By Tina Manzer
Rudy Bond from Gym and Sports Solutions knows gymnasium bleachers – specifically bleacher boards. For 30 years, varying lengths of 3/4- and 1-inch Southern Yellow Pine have been his bread and butter.
Today, wooden bleachers are more popular than ever, explains Rudy from his office in East Texas. “We did more business by the end of July this year than all of last year. And last year was a record breaker in the history of the company.”
He attributes the resurgence, in part, to disruption in the supply chain. Getting plastic seating – wood bleachers’ alternative – to the U.S. from overseas has been more difficult these days and takes longer. “Those delays probably help us,” he admits. “We’ve not had a delayed shipment in years.
“But people also appreciate wood’s longevity and durability,” Rudy continues. “We’ve refurbished gymnasium bleachers that were 40 or 50 years old and they’re like new. That’s appealing to everyone right now, as concern over plastic seating in our landfills grows. And honestly, nothing’s prettier than natural Grade B & Better solid wood with our ceramic coating on it. It’s almost indestructible.
“Gym and Sports Solutions offers the highest quality solid Southern Yellow pine bleacher board,” he adds. “We can provide custom cuts, custom inks, stains and/or clear finishes.”
Rudy has been a Southern Pine Inspection Bureau grader for many years, and his family is five generations in the timber/lumber industry. “We owned sawmills in Illinois – me personally, and my father who at one time owned the largest hardwood lumber mill in the country. Also, for 21 years, we operated one of the biggest wood-preserving plants in the Midwest, where millions and millions of board feet of lumber came through.
“We started a moulding subsidiary and that’s how we got into the bleacher-board industry,” he continues. “We started supplying bleacher boards to Irwin Seating, just north of our plant in Illinois. Irwin is one of five major manufacturers of telescopic wood gymnasium seating in North America, along with Hussey, Sheridan, Royal Stewart, and Interkal Seating.”
When schools need bleachers, they contact Gym and Sports Solutions directly or work with bleacher installers who, in turn, call Rudy for material. “We do business with 400-plus installers across the country, so I am fairly certain there are no other manufacturers of bleacher boards in the U.S. that do the kind of volume we do,” Rudy says.
The same holds true for meeting standards of high quality. “Our product – you can’t find it. Mills don’t do it anymore,” Rudy explains. “Everyone’s into volume production; they don’t want to do high quality. No one, out of all the hundreds of sawmills in the United States, does a B & Better, so I buy C & Better and upgrade it.”
The bulk of Rudy’s business is bleacher repairs large and small. From his 17,000-square-foot facility in Jacksonville, Texas – equipped with a fire suppression system to protect inventory – he ships boards all over the country from three loading docks.
“I got a call just the other day from a contractor who said, ‘Mr. Bond, we need six boards for a gym in Topeka, Kansas. Here’s the stain color we want,’ so we shipped them out pronto. At the same time, we just shipped a huge order – 300 boards – to a school in Apple Valley, California.
“Schools are required to conduct annual maintenance on gymnasiums and if they’ve got broken or cracked boards, they have to replace them as quickly as they can. They can get in serious trouble if they don’t,” he says. “If they want to give their gym a total refresh, schools can have their bleacher-seat boards removed and shipped to me. I’ll run them through our double-headed sanders and take them down a 32nd or 16th of an inch, then finish them with our ceramic coating. They’ll look brand new at a fraction of the cost.”
The bleacher-board business is seasonal. “When schools shut down for summer vacation, it’s Katie bar the door,” explains Rudy. “Orders start pouring in late March and in April for sure. We start shipping in late May and we ship daily all the way through Labor Day, practically. We slow down a little and then pick back up when schools shut down for the holidays.”
“From the stump of the tree all the way through the mill, I’ve done it all,” says Rudy, but there’s at least one wood product that he doesn’t handle – edge-glued finger-joint boards. Little strips of wood are attached up and down the boards using a glue that contains urea formaldehyde. It’s a Volatile Organic Compound that can cause respiratory irritation and other health effects.
“Our boards are solid wood, there’s no glue,” he explains. “Architects are aware of the dangers now, so they specify other materials for school use, including our boards.”
Bleachers are being specified more often today by architects and designers of schools and office space where presentations and casual meetings take place. “It’s an area we want to break into,” says Rudy. “We’re getting calls now from universities that want bench seating up to 16 feet long. We recently sent bleacher boards to a tennis-shoe conglomerate for a corporate display.”
When I asked him what he wanted readers of Ed Dealer to know about Gym and Sports Solutions, he said, “We pride ourselves on manufacturing and shipping the highest quality bleacher board available. We’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, and the company’s family owned and operated. We are committed to being a positive example to the bleacher board business community and industry and we adhere to the values of honesty, integrity, and professionalism.”