial side of the business,” said Cody. “Currently, about 70% of our domestic business is commercial, although internationally, it’s all across the board. Our international business accounts for roughly 10% of our overall sales. We ship a lot of product to the Caribbean. With Miami being one of the country’s largest ports — and the closest to these areas — exports are a great opportunity for companies like ours. There is not a lot of manufacturing in the islands, so they depend on the U.S. and Europe for product.
Beyond that, Bond Supply recently launched a full ecommerce website that allows customers to have full access to sales history, bid history, statements, inventory, pricing and more — all live.
“The site if fully integrated with our Eclipse software, and is completely real time,” Wade explained. “So if I sell a 10-inch elbow, it immediately takes that out of inventory on the website. We also have a full careers page where people can search and apply for jobs through an interactive application page. Customers can also apply online for credit, which is immediately received by our credit department for approval.”
Other features include:
• Calendar for classes and other events
• A showroom tab with information for customers that lets them know what they need to bring with them to appointments to show our consultants what style they like. It also allows them to get consultations directly on the site.
• A contact tab that connects users with three individuals at Bond Supply who respond to all questions.
• A “Specials” page to post new products or promos.
• Location finder that, when activated, tells customers the nearest Bond Supply location.
As Bond Supply looks to continue making inroads into residential construction and the luxury market, they have decided to completely gut and renovate their showroom — which is in a building across the street from the headquarters in Miami. It was also the ideal time for them to be able to capitalize on a new brand launch.
“Our main china line, American Standard, discontinued their Porcher and Jado brands and recently launched DXV,” Wade noted. “So we are showing our support in full force to by remodeling to showcase the DXV line.
“We’re also going to be adding a classroom in the showroom to provide product knowledge training for our designers and customers. This continuing education will help plumbers maintain their master plumber status, and allow younger guys to move toward that. We’ll also offer it to our manufacturers and reps so they can conduct training classes for both our customers and our employees. It will be a full classroom with wifi and a full screen projector. We’re also putting in a small commercial showroom that is connected, which will cater to engineers and architects working on larger projects. We added another 2,200 square feet on top of our existing 4,500 square feet, which really beefs up the size of our showroom.”
A lot of thought went into the new design, which is extremely different than the previous look.
“It’s going to be really eye-catching,” Wade described. “There will be black walls with artwork by local street artists. Leather accents. Stain-polished concrete floors. All very contemporary.
“We are putting in monitors throughout the showroom with looping videos for products. Some displays will have integrated touchscreens so they can teach customers about different products. They allow users to scroll through operations and see product features, benefits, colors and more. We’ll also have working displays including whirlpools, faucets, sinks and water coolers.”
For a wholesaler that has done the vast majority of its business in the commercial market for years, purchasing and managing a luxury showroom requires a different way of thinking.
“We are used to have such a big inventory, and trying to make sure we’ve always got what customers need in stock,” explained Cody. “With the showroom, it’s almost all about special orders. You simply can’t stock all those products, because there are so many finishes and options, it’s impossible. We’ve also brought in some new lines, V&A, Ronbow, and Sigma.
“You also have to bring on staff that has a more creative side and is able to work with different tastes and styles. And dealing with homeowners and designers is much different than our contractor customers — It’s more of retail environment and requires a different touch to capitalize on upselling. But the benefit is that the profit margins are much more substantial.”
The Big R — relationships
Relationships and service are king in any business, and in the highly competitive of wholesale distribution, it can make or break a company. As noted earlier, O.P. Bond made strong personal relationships with many of his vendors — which has been carried on by Tracy, Wade and Cody.
They also have cultivated strong relationships with their customers, through honest communication and hosting events that provide face-to-face social interaction.
Every month, the company hosts a lunch for customers, rotating among its four locations so that each branch hosts once a month. Cody or one of the branch managers cooks chicken and burger, and supplies the fixin’s. They also do offsite product training at local hotels several times a year with a variety of vendors.
Over the years, they’ve hosted a many customer excursions, and they’ve also had “Bond Bucks” promotions — printing up paper money with Tracy’s face on it. For every $100 customers would spend at the counter, they’d get $2 in Bond Bucks to use toward an array of gifts they could choose from.
And while vendors are customers are definitely high up the totem pole, Tracy believes that it’s the relationship with his staff that is at the top.
“We treat our staff like they are family,” he said. “I instill in them how valuable they are, and tell them they don’t have to take any abuse from anyone. I’ve got their back and they know it. If someone isn’t treating them with respect, they can transfer them to me, and I’ll insist on it. It’s easier to find a good customer than a good employee, so we put a lot of value on our people.”
In more recent years, much of the relationship-building among vendors and peers has come through Bond Supply’s membership in the Omni Buying Group and Luxury Products Group. Despite Tracy’s initial reservations, they joined in 2000 — and since then have far surpassed his expectations.
“The first year we were members, I collected double the rebates than I had collected the previous year; mainly because I wasn’t making the effort to collect them,” he said. “They do all of that time-consuming work for us. And since we’ve joined, Omni has grown from 160 members to more than 300. And we’re now in at the Platinum level. And we’re very loyal to our Omni vendors. If we have two vendors to chose from who make the same product, we’ll always choose the Omni vendor. I’d say more than 90% of our purchases are done through Omni/LPG vendors.”
Wade added, “It’s turned out to be an excellent choice for us because it obviously helps us as independents buy better. And we are spending so much more face-to-face time with the manufacturers, that it has strengthened our relationships with them. We now actually see all their key people and spend the time with them strategically working out pricing. Plus they’re getting more time with us, so it’s a win-win.”
An eye on the future
The South Florida market is once again starting to rumble — with dozens of cranes dotting the Miami skyline.
“Our sales are showing that upward movement,” Cody noted. “The commercial market is really strong, and in the residential market there are a lot of townhomes and apartments. There are also a lot of high rises being built. And the growth in Dade County is coming along really well too. There are a lot of projected slated for the next few years; one is the Biscayne City Center, which will have multiple high rises, hotels, entertainment and shopping. We see a big turnaround from what we experienced the last five years. And the great thing is that there is enough business that all of us can get a fair share.”
Having their name on the building means a tall legacy for Wade and Cody — and they are genuine in their desire to continue it.
“People are starting to look to us for answers and guidance,” Wade commented. “It’s important we show them that we’re putting in our time and that it’s our goal to help Bond Supply achieve success. We don’t want to let anyone down. It’s a legacy we are a part of, and that we’re very proud of.”
Cody added, “We have the goal of continue to grow Bond Supply.” Understandably, Tracy Bond is proud of his sons.
“When they do a good job, I get emotional because I’m so happy that they’ve chosen to be part of this family legacy,” he said. “Their mother and I raised them properly. They’ve made a commitment to be here, and they prove it every day. I know they love the company and would absolutely defend this company with their lives.
“But ultimately, the thing I’m most proud of in my life is being married to my wife Sandra for 39 years. You can’t make a go of a business without a woman who loves you, supports you, and gives you the opportunity to do what you believe is best for your lives. She has always been there for me, and her love and support for the two boys is easy to see in each of them. The quality of the boys comes from their mother. We raised the boys with a solid work ethic that they had to work for their money; nothing is just given to you. But we also taught them that people, relationships and your reputation are more important than money.”
And those lessons were well learned. Cody summed it up by saying, “One of the things we often say is that ‘our word is our bond.’ If we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to, unless God Almighty or the U.S. government says we can’t.