An emphasis on safety and a conservative approach to growth are just two of the many reasons N.H. Bragg has been so successful since its beginnings in 1854. Focusing on excellent customer service to help provide ideas, products and services that reduce costs and streamline the purchasing process for clients means that N.H. Bragg has been able to provide businesses with the tools and equipment they need to operate successfully.
Headquartered in Bangor, Maine, N.H. Bragg is a family-owned and operated company that distributes industrial, safety, and janitorial equipment, supplying more than 3,500 customers throughout Maine and New Hampshire. These customers include pulp and paper mills, manufacturers, utilities and government entities as well as fleet operators, contractors, welding fabricators and local machine and repair shops. The company originally started as a blacksmith supplier, selling coal and bellows, anvils and hammering tools, as well as steel and buggy parts.
Company President Jon Eames represents the sixth generation of family management. He spoke with Business in Focus about N.H. Bragg and how it has evolved over the years.
“We have an extremely experienced group of employees who know and understand our products and services and how they can benefit our customers,” Eames says. “In addition to our technical competencies, we have always been able to tailor solutions to fit the needs of the customer.”
According to Eames, N.H. Bragg utilizes a system to address the needs of its customers and cater to them. “The Industrial and Safety Supply industry is an extremely fragmented industry with thousands of independent distributors with small market share and several large national distributors with greater market share,” he explains. “The nationals have broad inventory availability, better buying power, efficient logistics, and national accounts programs. Small and medium sized distributors like us tend to have better technical expertise, local market knowledge and customer loyalty.”
In order to bridge the gap between Big Box buying power and inventory availability and their own local market knowledge and customer bases, N.H. Bragg is a member of Affiliated Distributors, the leading buying and marketing groups for industrial and construction products in the country. Affiliated Distributors consists of 540+ independently owned members, with 3,598 locations, spanning seven industries and three countries with collective annual sales in excess of $31 Billion. This membership helps provide the scale the company needs to remain competitive with larger firms; it also brings the benefits of best practice sharing amongst members.
Additionally, N.H. Bragg is a member of SupplyFORCE, a National Accounts provider and the leading national Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO) commodity management and procurement services company. SupplyFORCE combines extensive product category expertise with North America’s largest network of qualified suppliers known for their industry expertise, business flexibility, and sense of urgency to deliver MRO solutions to national customers across multiple locations.
These affiliations have garnered N.H. Bragg strong peer recognition in the field. “We have won numerous local awards for service to the community and have also won awards in Affiliated Distributors,” Eames shares. “We were recognized as Affiliate of the Year for Marketing Excellence in 2012.”
N.H. Bragg has become Northern New England’s leading supplier of safety products, and this area represents a major part of its business, making up about 30 percent of the company’s sales. By selling top-quality merchandise at competitive prices with the support of a knowledgeable support team, N.H. Bragg is ready to provide its clients with technical help, training and consulting services where ever needed.
The company boasts a 10,000 square foot showroom at its Bangor headquarters with a variety of industrial supplies, tools and equipment, and a full range of safety products and janitorial supplies. The showroom is organized by N.H. Bragg’s major product groups, so customers can easily find what they need. The adjoining 82,000 square foot warehouse is stocked with more than 30,000 additional items and products.
N.H. Bragg is also a member of the Safety & Health Council of Northern New England and the National Safety Council and is focused on having a safe workplace environment to improve productivity, lower costs and keep its employees injury-free. “We have worked very hard to maintain zero lost time injuries, and have created a safe work environment to achieve this,” says Eames.
The company also develops and delivers safety training programs to its customers. “We train our customers on respirators, fall protection, confined space training, and lifting techniques as an example of our dedication to safety.”
Additionally, N.H. Bragg continually invests in the training of its own employees with monthly in-house product training and off-site supplier training. The company also provides financial support for business skill training, employee education, and fitness programs for its employees.
N.H. Bragg recently embarked on a major development by investing in a fall protection training facility in Scarborough, Maine. “From this location we can easily serve customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. We get extremely high marks for the quality of training we put on.”
The new facility in Scarborough replaced a location in Westbrook to serve Southern Maine. The new location has significantly higher industrial and contractor traffic, twice the space and inventory, and three times the display area. Besides the Fall Protection training area, N.H. Bragg installed a training room for up to twenty-five people to provide a variety of training services for its customers. These services include training in Personal Protective Equipment, Respiratory Protection, Fall Protection, Confined Space, Lockout/Tagout, and Sling inspections.
“Our investment in a fall protection training facility in Scarborough is a big deal to us,” Eames says. “Capital Safety, our main fall protection supplier, is using the site for their training center in the Northeast.”
Eames credits N.H. Bragg’s principles as the key to its success over its 161-year history. “Our vision is to continue our proud tradition of leadership by contributing to the long term success of our customers, employees, shareholders and communities,” Eames says. “We deliver value through cost savings, efficiency, and a safe work environment. This is reflected in our values of safety, integrity, competence, and speed.”
Another way N.H. Bragg has maintained its strong position in the marketplace is in its relationships with suppliers. Eames says that due to the unique environment of Northern New England, the team must take this into consideration when working with suppliers.
“The demographics of our customer base in Maine and New Hampshire requires us to offer a broad array of products and services,” he explains. “While we carry products from hundreds of manufacturers, we have focused partnerships with just 10 to 15 select ones. We build strong relationships with these companies from top to bottom, in our market, at trade shows and on their advisory councils. They give us a disproportionate amount of their time and resources and we do the same in return. We seek out companies with strong local sales representation and work closely with them. We ask our suppliers to provide us with competitive pricing in our market along with co-investing in our marketing activities. We look for companies that are easy to do business with. Most of these lines require a technical sell which fits our selling style and extensive product knowledge, helping us to maintain market leadership. For this, we strive to provide above average growth for them, year-after-year.”
Eames says the company plans to double its growth over the next five to seven years through “organic growth, branch expansion and acquisition. Sustainability is top of our minds today. We want to be around and viable for many more generations. We have an aging workforce with a ton of experience. We feel we have to grow aggressively over the next five to ten years in order to be able to add a good pipeline of talent to supplement our team and eventually replace retiring workers.”
For over 160 years, N.H. Bragg has been able to provide its customers with the tools they need for their industrial and safety operations, and Eames believes the company’s strong talent and family work ethic will enable N.H. Bragg to continue meeting with success for years to come.
“We have been able to evolve by changing and looking at our opportunities – what we could be good at, divesting things that we could no longer be market leaders in. Safety products and services really took over from our welding and automotive product lines, and has grown into a major component of our company. We are safety product specialists in addition to being trainers in safety for our customers.”