The world was a different place in 1908 when businessman Robert E. Brandeis founded Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company in Louisville, Kentucky. The United States consisted of only 46 states. Men like Frederick Cook and Robert Peary were trying to tame a new frontier: the North Pole. Henry Ford sold the first Model T Ford. A British company discovered oil in what was then Persia and is now Iran.
And yet, America was strikingly similar. People used the telephone, electricity and Hoover vacuums. They rode subways and drank Coke and Pepsi. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. President Teddy Roosevelt worried about the environment and diminishing natural energy sources.
Brandeis’ company history echoed, on a smaller scale, this country’s growth and adaptation to change. From a 2,000-sq.-ft. storefront with two employees, Brandeis has expanded to approximately 300 employees at 9 locations in two states and reports millions in volume annually from sales, rentals and service of construction and mining equipment.
Brandeis is a subsidiary of Bramco, Inc., headquarterd in Louisville, Kentucky, along with Power Equpiment Company, headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bramco is one of the largest multi-state construction, mining and material handling equipment distributors with 15 full-service branches throughout Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Together the orgainization employs approximately 520 employees.
Change started early for the young company. After Brandeis’ death in 1924, J.A. Paradis Sr., a Massachusetts transplant who had joined the company as a sales representative in 1917, assumed ownership of the company. Three generations of the Paradis family have guided the company through decades of rapid technological development and world-shattering events, helping Brandeis thrive and grow through evolution and diversification.
The challenge began only a few short years after Paradis took over, when the country was plunged into depression. However, Jay Paradis, grandson of J.A. Paradis Sr. and chairman of Bramco, reports that the company has lost money in only two of its 100 years: once during the Great Depression and once in the early 1990s. In fact, he considers WWII a greater challenge to the company because the construction equipment manufacturers shifted production from equipment to tanks and airplanes to support the War. As Jay stated, the lack of new inventory to sell forced them to turn to renting equipment. For the duration of the War, Brandeis rented equipment — and it wasn’t the last time the forward-thinking company successfully turned to rental.
In 1966 Brandeis formed Rental Equipment Service Company, or Resco Rents (sold in 1997 to Prime Equipment Company). “Resco was into small and medium rentals,” recalls Gene Snowden Jr., president and COO of Brandeis. “Resco could provide its customers with all of their industrial rental needs.” Resco grew to become the sixth largest rent-to-rent business in the United States, according to Rental Equipment Register. However, bigger rental companies held a strategic advantage through buying power. Resco’s economic formula began to deteriorate, therefore, was sold at the peak of the buying frenzy.
It turned out to be only a temporary break from the rental business, as Brandeis once again adapted to changing times and needs. Having discovered that the rental needs of some customers weren’t being met by traditional rent-to-rent options, and after sitting out three years to honor a no-compete clause, Brandeis jumped back into the rental business, this time in a new way: rental inside the distributorship. Brandeis developed Certified Rental® to rent large equipment for earth-moving jobs. The focused rental effort targets hard-to-find large equipment — excavators, articulated trucks, bulldozers and wheel loaders — machines used on earth moving jobs.
The Depression impacted all businesses, but Paradis considers the closing of International Harvester in 1979 a blow to Brandeis because it represented 70 percent of the company’s business. “Our main dirt line was International Harvester,” Paradis stated. What could have been a crippling blow served instead to foster growth when Brandeis adapted by diversifying its product lines. Brandeis became a Komatsu dealer in 1980 and is now one of Komatsu’s largest equipment distributors.
Although Komatsu is its primary earth-moving equipment line since the 1970s, in 1912 Brandeis represented Ingersoll-Rand (IR) drill group and later added IR compaction and paver groups. When IR split up its divisions, Brandeis became a dealer for Atlas Copco, which purchased the IR drill group. “For our crane and material handling division, we carry Sennebogen, Kobelco, Tadano, Terex and Mantis.”
A relatively new account for Brandeis is the Wirtgen Group. Wirtgen road construction products include Wirtgen milling machines, Vögele pavers and Hamm rollers. Other manufacturers Brandeis represents include: Bobcat, Genesis, Gorman Rupp, Wacker-Neuson, Gomaco, Etnyre and Tramac.
Growth and Recognition
As the country grew, so, too, did the company that helped build that developing nation. The first Brandeis branch outside of Louisville opened in Evansville, Indiana, in 1946. Over the years, Brandeis established additional branches in other parts of Indiana and eastern Kentucky. Managing multiple branches before the advent of interstates, fax machines and computers was a challenge, but Brandeis’s focus on continuous improvement and service transcended the obstacles placed by distance.
Not only was Brandeis opening branch offices, its parent company, Bramco, Inc., was also acquiring companies, such as Missouri-Illinois Tractor & Equipment (1968), Indiana Equipment (1989) and Power Equipment Company (1998). In addition, Mid-America Parts Company was formed as a division of Brandeis in 1985 and the Brandeis Rebuild Center, now Komatsu Remanufacturing, was established in 1987.
As one of the country’s largest multi-state construction, earth-moving and mining equipment distributors, Brandeis offers a full line of equipment ranging in price from as little as $10,000 to as much as $7 million. It offers equipment sales as well as rentals. Service, including onsite diagnosis and repair, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Brandeis Machinery has been recognized for outstanding performance in equipment sales and marketing, customer service, parts supply and community involvement.
In 2000, the company was recognized as an outstanding business when it received the Kentucky Governor’s Gold Quality Award. Highlighting its 100th anniversary in 2008, Brandeis was awarded the AED Centennial Award by the Associated Equipment Distributors. The AED is an international trade association representing companies who sell, rent, service, manufacture and support equipment used in the construction and construction-related industries.
Other proudly displayed awards are plaques commemorating 20 and even 30 years of employee service. “We have a good retention rate,” Snowden boasts. He cites an environment built on principles, communication and teamwork for the longevity of his staff.
Through a century of evolution and adaptation, one thing that has never changed is the company culture.
“We believe in doing things the right way,” Snowden said. “We have a reputation [for] honesty, integrity and fairness.”
That reputation, he said, is one of the biggest reasons for Brandeis’ success, but Snowden acknowledged many contributing factors. “We invest heavily in product support.” To fulfill a commitment for timely availability, a parts truck runs to the Komatsu Parts Distribution Center in Ripley, Tennessee, every night. “If a part isn’t at a branch, we get it overnight and re-sort it by 7 a.m. We fill 97 to 98 percent of all parts orders the next day if they’re taken by 4 p.m. We know if we don’t have the part, our customers can’t get their machines up. Downtime is costly.”
Once the company makes a sale, it stands behind its product, from equipment to parts to service. “Anybody can be cheaper on the front end, but repeat business comes from support. We have an obligation to take care of the customer,” Snowden explains. That obligation entails parts availability and trained mechanics. Their commitment to training involves a minimum of 40 hours per year; that’s 40 hours every year for every mechanic.
Brandeis takes training so seriously, it even employs a full-time director of technician careers and two full-time trainers. “We do all types of training: management, sales, parts and even customer training.” He elaborates about equipment packages that include training sessions. “We go onsite to teach them how to operate and maintain their new equipment.”
Challenging the Future
Another consistency through the years is Brandeis’ customer focus. “We still have the same values and principles,” Snowden said. “We’ve changed with the times on how we do things because we try to stay on the leading edge, but our commitment to serving our customers has never changed.”
Other things have changed, such as the way Brandeis goes to market. As Snowden explained, “Our strategic planning process continues to get better as we embrace new technology. We’re progressive; we welcome change.” To illustrate how progressive Brandeis has been through history, he points out that they were one of the first companies to have “pure rent-to-rent. We had an annual auction before Ritchie Bros. got big, we initiated generic parts and we put GPS on all our rental fleets.”
To mark the company’s 100th year and pay tribute to its traditions while continuing to evolve with the times, Brandeis has refreshed its logo. A basic but modernized circular design maintains ties to the past while looking toward the future. Promotional items brandish the special 100th anniversary logo as the company celebrates with new banners for the branches, each of which will hold an open house to thank the customers who helped Brandeis reach this milestone. A book written by Carl E. Kramer, The Brandeis Century, Constant Values in Changing Times, recounts the company’s history.
After the festivities, Brandeis will continue to adapt as the industry and the environment change, Snowden insists, just as it has for its first 100 years. “We will stay viable and on the leading edge of technology … and we will keep our culture of principles and do things the right way, focusing on the customer, offering quality equipment.” CEG