At Corp Brothers Inc. in Providence, innovation doesn’t happen until management first reviews volumes of government regulations and trains employees to understand them. No one at the company would have it any other way.
“We’re a distributor of gases for industrial and medical uses, as well as welding equipment and dry ice,” said company President Avery “Whip” Seaman Jr. “This is the sort of business where you only get one chance to make a mistake.”
Corp Brothers’ Niantic Avenue facility features a half-dozen storage tanks holding oxygen, nitrogen, helium and other gases, and every day their trucks travel across southern New England, delivering high-pressure cylinders filled with those materials. The list of customers is long and diverse, including everything from hospitals and restaurants to garages and machine shops.
As he talks about the business, Seaman rattles off a long list of alphabet agencies spanning every level of government. He’s proud of his company’s ability to work with all their rules and restrictions. “We’re regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation for everything we ship. And obviously there are OSHA standards. Some of these gases have medical uses, so we’re regulated by the FDA. And because some of these materials could be hazardous if they were spilled, the EPA, too. And now there’s Homeland Security, to ensure none of those items they call ‘chemicals of concern’ fall into the wrong hands.”
As the name suggests, for most of its history Corp Brothers has been family-owned. Recently, however, the company was purchased by T.A. Corporate Holdings Inc. “I have two sons, and they opted out of the business, so I thought I could help them out in a different way,” said Seaman, who took the reins from his own father back in the ’80s. “A year ago last September, I sold the company to a private equity firm in New York, and they merged us with another [firm]. We still have our corporate name and corporate identity.
“In business, you can’t stand still, and I decided we weren’t big enough ourselves to eat someone else,” he said. Now we’re one of three gas companies linked together – they bought one in Pennsylvania, too – and that creates a lot of synergies for us. If we need extra tanks, for example, we can call on the other two.”
Through the years the company’s mission has changed several times. When Henry and Frederick W. Corp first opened a Providence shop back in 1893, they were building bicycles and doing nickel-plating work. As cars began taking over city streets, the machine shop and brazing equipment was utilized to make replacement parts, including shafts, bushings, bearings, wrist pins, piston rings and pistons. The brothers manufactured thousands of manifolds for the Rhode Island-built Maxwell-Briscoe automobile.
Two decades later the shop was doing oxy-acetylene welding jobs for jewelers and textile mill operators. The Corp Brothers became large buyers of the materials used in the process, and soon they were suppliers as well. Eventually the company stopped making bicycles and doing machine-shop work and sales of welding supplies and equipment became the sole focus. By the early ‘50s they were warehousing thousands of cylinders of oxygen, acetylene, argon, and others gases at their facility, then at the corner of Brook and India streets.
Avery Seaman – father of today’s company president – quit the textile business and bought Corp Brothers in 1954. To provide better service to their customers, the company started filling cylinders. Oxygen, used for welding, cutting and a growing medical market, was the first gas pumped at the site.
Today the company has two 11,000-gallon storage tanks for oxygen and nitrogen, an 18,000-gallon propane tank, a 12-ton carbon-dioxide tank and about 175,000 cubic feet for helium. The company produces no gases itself; the materials come from Praxair Inc., a worldwide supplier.
“Repackaging would better describe what we do,” Seaman said. “We store five basic gases, and with those different products, we have the ability to mix them on-site to your specifications.”
Seaman sees a bright future for the business.
“We mirror what the state of Rhode Island is trying to do,” he said. “They want to attract more high-tech and bio-tech companies. That’s our strength, and we’re well-positioned to serve that growing market.” •COMPANY PROFILE
Corp Brothers Inc.
Owners: T.A. Corporate Holdings Inc.
Type of business: Wholesale distribution of gases for medical and industrial uses, as well as welding supplies and dry ice
Location: 88 Niantic Ave. in Providence
Number of employees: 33 employees (24 in Providence and the rest in Hyannis, Mass.)
Year founded: 1893
Annual sales: WND