After it’s start in 1972 with one branch office, Gulfeagle Supply, headquartered in Tampa, Fla., now has over 600 employees, 52 branch offices throughout the country and annual sales exceeding $400 million.
Founder and CEO Jim Resch built his roofing empire after learning the roofing business at a young age, but he credits the people who have surrounded him over the years for his company’s continued success.
Supply HistoryJim Resch spent his early years in Western Pennsylvania, where he completed his college career. He accepted a sales training position with Allied Chemical’s Barrett Division in Cleveland and became a sales rep in Detroit.
“It was in the mid-60s and the building material industry was growing and rapidly changing,” Resch said. “The Barrett Division had a full line of building products, but was an industry leader in commercial roofing products when I became a Barrett Sales representative in Detroit.”
Resch married his high school sweetheart shortly after moving to Detroit. “It seemed overnight that I was married, lived in a huge, bustling city and was representing one of the top and most respected building material manufacturers in the country,” Resch recalled.
There were a number of challenges for a young, newly married roofing salesman in the fast-growing Motor City. “Most of my competitors were much older, both in age and experience, and my customers were even older and wiser,” Resch said. “Fortunately, my customers became my mentors and assisted me by providing a fast start in the building material business. My experienced competition contributed by forcing me to build and maintain a strong business ethic.”
Celotex Corporation acquired the Barrett Division of Allied Chemical in 1968, and Resch was promoted to field sales manager based in Atlanta.
“My new position in Atlanta required managing and supervising the efforts of others, which presented a number of new challenges,” he said. “My first and most important challenge in people management was to learn to understand that all people are different and unique.”
Resch quickly learned “one size does not fit all.”
“Learning to take the time to learn and understand what motivates people, then it became easy to have open communication and build mutual respect,” he said. “In my opinion, the one constant in people relations is that all people respect being respected.”
During his time in Atlanta, Resch’s duty as a field manager was to develop and grow the company’s business in Florida.
“My sales team was comprised of a mix of experienced salespeople as well as rookies,” Resch said. “The rookies required most of my time while the experienced group only required my support, advice and counsel.”
Startup Company FoundedResch said Eagle Supply of Tampa was the primary supplier of roofing and other building materials in the 1960s. Eagle Supply was founded in 1905 and received its factory shipments of materials by railcar.
“They would then deliver by truck to dealers throughout the state,” Resch recalled. “Florida in the mid-60s was growing at a rapid pace and offered opportunities for the formation of new businesses to service the growth.”
Resch remembered making sales calls in the Tampa area in the early 1970s and was in the process of working with new account when fate stepped in.
“My distributor prospect was a new startup business that was formed by a group of salespeople who had just left Eagle Supply for greener pastures,” Resch said. “One week later, I returned to Tampa with a carload of samples and literature to set up the new distributor, only to find that the principals of the new startup got a case of cold feet and fled to other greener pastures.”
When Resch returned to his Atlanta home, he discussed the events of the day with his wife, Molly. “We decided that with limited funds, a little home equity, and some help from the small business people, that the time had come to form our own business, which we named Gulfside Supply,” he said.
The first challenge for Resch was the requirement of a waiting period for incorporation. “So we waited,” he said, noting that Gulfside Supply was incorporated in Tampa on Feb. 3, 1972. “I’m sure not to forget that date, but I realized that there were unknown challenges ahead.”
With limited delivery equipment, Resch said he employed an experienced inside salesperson, as well as a young rookie, to operate the small rented warehouse facility.
“My skills were basically in sales due to the excellent training provided at the time of my hire with the Barrett Division of Allied Chemical,” he said. “So I hit the road in Southwest Florida selling and delivering and, of course, collecting when necessary.”
Looking BackResch’s early experiences as the owner of a fledgling company quickly taught him people buy from people. “Many of my early customer friends are still doing business with us today, or in some cases their children or grandchildren,” Resch said.
As Gulfside Supply grew, the company recognized that business in the shelter industry had and would continue to have business cycles, which dictated a designed, cautious growth strategy.
“We were certainly anxious to conquer the world, but we were also cautious not to overextend our resources,” Resch said. “Our cautious growth strategy allowed me to say that our company has never missed taking our allowed cash discounts for prompt payment of our business bills.”
Along the way, Gulfside Supply’s employees developed a “competitive and winning desire” that resulted in a strong work ethic, Resch said.
“I’d like to take the credit for building a strong work ethic,” he said, “but the real credit goes to an earlier lesson that ‘people respect being respected.’”
Mutual respect eventually helped Gulfside Supply gain its first acquisition: a decades-old and highly respected lumber company in Jacksonville, Fla.
“The owners were up in age and desired to only transfer their business to someone whom they trusted to carry on the traditional values they had built over the years,” Resch said. “The owners - who were my grandfather’s age - shared a mutual trust with me. I felt like I was being mentored by more experienced entrepreneurs, just like my experience gained in my sales territory in Detroit.”
As time passed, Gulfside Supply was able to acquire other businesses and open up other locations from scratch.
“The state of Florida was good to our company, but it became evident that we needed to diversify geographically,” Resch said. “Today we market our products and services throughout a large portion of the U.S.”
One of the company’s larger acquisitions included a stock purchase of JEH Eagle Supply. “This acquisition, which involved the much-revered Eagle Supply, resulted in Gulfside Supply now using Gulfeagle Supply as our brand name.”
Operating in the 21st CenturyAccording to Resch, Gulfeagle Supply’s business model is based around individual entrepreneurship.
“Each of our operating branches basically are separate businesses with its own leader/manager and staff,” Resch said. “Each manager has profit and loss authority and responsibility, which is a key to responsible cost controls.”
Resch said the company’s main office in Tampa, which other firms call their corporate offices, is known as the Branch Service Center (BSC).
“The center’s main responsibility is to assist the branches that are spread throughout the U.S. to meet our unified goal as express in our mission statement,” he said.
The mission statement is as follows: “Gulfeagle Supply is dedicated to the principle of providing our customers with quality products and superior service. We strive for success through our commitment to this principle, as we realize our livelihood depends upon it.”
Still, Resch said the dynamics of distribution in the shelter industry is quite simple. “The manufacturer needs distributors and the distributor needs the manufacturer,” he said. “The contractor needs the distributor and the distributor needs the contractor. The distribution chain dictates a very clear tie to one another. This is why in a sense we are all partners.”
Resch said Gulfeagle Supply’s customers range from startup companies to large contractors. “It’s been our choice to tailor our products and services to fit the needs of any shelter contractor,” he said. “Gulfeagle’s Financial Services personnel are key toward maintaining our customer-partner alliances especially because their needs vary, particularly during changes in business cycles.”
Gulfeagle Supply remains a private enterprise and has a succession strategy in place. The tree of responsibility includes Resch’s immediate family, including his wife, Molly, and his son, Bradley.
“It was learned early that all the team members of Gulfeagle’s organization have and continue to be the reason for our continued growth,” Resch said. “Almost any distributor organization with adequate capital can secure warehouses, transport equipment, materials as well as the ability to manage receivables. What is often missing is well-motivated and experienced personnel that make the engine go.”
Gulfeagle Supply President Bradley Resch is head of the management team. “We are continuing our strong commitment to training at all levels throughout the organization,” Jim Resch said. “It is crystal clear - people make the difference.”
In conclusion, Resch said the country is going through one of those business cycles that affect almost every segment of the economy, especially in the new housing market.
“The cycle, as always, will turn, which makes it all-important to remain prepared for the new opportunities as they occur,’ Resch said. “Gulfeagle is proud and fortunate to exist and prosper in our free enterprise system.”
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