Our industry is built on relationships.

Is there a truer statement? I am writing this column in the early morning hours from Amelia Island, Florida, site of the 91st Southern Wholesalers Association convention. Less than 12 hours earlier, about 800 folks packed an overwhelmed foyer in the convention center here for the opening night reception where that relationship building and strengthening was in overdrive.

One company, in particular, that takes that relationship statement to heart is Wheat Ridge, Colorado-based George T. Sanders Co., a fourth-generation PHCP distributor.

And ASA and AD buying/marketing group member GTS had one torch-bearer in particular when it came to building and fostering industry relationships in the form of Bev Sanders, the wife of second-generation owner Gary Sanders. Bev Sanders died in late March at the age of 84 after a brief battle with cancer.

“She had a very big impact with our employees and customers,” says GTS CEO Gary Sanders, whose father, George, started the company in 1950.

“Bev was around all the time and was very tight with all our customers and employees. We have more than 200 employees and you can’t keep up with all of them, but she knew when people’s birthdays were. She was a huge part of our company. Bev was very outgoing and liked to mix with customers. She was a very caring person who had a lot of friends.”

The Sanders were high-school sweethearts, meeting at Lakewood High School in the Denver suburbs. The couple was married for 65 years and has six children, 11 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Three of the Sanders’ grandchildren are part of the GTS corporate management team (Reed White, Kyle Sanders and Danny Sanders).

A memorial service for Bev Sanders at Pinehurst Country Club in Denver was expected to draw around 250 folks — more than 500 showed up to pay their respects, including quite a few from out of state, Gary Sanders points outs.

Bev Sanders also was a fixture on the many customer trips the distributor has hosted over the years. “We have taken company trips the last 28 years all over the world to the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico and other places,” he says. “Bev was very active on those trips, making sure she could meet as many people as she could.”

White, the son of Gary and Bev Sanders’ daughter, Jill, and the company’s president, managing principal of operations, says his grandmother was a great mentor. “She would sit and talk with you and hear you out whether it was business or other things,” he says. “She was a great conversationalist.”

White points out Bev Sanders was a key proponent in the distributor getting into the showroom game, a division that continues to grow for GTS today. She also played a key role in the interior design of the company’s renovated corporate headquarters in Wheat Ridge.

“I will remember her work ethic,” White says. “She wanted to work morning, noon and night. There wasn’t a time at breakfast or dinner that she wasn’t talking about business. She was 84 and was still coming into the office every week. She was a great grandmother and a great friend. Her and Gary ran the company together and made it explode. We went from three branches to now 19 facilities, all under their ownership. Bev was a pillar in the industry.”

Kyle Sanders, GTS’ president, managing principal of sales, says he will remember his grandmother’s gumption the most. “She had this stubborn resilient Irish strength to her. I recently told her she reminded me of Scarlet O’Hara from ‘Gone with the Wind.’ She could straighten her back, square her shoulders, muster her courage and carry on, no matter what,” he says.

Gary Sanders says his wife’s way with people will be greatly missed.

“The most important thing is she had a personal touch and always made an effort to meet people and talk to them, rather than waiting back in the wings waiting to see you. She was that type of person,” he says. “That’s how you build a family business.”