Five Minutes With Bud Adams of 100-year-old Belair Road Supply

Belair Road Supply's president, Bud Adams, reflects on the company's 100th year.

The feed and pipe supply business George Edward Markley started on Belair Road in Baltimore in 1917 was so successful it's still around.

Though demand for feed in the city went the way of horse-drawn transportation, the pipe side of Belair Road Supply flourished, said Bud Adams, Markley's 72-year old grandson and the firm's president since 1970.

The company, now based in Rosedale, is marking its 100th year. It has evolved and expanded to 85 employees and $40 million in sales and now supplies masonry products as well as pipes and valves for water and sewer projects. It is the state's largest independent water and sewer trades supplier, Adams said.

The company has survived, he believes, thanks to its workers' expertise and an ability to adapt to customers' needs.

"You talk with your customers," Adams said. "If they're looking for something, we'll try to get it for them. They come to us for our knowledge."

The business began focusing on building supplies in the 1930s, specializing in sewer construction.

At age 12, Adams started going into the store with his grandfather, helping to stock shelves.

"I would weigh out a pound or two of nails or a pound of cement dye from large bins," Adams wrote in a company history. "I would be covered in dye when returned to my mother."

Adams worked for his grandfather in high school and college, but after college went into chemical sales. His grandfather died in 1963, and seven years later family members were trying to sell the business. Adams stepped in and bought out the family.

"I decided to take the opportunity to run a business on my own," he said.

The business then primarily supplied clay sewer pipe to utilities contractors around Baltimore. He expanded into the water utility business in the 1980s, supplying valves and pipes.

"It goes along with the same contractor base; it's just a different product," he said.

In 1990, Belair Road Supply bought out a brick supplier, then later expanded into stone. The company supplied materials for pedestrian pavers at the Inner Harbor and outside buildings at the University of Maryland Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University as well as brick for the Washington Convention Center and new homes. Masonry accounts for about 35 percent of the business.

Adams expects the next generation eventually to take over the business, including his daughter, Stephanie Germano, the chief operating officer, and his son, Mark Adams, vice president of sales.

The biggest challenge, he said, has been staying independent in a field of larger competitors.

"Their access to credit, their access to materials and supplies on a large-volume basis makes it hard to stay independent," Adams said. "We're proud we are independent. We are able to meet with our customers, and they appreciate we can do things by virtue of phone call."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Bud Adams

Title: President of Belair Road Supply

Age: 72

Previous job: Jefferson Chemical sales

Education: Gilman School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Residence: Lutherville

Birthplace: Baltimore

Family: Wife of 26 years, two children, one granddaughter

Hobbies: Playing golf, watching University of Maryland and University of North Carolina sports, traveling

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