Thanks to Tracy Smith and the Centerline Brackets team for powering CSI’s inaugural Learning Madness Tournament last month. https://www.csiresources.org/learning/learning-madness
Here, we sit down with Smith, who established Centerline Brackets with her husband, Chris Smith, in August 2012 in St. Augustine, Fla., with the vision and determination to become the global leader in countertop brackets and supports
Born in Ohio and raised on Florida’s First Coast, Smith spent her early career devoted to many years working for the Department of Defense. Her time with the DoD, prior tenure in the banking industry and subsequent 14-plus years working for a national not-for-profit organization instilled in Smith a profound respect for time-honored procedures, proven best practices and consummate service.
Can you please share an overview of Centerline Steel and Centerline Brackets, and how your company supports your clients and partners?
Our company, which is a division of Centerline Steel, LLC, is a majority-woman- and family-owned business dedicated to uncompromising product quality. Additionally, we’re zealous about delivering superior customer service.
All of our brackets are made of 100% American steel, manufactured in our state-of-the-art facilities in the nation’s oldest city and shipped worldwide. In addition to our portfolio of countertop supports meeting the greatest number of conventional needs, Centerline’s full-service shop creates custom products to match any customer specifications.
How did you and Chris decide to enter the AECO industry?
When Centerline launched, most of our customers were individual homeowners who had been told by their countertop installers that they needed to source support brackets. As our business grew, we began to see a change in customer demographics. Over the last four or so years, our customer base has shifted significantly to include contractors, architects, engineers and professional builders.
One of the key tasks of our Director of Research & Development, Kyle Cromer, has been discovering the best way to present Centerline and our products more directly to the AECO industry. Over the last year-and-a-half, Centerline has made a concerted effort to learn more about the professional organizations and resources available to the industry and how we can contribute.
What’s been your experience being a woman CEO in a male-dominated industry?
When we started we had a one-person office, and that person was me. After about a year, my sister came to help with customer-service calls, so there were two women answering the phones. When the call was from a female homeowner there was instant rapport and comfort. When an installer or builder was male, however, there often seemed to be some hesitancy on his part to talk to a woman. Men would frequently ask if there was someone else they could speak with.
They weren’t disrespectful; our perception was that men thought a woman wouldn’t know much about construction. In the beginning I did lean on Chris because of his background in homebuilding coupled with his expertise in cabinet-making and the supports cabinets require. But I listened and learned so I could speak confidently about our products, how to install them and the basics of construction.
I am driven to work hard and succeed at whatever job is on my plate. It’s just who I am. Being a woman is a bonus. I was raised to believe I could do or be anything by working hard, being honest and treating others the same way I want to be treated. I’ve never felt that being a woman has held me back or been a negative.
Any tips for working with family?
I think the secret is in having clearly defined job duties. From the beginning, my husband and business partner, Chris, has been responsible for operations in the shop. I handle all the office operations. My sister joined the team for a few years to manage customer service.
We were told by our accounting firm that when companies are just starting out and there’s no money, everyone gets along because the focus is on becoming a viable business. It’s usually when the company becomes profitable that issues start to arise. They advised us to define roles and duties early on and forget that we’re all family. During working hours, we are business partners—not husband and wife or sisters. That advice served us well.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
We’re very grateful that manufacturing was designated an essential business, which protected the jobs of our team members and allowed us to continue business. That said, transportation slowed down virtually everywhere, so getting things delivered gave us challenges for the first time ever. The most-important thing with customers, after all, is to manage their expectations.
We updated our website with conspicuous language noting that shipping would take more time. Because of our commitment to matchless customer service, we sometimes double-shipped to ensure an order got to its destination as quickly as possible.
I am blessed as a business owner, as our employees are our friends and extended family. We have a great group here. Finding the right people and keeping them is important—especially in times like these.
What are some of the common opportunities and challenges you see with the companies and brands you work with, and how does Centerline help those companies capitalize on their initial success and help them continue to grow?
Customers often present project designs that are challenging to implement without an understanding of what is both possible and wise from an engineering perspective. Centerline leverages years of experience and its engineering assets to fulfill the project specifications with safe and cost-effective solutions. Providing these services allows our clients to confidently take on some of the more profitable and difficult projects that might otherwise be passed over.
I understand you personally completed the CSI Specs 101 course and are recommending it to your colleagues. Why this resource, and how might you incorporate it into the services you offer right now?
As we become more involved with the AECO industry, we felt it was important to be more aware of the roles of the design team and how specifications are written, read and utilized throughout the construction process. By educating our staff on the specification process, we believe it brings added value to our customer base by uniquely allowing us to be a technical resource while better understanding the needs and challenges faced by members of the design/specification community.
What opportunities does Centerline see in the AECO industry—both for yourself and your partners?
As the boundaries expand for evermore-elaborate designs, we see being a part of the AECO industry as an opportunity to help innovate and provide new solutions. Collaborating with clients, engineers and design specialists gives us all an opportunity to create and improve current offerings.
What’s the easiest way CSI members can access your products, and start including them in the projects they are working on right now?
Centerline is listed in the following platforms:
BSD SpecLink – listed in database
- 06 41 00 – architectural case woodwork
- 10 56 17 – wall-mounted standards and shelving
MasterSpec – 3-part specs
- 12 36 40 – stone countertops
Arcat – 3-part specs, CAD and BIM
- 05 58 00 – formed metal brackets
- 10 56 17 – wall-mounted standards and shelving
- 12 36 05 – countertop support brackets
CSI members are welcome to visit www.countertopbracket.com or give us a call at 888-960-3854 for additional information.
Centerline’s primary goals for 2021?
In late 2021 we intend to expand our product offerings by utilizing our CNC assets, robotics and additive manufacturing. We will also begin offering new and current A36 products in 316 stainless, as well as 7065 and 6061 aluminum alloy. Additionally, we are in the beginning stages of expanding our facility by 18,000 sq. ft.
Learn more about Centerline Brackets right here. https://www.countertopbracket.com