The W. C. Bradley Company, headquartered in Columbus, comprises several manufacturing, sales, and real estate enterprises. The company’s products include such home and leisure consumer products as barbecue grills, outdoor lamps, and fishing tackle, and its real estate division is a major seller, developer, and redeveloper of commercial and residential properties in Columbus. In 2005 Georgia Trend reported that the W. C. Bradley Company was Georgia’s nineteenth-largest privately held company, with approximately $650 million in revenue and 2,500 employees.
The W. C. Bradley Company’s history parallels the economic history of Georgia over the twentieth century. The company and its owners, the Bradley and Turner families, have also been central to the prosperity of Columbus, as it has developed from a commercial center for agricultural products to a center for textiles and industry to the current diversified economy that includes education, technology, and cultural resources.
The modern Bradley Company began as a cotton-factoring business, Bussey-Goldsmith and Company, which W. C. Bradley and his brother-in-law Samuel A. Carter bought in the late 1880s. They changed the firm’s name to Carter and Bradley and expanded the firm’s business to include the manufacturing of fertilizer and the retailing of groceries. In 1895 Carter sold his portion of the company to Bradley, who changed its name to the W. C. Bradley Company. Over the next thirty years, Bradley further diversified his holdings by investing in banks, textile mills, steamboats, farms, Coca-Cola, and the Columbus Iron Works. Each of these ventures served to strengthen the portfolio of the company and opened doors that led to the organization’s current production lines and corporate culture.
In 1917 D. Abbott Turner married Bradley’s only daughter, Elizabeth. Turner, becoming Bradley’s trusted confidant and heir, assumed a leadership position within the Bradley Company. Bradley selected Turner’s son, William (
In the late 1940s one of the organization’s major products, the potbellied stove, was becoming obsolete. Company leaders brainstormed for an alternative product, hoping to continue production at the Columbus Iron Works facility, and developed the idea of a charcoal grill, which they began to manufacture in 1949. That product formed the root of the new Char-Broil division, and the Bradley Company has subsequently manufactured gas grills, smokers, and other products for outdoor cooking. The company is vertically integrated, in that they manufacture grills and replacement parts and market many of these products through Web sites, catalogs, and wholesale distribution to retailers.
In 2004 Char-Broil announced that it would begin outsourcing the production of grills to a factory in the south of China by the end of 2006, a move that required the elimination of 500 full-time and up to 1,000 seasonal jobs.
The Bradley Company’s other two manufacturing divisions, Lamplight and Zebco, were acquired by the company in 1998 and 2001 respectively. Lamplight, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, produces lamps and oils that are sold as the brands Lamplight and Tiki. Zebco, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a leading designer and marketer of fishing tackle, including the brand names Rhino, Quantum, Lew’s, and Martin. Both of these divisions conduct much of their manufacturing overseas, with the merchandising, management, order processing, and fulfillment taking place domestically.
In 2001 the company formed W. C. Bradley Real Estate. Previously the company had owned land and had been involved in commercial and residential development, but its interest was limited to the initial sale of developed properties. The new division actively involved itself in the development of malls and subdivisions and the adaptive reuse of historic properties. In 2003 the division built (at a cost of about $22 million) the Synovus Centre, an office building and parking deck complex adjacent to the corporate campus for Total System Services Incorporated, a division of Synovus, along the Chattahoochee River in Columbus. The division was also involved in the redevelopment of Uptown Columbus and with the building of lofts and apartments for Columbus State University students. The redevelopment of the Pillowtex factories on the site of the historic Eagle and Phenix Mill complex began in 2003.
The Bradley Company, along with its related entity, the Bradley-Turner Foundation, is a major benefactor of educational, cultural, and social service efforts in the Columbus area. The company has been recognized by its employees and by the Georgia Department of Labor as a good place to work because of its emphasis on community support and servant leadership.