By Eric Peterson | Mar 27, 2017
Industrial tapes and adhesives
Employees: 150 (including about 60 in Denver)
Industry: Supply Chain
Products: Industrial tapes and adhesives
Founder James Flynn sold industrial tape for Wisconsin-based Permacel before striking out on his own with Bron Tapes.
"It's the great American story," says Shand. "Jim would sell by day and at night would do the slitting of the tapes."
Flynn built the business by pounding the pavement, adds Shand. "He knocked on every door."
The strategy led to a notably diverse list of customers. Bron now supplies tape to convention companies, dairies, film crews, construction projects, distributors, and a wide range of manufacturers. In aerospace, the company counts Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and ATK among its customers.
The company is a value-added distributor, with an emphasis on value-added. "We really are a hybrid," says Shand of the business model. "Bron Tapes is a master distributor and converter for all of the major tape manufacturers in the world. We sell to resellers and we sell to select end users."
As a converter, Bron takes a wide range of products from companies like 3M and Tesa and tweaks them for a given market or customer by way of printing, die cutting, and coating the tape, among other modifications and upgrades. The company even converts high-end Teflon-based tape and fabric into industrial belts.
The hybrid business model extends into an in-house brand. "Bron also has the major manufacturers make products for us and we private-label those rolls," says Shand. "It's all proprietary." It's also premium: "We only put our name on products that bring value to the end customer." He describes a "good, better, best" striation in the catalog, where Bron-branded tapes are in the top tier.
Shand highlights Bron's Original Killer Red Tape as a prime example of the brand. "Killer Red Tape is the world's best double-sided tape," he says. "There are other companies that make products that look like it, feel like it, and smell like it, but they do not perform like Original Bron Killer Red Tape."
Other new and innovative products include Bron Killer Bee Tape with "a 30-day clean removal in direct UV," says Shand, and BlastShield, a new industrial innovation in a durable masking material for sandblasting and other abrasive processes.
Success in aerospace led to the establishment of the standalone Bron Aerotech division a decade ago, and it now accounts for about 20 percent of total sales. The growth has largely been based on innovating in a staid industry. "Since the '40s, people have produced metal-bodied planes the same way," says Shand. "The greatest driver of cost is human error." Oversized or misplaced drill holes or the wrong fasteners can quickly break a budget.
But the new patent-pending Bron Template helps minimize manufacturing mistakes with color-coded tape printed with exact schematics and instructions. "It's a clear Mylar in which Bron precision-prints CAD-drawn patterns," says Shand.
Boeing is currently using Bron Template to make 747-8 passenger and freight aircraft and 767 tankers, and several other manufacturers are currently testing the system. "We've got irons in the fire with OEMs and tier one manufacturers," says Shand.
Beyond the HQ and aerospace division in Denver, Bron has additional offices in Arizona, Utah, California, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. The company also just opened its easternmost office in Atlanta in early 2017.
After a few flat years, sales grew 8 percent in Jan. 2017. "I am hoping for more" in 2017, says Shand, who took over for Flynn as CEO in January after heading Bron Aerotech and Southern California sales in his 14 years with the company.
While Bron is moving into e-commerce and social media, Shand describes the company's "against-the-grain philosophy" for sales. "They say cold-calling is dead," he says. "We knock on every door just like Jim did 40 years ago. We knock on every door and turn over every rock. That's what built our business in the beginning and what builds our business today."
Challenges: Reinventing the model of a "typical brick-and-mortar distributor," says Shand. "Just having local stock is not enough value as it was 10 to 20 years ago."
Bron's strategy involves adding value by converting and customizing tape, and the company has recently boosted its inventory of CNC machines. "We're really making an investment into our converting capabilities," says Shand.
Opportunities: Bron-branded tapes account for about 30 percent of sales, and converted tapes are about 30 percent; Shand sees room for growth. "Bron-branded products are outgrowing traditional sales," he says.
The Atlanta office represents new geographic territory for Bron. "It's our first venture in many years going east of the Mississippi," says Shand. "We've already secured significant customers and business in the Atlanta area. That is hopefully going to springboard us into other areas for growth."
But he adds, "We're not going to forget the areas we're already in," and highlights Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and Utah as particularly dynamic markets for the company.
Needs: "We're always looking for talent," says Shand. "Having that talent pipeline and a lot of different resources for talent is always a need for us."
Millennials have been great employees for Bron, he adds, but they've also demanded a different kind of workplace. "They want to stand up at their desk and have a flexible work schedule."