The first member of the Braen family to enter the quarry and aggregates business, Samuel Braen, worked with sledge hammers and pick axes in the late 1800s. The telephone was a new-fangled invention then. Radio and airplanes were still on the drawing board, and television hadn’t even been imagined.
Samuel Braen couldn’t have dreamed that an early, sepia-toned photo of him and his crew would someday welcome visitors to the Internet home page of the Braen Family of Companies (see braencompanies.com), which is thriving under the fifth generation of family leadership.
Samuel Braen incorporated his company in 1904, eventually passing it to his son Abraham, who in turn passed the business to his sons, Samuel Sr. and John. The brothers worked together for years, establishing quarries, sand and gravel pits, hot-mix asphalt plants and ready-mix concrete sites throughout northern New Jersey and lower New York.
Eventually, Samuel Sr.’s son, Samuel Jr., assumed leadership of the business, and working with his mother, Frances, and his wife, Janet, led the way into the modern era of the family business, which now includes:
• Stone Industries, founded in 1977, produces a full line of course to fine aggregates from its trap-rock quarry in Haledon, N.J., and operates two hot-mix asphalt plants with combined production of up to 700 tons per hour. Stone Industries also processes recycled block, brick, concrete and asphalt to produce recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), and broken asphalt and millings are processed to create reclaimed asphalt product (RAP).
• Van Orden Sand & Gravel of Ringwood, which was purchased in 1990 and produces granite gneiss aggregates and manufactures sand products for masonry and concrete applications.
• Braen Supply Inc., formed in 2000 to offer landscape, masonry and hardware building supplies. The addition diversified the Haledon business into a “one-stop shop” for contractors who were already purchasing sand, crushed stone, decorative stone and recycled products, and who could now buy brick, pavers, bluestone, sandstone, limestone and cultured stone.
The business was so successful that in 2006 the family opened a retail outlet in Haskell, N.J., with a new, 6,500-sq.-ft. indoor showroom, 5,600-sq.-ft. outdoor display area and full-service True Value hardware department.
• Braen Aggregates LLC, formed in 2006 for the acquisition of a limestone quarry in Franklin, N.J., where production started in early 2007. The facility produces a wide variety of sand and aggregate products.
Together, the companies have 104 employees, led by Chairwoman and CEO Janet Braen, who stepped in after the death of her husband Samuel Jr. in 1999. Stepsons Scott and Samuel Braen III now serve as president and production supervisor, respectively. Three children of Samuel Jr. and Janet have also moved into leadership positions — Samantha Braen as human resources director and corporate secretary, Dirk Braen as production assistant, and Joshua Braen as assistant manager of Braen Supply.
The transition into the family business seems to come naturally, Janet said. “I think there’s something about the quarry business that gets in your blood. When Sam and Scott were little kids, they were always playing in the quarry, and it just sticks with you.”
Another thing that sticks is the guidance offered years ago by Samuel Braen Jr. As Samantha recalls, “He imparted the wisdom to have pride in our family and the business that we’ve all shared for five generations without being arrogant or boastful, to be committed to doing the best for our customers and our employees, and to have integrity with the other companies we do business with.”
The family members also share a guiding principle for the Braen Family of Companies characterized by its motto, “Building relationships, always exceeding needs.” It’s fitting that the motto also forms the acronym BRAEN, because the family name has come to stand for excellent customer care.
As Scott Braen explained, “We need to offer high-quality products and competitive pricing, but price isn’t everything. We need to stand as a team behind what we sell. We strive to provide great service and have our customers know they can count on us. We build relationships. There’s always a face behind the name here when we do business, and we strive to be responsive to our customers.”
In a nuts-and-bolts example of customer care, Janet said, “Our IT people keep saying that we could have automated phone service with callers prompted to connect to the right people. But we’ve been emphatic: callers have to speak to a real person!”
Scott added, “We don’t want a caller getting lost in the maze of an automated phone system. When a customer calls, they want someone to talk to, and they want someone now, or they might never call back.”
The relationship building also extends to employees and the communities the Braens serve. Samantha notes the matching gifts program offered to employees. “It’s important to support the organizations that are important to them. They donate time, and we donate money to their causes.”
That has led to support for Paterson Habitat for Humanity, Oasis: A Haven for Women and Children, Eva’s Village, Cancer Survival Day at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Haledon Day, and Touch the World Youth Ministries, to name just a few. There also is 50-plus years of Braen family support for the Boy Scouts, and annual sponsorship of college scholarships for a student at each of three local high schools.
The Braens also value strong relationships with their major suppliers and point to their Caterpillar equipment supplier, Foley Inc., as a prime example.
Scott said, “The Cat equipment is top quality, but it still means a lot to have the dealership, Foley Inc., standing behind the machines. They’re there with product support and information whenever we need them.”
Janet recalls, “For my husband, there was nothing like Caterpillar machines, and Foley was the place to get them.” She remembers her husband being a close friend with the long-time Foley sales representative, Dick Luenda. “He was a very patient man,” she says, “and my husband didn’t make it easy with the things he put him through.”
Scott notes that he often interacts with Jamie and Ryan Foley (president/CEO and VP of Foley Rents, respectively), and that Sam III and Dirk Braen have come to count on current Foley sales representatives, Heavy Machinery Equipment Consultant Warren Gonzalez, and Customer Support Representative Alex Albrecht.
Scott said of the dealership, “You look at the people who own it and what they’re all about — Kim Foley (chairman) and Ryan and Jamie. They run their business like a first-class family. I have a lot of respect for all the people at the Foley dealership. They obviously strive to have the right kind of people, just like we do. There’s a lot of integrity there.”
Janet added, “That seems to be the consensus. Everyone here has great respect for the Foley family and the people in the Foley dealership.”
The respect is mutual. As Gonzalez of Foley Inc. said, “You have to admire the way the Braen family does business. They’re truly good people, and they’re one of the few family owned quarry operations that are able to compete successfully with the huge, multi-national type businesses out there.”
Lasting Cat Value
The great majority of the machines in the Braen equipment fleet are Cat. The list includes 17 wheel loaders ranging from a 908 to a 990; three excavators; a pair of dozers, a D8N and D6R; a 1255 telehandler; seven haul trucks and nine forklifts. In addition, Cat engines power a long list of other Braen equipment, including seven on-highway trucks, a dump truck, a lube truck and a water truck; all three of the portable crushers and a pair of screens used in quarry operations, a quarry drill and all five of the businesses’ gensets.
The reliance on Cat equipment goes at least as far back as his father, Samuel Jr., Scott said. “He was a Cat guy from the get-go. I used to look just at the dollars and push for buying other products. But now I find myself just like him. Instead of looking at just the short run, we want to buy the best because the quality, product support, commitment and integrity pay off in the long run.”
As an example of added value, Scott noted that the Braens brought in Caterpillar and Foley Inc. to do a cycle-time analysis of the company equipment, helping ensure that the right machines were chosen and paired to maximize the efficiency — and thus lower costs — of daily operations.
Similarly, the Braens again brought in Caterpillar and Foley Inc. to do a life-cycle analysis of the company’s equipment fleet. “Life-cycle is huge with these machines,” Scott said. “In the 15 years or so since we had that done, we’ve really come to understand our costs and how to control them.”
As a result, he said, “We buy machines with the end in mind. When we buy a piece of equipment, we know when we will sell that piece, based on the hours of service. We know what it’s worth when we take it to the market and replace it with something new. That way our uptime, our availability of equipment, is high.
“We initiated that back in the 1990s. They helped us understand how we could get the most value from every machine, considering maintenance, depreciation and resale values — basically everything.”
The value of the Cat machines quickly becomes obvious when they are put to work. “A quarry is a very harsh working environment, and they push their machines hard,” Gonzalez said of the Braen operations. “But the equipment isn’t worn out because the Braens also put in the time and effort on regular maintenance to maximize productivity, uptime and efficiency. It pays off.”
Even while keeping up regular maintenance, the Braens have been able to reduce their fleet of service trucks and the number of service people because of the way machines are rotated in and out of the fleet as a result of the life-cycle planning, Scott said. To keep up with routine maintenance and repairs, Braen hires a Foley Field Service Technician, Dave Dalmas, as a resident technician to work at their facilities four to five days per week to supplement their own mechanics.
Curt LeRoy, equipment manager of the Braen companies, said the reliance on Cat machines makes his job easier. Beyond the extended uptime of Cat equipment, he said, “I don’t need to stock as many different parts for maintenance. For example, I can easily keep a supply of filters because so many of the different Cat machines are designed to use the same type of filter. It’s just simpler that way.”
The Braens work many of their Cat machines up to a certain number of service hours, at which point they will have maximized the efficient productivity of any particular machine while retaining its strong resale value. The machine is then sold and replaced.
The rotation point varies by the type and size of machine. Generally, excavators work 5,000 to 6,000 hours before being sold. Wheel loaders up to the size of the 980 work 10,000 to 12,000 hours, while 988s work 16,000 to 18,000 hours, and the 990 works even longer.
And, Scott noted, “As far as reselling the Cat machines, we don’t have any problems. People know that we move out machines every year, and we get calls from people who are interested.”
More to Come
Not many family businesses survive through five generations, but the Braen Family of Companies has thrived and that’s probably not going to change soon.
“I’m very excited for the future,” Janet said. “We’re looking at possibilities for new locations for supply yards and quarries.” And she notes that there are 12 more grandchildren in the family, making it likely that the family business will be in good hands for a long time to come.
This article was reprinted with permission from PayDirt Magazine, Spring 2012 Issue.