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Rochester Top 100: Distributor succeeds by seizing the moment

Rochester Business Journal
January 31, 2014

Thirty-two years ago, Donald Tomeny and Robert Latour who had never met became partners in B&L Wholesale Supply Inc., a roofing and siding business that was struggling to remain a going concern. The men, along with third partner Arthur Finocchario, have grown the company from five employees in 1982 to 231.

“We were tiny. We had an old truck large enough to deliver roofing and two smaller ones; they were all old, kind of broken down. We were getting these orders, so (we) would be out at night delivering roofing off these trucks because we didn’t have enough employees,” said Tomeny, the president.

Founded in 1950 by Frank Baumer and Thomas Ludlum, the company focused on distributing roofing and siding products.

By the early 1980s, Ludlum, the surviving partner, was ready to retire. He chose Latour and Tomeny to take over because he believed they would work well together.

“We just got dealt a hand where it was really kind of a dream hand,” Tomeny said. “We were very lucky; we were in the right spot at the right time, and we’ve made the most of it.”

He added: “We both had the same idea; it’s fairly simple: As long as you tell somebody that you’re going to do something, you have to do it.”

Vice President Finocchario was made a partner in 1986. He was key to expanding the commercial roofing side of the business.

Today the company distributes siding, residential roofing, commercial roofing, windows, panelized lumber, stone veneer and decking to regional customers, contractors and builders. The business sits on nine acres on Hartford Street. The company plans to focus on the growth of its panelized lumber segment this year.

It has four locations: Rochester, which has 100 employees; Buffalo, some 70 workers, Jamestown, 22 staffers, and Erie, Pa., roughly 26 people.

The three partners decided early that they would run the business by the standard of basic empathy.

“It’s real simple: It’s just people,” said Latour, also vice president. “What is that other person’s perception? Because I may think this, and that’s where I’m going to come from, but that’s not always right.”

Despite some slower months—for all of January 1982 the firm sold only 1,400 square feet of shingles—the firm gained momentum and began to add employees.

The three partners knew they had to stay in the present moment.

“Some people are just married to goal setting. I think goal setting is useless,” Tomeny said. “Do the best you can do; whatever you get, you got.”

Business picked up because of a customer focus and the partners’ vision to expand to other markets, starting first in Buffalo.

“In the late ’80s we were kind of hoping it might even slow down a little bit so that we could get around the front side of it,” Tomeny said. “I wouldn’t say that we were a classically run business; we were just kind of constant.

“We never looked at doing anything with the idea of how much money we were going to make.”

Adding trucks with conveyors was important early on. B&L Wholesale Supply was the first firm here to use conveyors for rooftop delivery from its vehicles, officials said. Today the company’s 30 trucks, from small box vans to heavy trucks with booms for lifting large loads, cost $30,000 to more than $350,000 each. The large investment is worth it to management.

“It’s not the most efficient way to run a business,” Tomeny said. “But to get that level of service that (we) need,  that makes a difference.”

The employees are vital to continued success and are given some room to do their jobs.

“They like it here because we’re in the game and we’re never not,” Latour said. “The three of us, we have good relationships with everybody; we interact with them, and they know we’re part of this.”

No people were cut during the last recession, and 2008 was the only year when the company did not increase wages. The business was able to bounce back with the gradual rebound of the economy.

The company expects to grow by 9 percent this year with the same mindset it has had since 1982.

“We don’t want to be beat,” Tomeny said. “We know how we got to where we are, and we know how quick you can lose that if you lose sight of it.”

The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. This year’s Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 5. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.

B&L Wholesale Supply Inc.

A distributor of residential roofing, siding, windows, doors, decking, veneer stone and commercial roofing.
Founded: 1950
Top executive: Donald Tomeny, president
2013 ranking: 91
Employees: 231
Locations: Rochester, Buffalo, Jamestown and Erie, Pa.
Website: www.blwholesale.com

1/31/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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