After losing her dad – a career serviceman in the U.S. Air Force – when she was only four, Tracy Smith’s mother continued to raise her, instilling the importance of hard work, integrity and always striving to achieve one’s best.
“My first job was at a quick-service restaurant when I was 16, I was promoted to manager while still in my teens. Following several years working for a leading Florida-based bank system, in my 20’s I joined the Department of Defense,” Smith said. “My years with the DoD, coupled with my tenure in banking, instilled profound respect for time-honored procedures and proven best practices.”
It wasn’t until she started working with the American Culinary Federation that Smith truly found her passion.
“I discovered my calling in delivering exemplary service as senior events manager,” she said. “In my 14-plus years with the largest organization of professional cooks and chefs in the Western Hemisphere, I helped organize and execute the annual multi-day chefs’ conference serving the U.S. foodservice industry, as well as several regional events each year for culinarians throughout the country.”
In 2012, Smith left her position at the ACF to launch her own business, Centerline Brackets. Celebrating its seventh anniversary just last month, Centerline Brackets has quickly become a company worth watching serving customers all around the world.
Although she’s been impressively successful in her entrepreneurial journey, running her own business wasn’t always on Smith’s radar.
“I have always enjoyed working for other people and wasn’t sure I had the discipline to work for myself. Being accountable to someone else who is responsible for paying your salary is much easier than having employees holding you accountable for their paychecks,” she said.
Thanks to the encouragement and support from her co-founder, who also happens to be her husband, Smith was confident in her decision to leave the hospitality business and launch her own.
“For most of my professional career my husband often commented that if I worked as hard for myself as I did for other people there was no way we wouldn’t be successful if we owned our own business,” she said. “A friend presented us with an idea for a business and, after a lot of research on the product and marketplace, my husband and I believed we had the necessary skill set, so we took a chance.”
About the Company and Keeping their Competitive Edge
Part of the only 1.2% of women-owned manufacturing businesses in the entire nation, Smith is committed to exceeding customer expectations in the quality of products, speed of service and their customer service.
Their heavy-duty supports, which are all made using American products and equipment, are utilized in homes, hotels, apartments and business. Since they are designed to be hidden, Centerline’s products allow customers to “float” countertops, benches and shelves without bulky corbels or legs.
Devoted to customer satisfaction, Smith says Centerline Brackets’ edge over others in their market starts with their team members and ends with their high-quality, customizable products.
“We have a dedicated team to answer the phones and respond to customer emails and they exceed expectations daily. Even with on-demand manufacturing, we still offer same-day shipping on orders placed by noon. All brackets receive a powder-coat finish,” Smith said. “Additionally, our full-service fabrication shop can make custom orders.”
Centerline Brackets’ Company Culture
Leading with the same principals her mother taught her, Smith has fostered a company culture centered around always doing the right thing and performing the best they can.
“Our employees come from diverse backgrounds, but they all take pride in their work,” she said. “We are focused on exceeding expectations and building a reputation for honesty, integrity and a quality product.”
Being a family owned business, it was important to Smith to make every employee felt like they were part of the family.
“We want our employees to have fun coming to work and try to foster an upbeat environment with raffles, games and company cookouts. At the employees’ request, we held our first annual company-wide Nerf Battle Royale, office vs warehouse, in July,” she said. “Nothing says ‘Team Building’ like some good old fashion foam flinging fun!”
“Most important, we constantly pray for our business. We prayed about the decision to go into business and continue to pray regularly that we will honor God through our business and follow Biblical principles in its operation.”
Overcoming Challenges and Looking Toward the Future
Over the last seven years of growing Centerline Brackets, Smith says the biggest challenge has consistently always been space.
They quickly outgrew their first 1,200-sq.-ft. warehouse in the first year and over the next three, continued to lease all the available space until it was exhausted .
“We made the decision to purchase land and build our own facility and I’m happy to say that in January 2019 we moved into our own 9,000-sq.-ft. facility and have enough land to build another 9,000-sq.-foot building and 18,000-sq.-ft. building,” she said.
As quickly as they’re expanding internally, Smith is also ramping up their production to meet the increasing demand externally.
“In the long term we plan to expand our product line to offer additional styles of brackets as well as products outside of the construction industry,” she said.
What it Means to be an Honoree
Being selected as a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree this year provided the validation to keep moving forward for both Tracy and her employees.
“Being chosen as a Florida Companies to Watch honoree helps validate all the choices and sacrifices we made since starting our business,” she said. “While opportunities to make mistakes will still come our way, we are excited to have made it through the initial years when many businesses fail, and we know how to remedy mistakes quickly and thoroughly.”
“Being an honoree instills confidence and pride in the fact that our company is growing. Our team can accept credit and share our success.”
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
When asked what her advice for future entrepreneurs embarking on a similar journey as her, Smith reflected on a piece of advice that was given to her when she first started.
“I received advice early on to consider whether I wanted to run a business or grow a business. It took me a little while to understand what this advice meant, but now I share it with others. For instance, while I handle some accounting functions like check writing, we hired an accounting firm for most everything else. This frees up my time to build relationships with customers and earn their repeat business.”
Smith also shared the benefits of continuously learning through trusted mentors, enrolling in business courses and researching best practices – do the work and the rest will follow, she says.
“You have to be passionate about what you pursue if you want the chance to be successful. Obviously, passion doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure helps,” Smith said. “Even more important, however, is a tough skin, perseverance and a willingness to fail and start over again. Finally, realize that success isn’t measured solely in dollars.”
Notable Philanthropic Involvement
“To celebrate Centerline’s sixth anniversary in 2018 we launched our first international photo contest promoting ways in which our products provide solutions,” Smith said. “We donated $5,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and $5,000 to Jacksonville-based Wounded Warrior Project on the top prize winner’s behalf.”
The second-annual photo contest is currently under way, and this year, Centerline will match winners’ cash prizes with donations totaling $10,000 to their favorite charities.
Centerline Brackets is also active with other organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, Salvation Army, Fishing for Dreams, Children’s Home Society of Florida, Life Services of St. Johns County and the Wags and Whiskers Pet Rescue in St. Augustine.