Waldo Bros. Company
In 1869 John Aiden Waldo established Waldo Bros. Company (Waldo) as a small masonry supply company in New England. A few years later his brother, Charles S. Waldo, joined John and eventually bought John out, becoming sole owner.
Over the years, the business grew steadily until the Great Depression. When the economy took a turn for the worse, the family was forced to close down most of its offices throughout the region and relocate to a single location in Boston. Today, the business still operates from the same site, although the original building burned down and was rebuilt in the early 1970s.
While the Waldo family no longer owns the business, it has not strayed far; Leo A. Colgan worked for the founding family through the Great Depression. As the Waldo family became less involved, Leo took over the business and managed to keep the company afloat despite a near total reduction in volume and revenue during those hard economic times.
Leo’s son, Paul Colgan Sr., took over the business when Leo fell ill and purchased the company in 1985. Throughout his tenure, Paul was able to promote growth for the business, opening a second location in South Windsor, Conn. Paul operated the business until 1999 when he passed away. After several presidents cycled through at the discretion of shareholders, Paul’s daughter, Brenda Colgan, stepped up to run the business. She still serves as president today.
“We are currently a woman-operated company and are working through the process for certification as a woman-owned business,” Brenda explains. “I am one-sixth owner along with my siblings, one of which is Peter, who works in sales along with my nephew, Peter Shaw Jr., becoming the fourth generation to work here at Waldo”.
The company has again become a family-owned and -operated business. The Colgan family has chosen to keep the company’s original name in homage to the business’ rich history as a Boston fixture.
Over the years, Waldo has changed to suit the industry. “When I first came here 14 years ago, I would say loyalty, relationships and location were what set us apart,” Brenda reflects. “In this business, when you carry people through winters when times are tough, people remember that. That is one of the things that people remember about my father. Throughout the years our word, good consistent service and always having quality products in stock kept us going.”
Today, Brenda states that staying ahead means being willing to evolve with the industry. The market is constantly in a state of flux. The way manufacturers produce and sell products has changed. Many contractors opt or try to purchase directly from manufacturers for larger jobs as opposed to going through a distributor. The Waldo team is working to provide a higher level of service in order to make up lost ground with larger competitors infiltrating the market.
Suppliers have become more diverse in recent years. Big box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowes and Home Depot Supply (White Cap), have gotten into the contractor supply business with more commercial products than before.
“Now everyone does everything,” Brenda says. “We are still specialized within the masonry, concrete and waterproofing divisions. We do not offer roofing supplies or lumber. Our primary focus is still on masonry, but the other divisions are catching up as we diversify.”
To support that specialty niche, Waldo stands apart through service, an area where the big box stores cannot compete. The team offers expertise honed through experience, as many employees have been with the business for as long as 20 years or more. “People know they can come here and get the right answer,” Brenda elaborates.
However, that is not all Brenda attributes the company’s niche to. “On top of that, Boston is a brick town,” she continues. “A lot of retrofit and restoration work keeps us going. We strive to serve areas of convenience for our contractors by adding new product lines to the business in order to compensate for a dip in the masonry side of the business. For example, we just held our first training class on power tools. We never had the space before, but now we are making space for power tools. Our customers have asked for it because we are conveniently located downtown. We are also constantly adding or replacing products with ones our customers require.”
Leaving a mark on New England
With a long and rich history of supplying New England masons with materials, Waldo’s products are everywhere. “When we were kids, our uncle worked here with our father,” Brenda recalls. “Our cousins would complain that they couldn’t go anywhere without stopping the car and having to get out to look at a job we supplied. Their father, my uncle, would point out bricks and say, ‘This is Waldo Bros.’ brick!’ Of course, these bricks are everywhere around Boston.”
In 1895 Waldo supplied all the masonry material for the Boston Public Library, which is considered the palace for the people, designed by architect Charles Follen McKim. In 1933 Waldo supplied the construction products for the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse and then again in 2009 for its restoration.
In 1951, Waldo supplied all of the brick for the Freedom Trail, which connects all of downtown Boston. The team also provided glass block for the Boston Police Station, which was a unique material choice. Few precincts have as much light entering the building, but these blocks are all bullet-resistant while daylighting the space.
The business also provided glass block for Boston’s historical Big Dig project. It was used for vent shafts, as well as MBTA stations. The Big Dig was a huge economic stimulus for the city and Waldo saw an enormous bubble in sales for the projects stimulated by the depressed artery creating open space and buildings needing rehabilitation
More recent work includes supplying restoration materials for the Longfellow Bridge. “We also supplied the Duxbury Powder Point Bridge project,” Brenda notes. “We provided underwater repair mortar from Euclid for the pier repairs, as well. Another unique project has been the restoration of several Newport mansions.”
Waldo has proven diversity over the years. Customers know that the company can get just about anything needed, including custom specialty items for one-off sales. The team has even supplied specialty mortar for the Dominion Nuclear Plant in Connecticut, designed and tested to withstand safety threats in the highly sensitive environment developed by Five Star Products.
A bright future
The recent decline in the construction market across the United States added challenges for the small, independent supplier. “We struggled,” Brenda admits. “During the Big Dig we had 55 employees, now we have 22. We have faced a lot of challenges over the years. Our building in Connecticut collapsed under the snow a few years back, but it was a blessing in disguise. We decided not to rebuild and applied our insurance money to reinvest in other parts of the business.”
Still, the business is surviving; Waldo is back to a pattern of growth after a long, bleak few years. Brenda chalks much of the recovery to a crew of loyal and dedicated employees. Her team is devoted to meeting the needs of customers and the market rewards that. She worries most about the unknowns and the problems that could arise that are out of her control, which impacts the overall economy. Instead of dwelling on it, however, she and the team focus on the controllable aspects of business: providing quality products and reliable service to customers.
Now that the market is recovering, Brenda is optimistic. “There are a lot of new projects going up all across Boston,” she explains. “We are seeing a lot more new construction because young people are staying around and Boston has become a supportive business community. New England is steady and getting better. We will never see numbers like we did during the Big Dig again, but we are steady.” As the construction market in New England gets stronger, Waldo Bros. Company is ready to fill the growing needs of the construction industry throughout the region.
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