A Global Leader for Good Reason

Bon Tool Company

Bon Tool Company is a third-generation family business founded in 1958 and a global leader in manufacturing quality trowel tools for professionals in the construction industry. Formerly known as Masonry Specialty Company, Bon Tool was renamed in 1987 to better represent the wide selection of tools made for multiple construction trades. Bon operates two facilities in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, has a distribution center in Henderson, Nevada, and another smaller distribution facility in Chennai, India.
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Henry Ford once said that ‘You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.’ Actions speak louder than words, so a strong reputation derives from delivering the very best in quality and customer service, creating loyal customers who willingly sing the praises of your brand. For over sixty years, Bon Tool Company has been doing just that which has allowed the company to distinguish itself from the rest.

John Bongiovanni, president and grandson of founder Carl Bongiovanni, says that the company was established, “on the backbone of the corner pole system which is still used today by bricklayers. Everything we were doing in the early years was geared toward the masonry, brick, and block laying industry.”

Corner poles are also called speed poles or masonry guides. The metal posts are attached to the building and the foundation with mason’s lines connected between them to indicate perfectly level and plumb rows. The alignment system allows masons to construct a wall with straighter and more even courses and to do it far faster than traditional methods.

In the 1970s, Bon Tool began offering concrete and plastering tools and, “catering to all the trowel trades,” explains John. Such trades include concrete, flooring, masonry, drywall, roofing, hardscape, stucco and plaster. “We responded to market demands to develop an entire line of decorative concrete tools [and] materials which are all marketed under our affiliated brand called BonWay™. It is has grown to be a full line of approximately 500 items,” says John.

Paula Wight, public relations, adds that as the company grew, it starting adding accessories for the trowel trade. “As our product lines have grown, we’ve also continued to add items that would serve those lines.” Such items include safety gear, tool bags, and general construction layout tools, for example which are used by most all construction trades.

Bon Tool has over six thousand products and growing. “We look at our product lines as industry-specific,” explains John. “We have also come up with some different brands which gear more toward the quality or specifics of the product.”

Paula adds that Bon Tool uses brands to better identify quality or value, “and not necessarily a price point,” noting that some brands are imports while others are made in the United States. “Very few of our tools are geared toward a homeowner,” aside from the company’s thrifty line which is a small line for the do-it-yourselfer.

“Typically, we keep everything in a good, better, and best category,” says John, clarifying that the Bon Trade Tough line provides a good economical option for professionals; Bon would be considered the better category; and Bon Pro Plus is the best in terms of quality and value. Some items may have a change in materials, a nicer handle, or made from heavier gauge steel, “which will drive the price up a little bit. But for the professional, that’s often what they’re looking for. That’s who we’re really catering to.”

Bon’s full product line is quite large so separating it into segments helps to distinguish the tools. For example, “Our line of construction bars and sledges is branded Bon RiverWorks for products made in the USA and Bon Lancer for similar products that are imported. This naming distinction helps our customers better compare the options available to them.”

Bon Tool’s location, about eighteen miles from Pittsburgh, enables quick and efficient service. For several decades, the company’s sales had a focus on markets in the mid-Atlantic and East Coast regions, “in part because of our proximity and familiarity of the marketplace,” says John.

In 2007, Bon Tool established a distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada, “to cut down on the transit time for orders shipping to the West Coast. Not only did it give us better service to the West Coast, but it also gave us better visibility and helped educate us on what types of products contractors of this region prefer,” he adds. “We learned a lot about geographic difference by becoming more implanted with the western industry.”

For example, as sales in western states grew, the company was able to acknowledge that magnesium floats used for smoothing and leveling concrete before finishing are popular across much of the United States but less so in the southwest, where wood floats are used. “It took us a little while to ‘clean up’ our offering and to suggest the right mix at the right price. But now, California, Nevada, Arizona, and other parts of the West Coast are some of our top performing regions,” says John.

The company employs an excellent engineering department that oversees quality control standards and who routinely research new materials. Part of the engineering team’s responsibilities involves spot checks. Further analyses of designed tools are, “taken to 3D print to make sure components will fit together. We’ll do some prototyping, and then it hits our production line. And then we’re ready to roll from there. With help from our engineering team we are able to turn our product drawings into graphic renderings which gives us a full 360-degrees ability to review the drawings.”

Ergonomic design is an important consideration for some products since poorly designed hand-held tools can lead to muscular stress, especially after repetitive use. The company has devised a patented Comfort Wave handle that is used on its concrete edgers and groovers and more.” The unique arched back and finger holds on the underside make it a more comfortable and slip-free handle,” says Paula.

“The edger and groover handle is definitely a winner,” John adds. “We relied on the professionals’ feedback, and got it right! Over the years, we’ve gotten to know a lot about the end users, so we’re able to leverage them for that feedback… We’re often trying to accommodate a special need or produce something to customer specifics.”

The company’s innovation goes beyond tool design. “Our marketing team was the first in our industry to print a full-color catalogue and publish a website.”

The company has a firm commitment in, “promoting workforce development and supporting vocational training. It’s truly one of the biggest and most important contributions we can make to the industries that we cater to,” says John. Since its inception, Bon Tool has been a sponsor and technical committee member for Skills USA’s masonry competition for high school and post-secondary students.

Bon Tool is a proud member of the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) and sponsors the association’s masonry skills challenge during the World of Concrete’s annual international event. This challenge is a competition for those with first, second, or third-year experience as masonry apprentices.

In addition, Bon Tool’s sales manager, “chairs [the] workforce development committee for the Pennsylvania Concrete Masonry Association (PCMA),” says John. Bon Tool is also, “a lifetime supporter of the National Masonry Instructor’s Association (NMIA), which is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. The association was organized with the help of my father with the goal to connect the education community with pertinent businesses that could help support instructors efforts and promote quality training programs.”

Over two years ago, Bon Tool established the Carl A. Bongiovanni Scholarship for Pennsylvania’s high school students to receive post-secondary funding for further education in the construction industry. “Both my grandfather and my father knew that supporting vocational training was an important part of the industry,” says John.

Along with the associations mentioned above, Bon Tool is a member of national associations such as Allied Recycled Aggregates (ARA); Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association (STAFDA); Associated General Contractors (AGC); and the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry (AWCI).

“Our affiliation with these national associations as well as the support of regional associations provide an important two-way street of communication,” says John. “We understand the importance of giving back to the communities. It also ensures that we are in the loop on trends and concerns of the persons working in the trades.”

“We do consider ourselves a leader in the industry, so it’s important to be a part of those national groups,” Paula adds. To be deemed a global leader in the industry is an accolade of which Bon Tool is particularly proud. Traditionally, Canada and Europe have been the company’s largest export markets, “but we take advantage of many other opportunities presented to us that further our global reach,” says John.

Numerous tradeshows are part of the initiatives to extend that global reach, and the distribution and warehouse facility in India, “promotes and educates the construction industry in India, the Middle East, and other surrounding countries,” explains John. “More recently, we hired a salesperson from Mexico, with a background in the Latin American construction market, and he has been able to grow our presence in Mexico and Latin/South America rather quickly.”

And a number of acquisitions over the years have been made, “for different strategic reasons,” he continues. The Wha-Lite brand, lightweight floats for applications of stucco, plaster and concrete, was the result of a Chicago company acquisition which was, “One of the first companies to use magnesium for plastering and concrete tools.”

Another recent acquisition in 2016, was that of Spray-Sok which was, “An interesting company out of California,” says John. This company manufactures headgear to be worn when spraying or painting and is a popular product. This headgear is used, “in the asphalt industry [or] anywhere where you’re concerned with getting splatter in your hair. You throw it away when you’re done.”

This headgear is also available in fire resistant material for welders, firefighters, or automobile racers, for example. This product “opened industries to us that we do not traditionally cater to,” adds John. “But our product line is so broad and so varied that we find crossover in all kinds of different and unintended industries as well.”

John believes that reaching a seventy or seventy-five-year legacy and beyond is a realistic future for Bon Tool Company. “The integrity with which we conduct our business each and every day is the same as that set by my father and grandfather before me,” he affirms. “We’re going to aim to distinguish ourselves on the quality and the expansive product line that we offer. We’re going to provide innovation, value, [and] service that’s second to none.”

Industry Changemakers

The construction industry has historically been slow to evolve, drawn to tradition over technology. As the industry is in a state of rapid innovation and advancement, organizations like the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) are working tirelessly to build strong member businesses that won’t fall behind.

June 26, 2019, 12:52 AM EDT