South Jersey Welding Supply

A work hard philosophy and focus on superior customer service to exceed customer expectations

To consistently meet and exceed the expectations of our customers and all aspects of our business; To represent both producer and user in searching for problem solving products and services; To grow technical competence; To foster an entrepreneurial attitude among all levels of management and to provide a suitable work environment, competitive compensation and an opportunity for advancement, so as to ensure long-term employment.

South Jersey Welding Supply
  • President: Robert Thornton, Jr.
  • Headquarters: Maple Shade, New Jersey
  • Founded: 1974 (dates back to 1946
    through acquisitions)
  • Branches: 3
  • Total # Employees: 40
  • Website:

These words from 2003 GAWDA First Vice President Bob Thornton, Jr. define the mission for his companies, South Jersey Welding Supply, headquartered in Maple Shade, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Welding Supply located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Work Hard Philosophy: A Family Tradition
Pennsylvania Welding Supply, founded in 1946, was near bankruptcy when it was acquired by Robert V. Thornton, Sr. in 1962. His belief that hard work and study are the foundation of success set the tone for what has become one of the most respected independent welding distributors serving customers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond.

Thornton, Sr. worked hard and studied his craft, utilizing the experience he gained while working as a welder for the Todd-Bath Iron Shipbuilding Corp. in Portland, Maine and later while serving in the United States Navy during World War II where he repaired submarines after attending Underwater Welding and Cutting School. He also honed his sales skills while working as a salesperson for a company then known as Metal & Thermit Corporation (which later became Murex, a company eventually acquired by The Lincoln Electric Co.), and as a sales manager for Jersey Welding Supply.


Three generations of Thorntons (from right) Bob Thornton, Sr., Andy Thornton, Bob Thornton, Jr., Dave Thornton

Growing up in a family in which they were taught the merits of studying and working hard, Robert’s sons worked for the family business as teenagers and joined the company as young adults. Bob Thornton, Jr., now president, joined the company in 1970 and David, now vice president, joined the company in 1974. Their sister, Maureen Bickmore, is office manager.

The philosophy of hard work and study is being passed down to a third generation. Bob’s sons, Andy, 26, is a salesperson with the company’s Automated Arc Systems division, and Mathew, 24, is the purchasing agent. Dave’s son, David, 23, is the Maple Shade store manager.

Today, the companies employ 40 (seven of whom are family members) at four locations.

Growth By Acquisition
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pennsylvania Welding Supply flourished. The Northeast Philadelphia area was home to a large number of metal fabrication companies. Says Bob Thornton, Jr., “Eighty percent of our business came from 20 accounts. At one time, we did all of our business within a 25-mile radius of our store.”

By 1974, heavy industry had begun to leave the area, eroding Pennsylvania Welding Supply’s base of customers. Smaller distributors found it difficult to compete, creating increased opportunities for the mergers and acquisitions which would create larger, regional independent distributors. In 1974, Thornton Enterprises was formed, for the main purpose of purchasing cylinders.


The Vineland, New Jersey branch has a fill plant.

The following year, the company began a series of acquisitions, purchasing strategically located companies within Philadelphia’s Delaware Valley. Those acquisitions included Vineland Welding and Equipment (1975), R&M Welding (1978), South Jersey Welding Supply and one E.R. Joseph location (1983) and Harris Welding and Equipment Co. (1986).

One of the changes the company has experienced is a decrease in the number of its competitors. Thornton explains, “When I joined the company, there were many independent distributors serving the Philadelphia market. Today there are just a handful. Now we must compete with all of the majors, national distributors and large independents.”

South Jersey Welding Supply has become a significant factor in its marketplace because of the “work hard” philosophy taught by Robert Thornton, Sr. to his sons and practiced by its many fine employees, who go back many years with the company. Bill Kelley, who works as an account sales representative and helps manage a branch location, met Bob Thornton, Jr. in eighth grade. They attended the same high school and college, and upon graduation Kelley, too, joined Robert Thornton, Sr.’s company. The company’s retention rate is very high, and many employees have been promoted through the ranks.

While the industry has experienced many changes, some things never change. Thornton explains, “The industry has changed since my brother and I entered it. Back then, business was plentiful, and a mistake was not as costly as it is today. We do not have the margin of error that we had thirty years ago. We have never forgotten the lesson my father taught us about the importance of working hard and studying our craft.”

Constant Evolution
While the growth of South Jersey Welding Supply and Pennsylvania Welding Supply can be traced to a series of acquisitions, its survival and prosperity can be attributed to its ability to change, matching its capabilities with the needs of a changing base of customers.


Fill Plant Manager Chris Jaussi oversees the lab at the Vineland, New Jersey location.

As heavy industry moved from Philadelphia and the company expanded, additional branches were formed, each to serve a specific market. Today each of the four locations caters to a slightly different market. In Vineland, New Jersey, a 15,000 square foot facility houses administrative offices in addition to a fill plant. This location serves a customer base dominated by the glass industry and the agricultural sector. The Pleasantville, New Jersey branch supports the still-growing casino market, while the Maple Shade, New Jersey branch supports the sheet metal, HVAC-type accounts and mechanical contractors. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Welding Supply operates a traditional welding supply business and has developed Automated Arc Systems, which markets orbital welding equipment and robots, manipulators and positioners, serving a customer base spanning the east coast from Maine to the Carolinas. Since its inception, this highly successful venture has been headed by Stuart Struck, who has been with the company since 1973.

To illustrate how the company’s branches have evolved, Thornton explains, “Our Philadelphia operation is about 70% equipment and 30% gas. Over the years, with expansions and an evolution in the markets we serve, our New Jersey business is 70% gas and 30% equipment. There has been a distinct change from catering to manufacturing facilities to service-oriented businesses.”

The Future
While South Jersey Welding Supply’s growth has come from acquisition, Thornton believes the company’s future growth will be stimulated by entering related new market lines such as Automated Arc Systems. “We have taken our strengths and reapplied them in expanded market areas, selling non-traditional products in order to insure our future and the third generation’s future.”


Dave Baxter (left) and Phil Polillo make sure sales are steady in the Vineland store, whose customers are predominantly glass and agriculture markets.

When asked to describe his company in five years, Thornton predicts that the company could have as many as six stores, each serving a specific, unique market. He says, “The distributor of the future will grow by utilizing one of two tactics. He will either expand by serving new and additional product lines, or by becoming a large regional operation. I really believe we will see more of these regional companies.”

Thornton notes the trend of large distributors developing air separation plants. “While it’s not as common on the East Coast, there are quite a few examples of that type of activity on the West Coast.”

Another trend Thornton points to is the formation of alliances for the purpose of co-op purchasing and marketing concepts. As a past chairman of IWDC, Thornton has seen these organizations solidly establish themselves. He advises, “Today’s distributor must be constantly focused on growth, whether by acquisition or by marketing related product lines.”

The Benefits of GAWDA Membership
“My father established a company that has prospered for many years,” says Thornton, “and my brother and I have reaped those benefits. It is our responsibility to insure the company’s future.” One of the tools utilized by the second generation owners is the company’s membership in GAWDA.


South Jersey Welding Supply deliveries are always on time and accurate.

Thornton says, “The DOT, FDA, OSHA and EPA information made available by GAWDA is indispensable. The opportunity to network with my peers is frosting on the cake.” Thornton plans to do all he can to highlight the value of membership.

“GAWDA has been such an important part of my family’s business during the past 30-40 years. I feel an obligation to volunteer. I’ve benefited from membership in GAWDA in so many ways, it’s important that I give back to the association that has supported me over the years.”

Thornton emphasizes that to truly reap the benefits of membership, “the distributor must participate and not simply sit back and quietly take all that the association has to offer. I want to create an environment in which everyone feels they have something to offer.”

Study, hard work, and a focus on providing superior customer service. These are the cornerstones of South Jersey Welding Supply and Pennsylvania Welding Supply that have been passed from one generation to another and now another. They are the foundation and mission for every employee as they work to grow a successful company.

And they are the gifts that GAWDA’s new First Vice President brings to the association in this new year. Study, hard work, customer service. As an association looking to grow and succeed well into the future, Bob Thornton, Jr.’s gifts will be well-received as his name is added to the long list of wise men who have sat at the helm of the Gases and Welding Distributors Association.

With passion and commitment, the Gases and Welding Distributors Association’s newest Executive Committee Member will work hard “to meet and exceed the expectations of his customers.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association