Achieving Success While Surviving A Family Business
Founded in January 1924 by Robert Lee (R.L.) Brame, Brame Specialty Co., Inc., in Durham, N.C., was a one-man seller of sweeping compound. Today, nearly 85 years later, led by R.L.’s grandson, Randy Brame, Brame Specialty is a five-branch diversified distributor offering jan/san, paper and packaging, foodservice, office and other products.
Randy Brame has served in the industry for over 30 years and has served on a number of industry boards and associations, as well as serviced his community. He was recently honored for his dedicated efforts with the Jack D. Ramaley Industry Distinguished Service Award from ISSA, which recognizes those who have demonstrated leadership, professionalism and exceptional service for more than 10 years.
Q: On average only 15 percent of family businesses survive to the third generation, what do you attribute to Brame Specialty’s success?
A: You have to change and adapt as circumstances around you change. Change is often costly and with it no guaranteed outcome of success. Small family businesses such as ours have to assume risk at a personal level and we better be right more often than not. At Brame, each generation has had a great deal of respect for one another, both up and down. This allows us to embrace new directions with less personal turmoil.
Q: Working in a family business is never easy, do you have advice for other family-owned businesses?
A: Yes, be in a family-owned business because you enjoy it, not because of birthright. It’s not fair to you or your employees. For the first 20 years of my employment at Brame, I worked with my two older brothers, Bob and Jim, along with our dad. Bob elected to retire early to pursue other interests. Initially, we were alarmed and saddened by his departure, with my dad having sensed some personal degree of failure. It was not until sometime later when Bob confided to me the level of his unhappiness at work and how happy and fulfilled he had become, that I better understood him, as well as our selfishness in trying to get him to stay.
Q: Brame has been around for more than 80 years. What values or lessons from founder R.L. Brame does the company still hold today?
A: My granddad was a gentleman and a salesman. He loved what he did and cared genuinely for those around him, particularly his customers and employees. The core values he established by his action 85 years ago is what we strive for today. Growing up, it was not uncommon to meet someone, and upon recognizing that my granddad was R.L. Brame, and have them launch into a minute or two of accolades, letting me know what a great man my granddad was. While I don’t expect to receive the same level of testimonials, I would like people to have that same feeling when dealing with our company.
Q. Brame continues to diversify its product lines. Do you see diversification as a key to surviving in the jan/san marketplace?
A: The single best piece of advice I’ve received was from a dean at the Duke Fuqua School of Business over lunch one day. He said any decision you make today doesn’t affect you today or tomorrow but five years from today; and not making a decision is the same as making one. For some reason its simplicity just clicked for me. I was able to take a challenge and convert it to a direction, and ask where will this lead us? If it’s not where we want to go, then we have our answer. For example, if you have a growth strategy, then you’ll come up with a totally different response to an opportunity than someone that is happy being the size they are. What too often happens, though, is someone thinks they have a growth strategy but their action plan doesn’t support it. This demonstrates the level to which they are committed to their strategy. The danger is two-fold. You don’t reach your goal is the obvious one, but more importantly, your inconstancy confuses your employees and they lose focus on how to successfully implement your strategy.
Q: You have served on the board of numerous industry associations, how important is it to be hands-on in the industry?
A: My granddad and dad always supported pro-business associations, so it has been a natural for Jim and I to carry on that tradition. Jim served as chairman of the National Paper Trade Association some years back and I served as ISSA’s chairman in 2004. I do remember my dad asking once if we were over committed to volunteer activities vs. work-related activities, which seem odd, as he was always over committed on volunteer activities. The discussion is a good one, though, because there needs to be a balance. We should give back to our communities, but not at the expense of our business.
I would strongly encourage our members to get involved in our association when the time is right. Only they can determine the when, but what I can promise is that they’ll have a rewarding and fulfilling experience with memories and friendships that will last long after their involvement.
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