Eames says company leadership has enjoyed being able to
make key decisions without approval of a board, which
has kept the company nimble and adaptable.
“Our customers want the advantages they believe they
get doing business with the big nationals, but they also
want local decision-making and local control,” Leeman
says. “As long as we can leverage our capabilities and
relationships to provide a level of service comparable to
the nationals, that local control is huge.”
A conservative approach to growth has served NH
Bragg well over its many years, allowing it to overcome
downturns in the economy like the Great Depression of
1929-1939 and the recent Great Recession of 2008-2009.
But as technology has accelerated, logistics have become
more complex, and competition from national distributors has increased. The company has feels the need to
grow faster than it has in the past.
NH Bragg posted 2015 sales of $23 million, a solid
growth over 2014, but Eames says the company will
eventually have to grow to more than $40 million in sales
to justify adding top talent in all key areas to replace the
company’s maturing workforce. As of early March, NH
Bragg has 63 employees, with an average age of 49. He
added that continued growth is critical for the company to
maintain its strategic suppliers and expand market share.
Overall, the company has set a goal to double its
growth over the next five-to-seven years. “It’s fair to say
we’ve taken a more aggressive approach,” Eames says. “In
our region we get more than our share of resources from
our strategic supplier partners, and you can’t do that un-
less you’re growing above normal.”
While cheap oil and the strong U.S. dollar haven’t hurt
business for NH Bragg like it has for many industrial dis-
tributors, the region’s pulp and paper industry —
once 60 percent of the company’s industrial business —
has taken a nosedive. Pulp and paper end-market
customers now comprise only 12 percent of business for
NH Bragg as three regional mills closed last year, and
another large one did in 2014. Even so, the company was
able to achieve 8 percent sales growth last year, which
Eames credits to hard work and market share gain.
Part of NH Bragg’s more-aggressive approach has been
with diversifying its customer mix, which has included
expanding into southern Maine, as well as servicing customers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In December 2014, the company opened a new branch just south
of Portland, ME in Scarborough, which replaced and
doubled the size of the company’s former branch in Westbrook. The effect has been immediate, as 2015 counter
traffic increased more than 60 percent over what it was
in Westbrook, and overall sales increased 32 percent. The
Scarborough branch features the New England region’s
only fully-equipped fall protection training center. Capital
Safety — NH Bragg’s main fall protection supplier — uses
the facility as a northeast training center.
Another reason for NH Bragg’s sustained success —
especially over the last 10 years — is how it has embraced
technology. The company began offering e-commerce
back in 2005, and it has undergone several upgrades as
web traffic has grown. Approximately 13 percent of the
company’s 2015 sales were done online.
Besides being active on Facebook and LinkedIn, NH
Bragg’s website ( www.nhbragg.com) is currently undergoing another major re-design, which it hopes to launch
at the end of this summer. The overhaul ties into the
company’s participation with Affiliated Distributors’ (AD)
new e-commerce venture. Eames helped spearhead AD’s
involvement in this initiative and is currently chair of their
e-Content Steering Committee. Besides drawing from
AD’s enhanced content repository built by Unilog, Bragg
is installing Unilog’s flagship storefront, CIMM2, to make
best use of this content.
“It wouldn’t really be doable, financially, without being
a part of AD,” Eames says. “The cost of building fully attributed content to the tune that we need it — providing
punch-out catalogs, a storefront that is mobile-ready and
all the things you want to compete with the nationals —
A look across the 82,000 square foot warehouse at NH
Bragg’s Bangor, ME headquarters. (NH Bragg Photo).