Dennis Thomas

Company Culture, Storytelling, and Directing a 4th Generation Business

Episode 1

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Dennis Thomas is President of Brechbuhler Scales Inc. Brechbuhler offers preventative maintenance, repair, installations, and calibration services throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan. Dennis started his career at Brechbuhler as a software development intern in 2001, and advanced to become the first non-family president of the 4th generation company. Connect with Dennis on his LinkedIn here.
In this episode, Dennis joins Bill to discuss Brechbuhler's American Grit culture campaign, telling the company story through historical highlights, and running a growing family business. As a longtime client of 50 Marketing, Brechbuhler has grown tremendously in their marketing initiatives and continues to inspire us as a cornerstone company of the nation's economy.

Episode Transcript

Bill: Dennis, thanks for joining us here today. I wanted to talk a little bit about Brechbuhler Scales, about what you guys have got going on here, and just about some marketing topics and just general business topics, so thank you for joining us.

Dennis: Glad to be here.

Bill: So, Dennis Maybe tell us a little bit about your role here at Brechbuhler and maybe a little bit of your story about how you got to be where you are today.

Dennis: It's a long story. So Dennis Thomas, president of Brechbuhler Scales, and Brechbuhler Scales owns Brechbuhler Scales, B-TEK Scales, and Instrument Calibration Solutions. I started in 2001 as an intern, software developer, and my job was to come in and get an e-commerce site off the ground, which turned out to be a great business. But I wasn't supposed to last more than six months in the company. So I guess when you're curious and ask a lot of questions and point things out that could be improved, you keep getting opportunity. So I moved up to manager and general manager. And then in 2013 I was the first non-family member to be asked to be president.

Bill: Oh, wow, that's a great accomplishment. Congratulations.

Dennis: Thank you. It's been a fun ride.

Bill: Great. So you guys have a kind of a movement around here, a a theme about your culture called American Grit. And it certainly sounds like that story is one of true American grit as you come up through the ranks over time and persevered. Maybe talk a little bit about American Grit and what that means to Brechbuhler, and maybe why did you choose to really champion that cause and and bring that cultural aspect of your business forward?

Dennis: Great question. So when I was interviewing a lot, I heard managers talk about "we have a great culture" and people say, "we have a great culture." But I would ask people, what is our culture? And I'd get different answers, conflicting answers. And so I knew right away there was an opportunity to bring that together to better understand in. In about 2018, I started talking to managers about, you know, if you could call on someone, who would it be and why? And we got hundreds of answers and over the course of those answers we distilled them down and it took a couple of years, but got a set of core values. And the core values are great. We talk about them internally. We know them, do, serve, team, but we needed iconography, on the outside so people could see like, who is this? What is what is this company? And we came up with the term "American Grit" and some some imagery that we feel just represent who we are as a company and who we are as a culture. And it's been a really accepted well and proud to stand behind it.

Bill: That's great. That's great. And it certainly is starting to take on its own momentum here as we walk around Brechbuhler, certainly as we see the swag, see the different jerseys and hoodies and that type of thing, as well as representation on your digital media, in your videos, on your website and that type of thing. So it it really feels like it's taken hold. And it feels like the employees are starting to run with it maybe on their own. Is that true?

Dennis: It's very true. Even the people coming into interview have seen us online. And have said, Hey, I really like what you're doing with this American Grit, celebrating veterans and just sticking to traditional values, which to us are simple. It's the old school stuff of staying true to our mission, not getting caught up in trendy social issues. We know that we cannot do that. We have to be the best possible company, whether it's manufacturing scales or providing industrial scale service. We have to stick to that because at the end of the day, the customer is most important.

Bill: When you think about American manufacturing right now, in 2023, certainly everybody is experiencing tremendous recruiting challenges. Do you feel that this focus on the core values and this focus on this iconography of the American Grit or however you want to term that, do you feel that is having a positive impact on assisting you with recruiting more higher quality people that really fit the Brechbuhler culture?

Dennis: Yeah, hands down. Definitely, it's helping. And the blue collar trade, let's say for a while, was never held up to the level we feel that it should have been. It was always the white collar stuff. With this again, we feel proud of what we do, the people we have, and wanted to elevate them in the face of not only in the company, but outside as well, because it is a gritty job, if you will. It's difficult work. It's hard work. And at the end of the day, when you do a good job, you should be proud of that. Not many people can do what we do.

Bill: Well I think that culturally we have problems because everybody wants to tell their kids, go to college, sit behind a computer. And when we look at two even two generations ago, I mean, my two grandfathers, one worked in the steel mill, one worked in the coal mines. And so they you know, they were in that rust belt. Those are two very, very gritty and dirty and difficult careers. And when you look at that, I mean, when they came home, we looked at them as if they were on a pedestal because they did really, really hard work. It was very, very important to the economy. And just like what you guys are doing is very important to the economy and, you know, so I think that's a really exciting thing that's happening here with Brechbuhler, with your culture, with the American grit theme and recognition of who you guys are. And then hopefully, and I think you'll see it, continue to really attract a better quality candidate and someone who matches what you guys want really quickly.

Dennis: Sure, it's helping us preselect for culture, and that's part of the design of it too, is that let people know who we are and stand proud behind it. And with that you will attract the people that like your culture. And so it's been a great tool.

Bill: So switching gears a little bit, one of the things we like to talk with people about is marketing, because that's our world, right? That's what we stay up at night and think about and really dive into. So these are going to be very broad questions. Nothing too technical or into the nitty gritty, but when you think about marketing and you've got some challenges because you have three, maybe four distinct brands that do distinctly unique things that have unique target markets, there's it's a complex enterprise to market this business successfully. So when you think about that, what do you see as maybe some of the greatest challenges in front of you and in front of the Brechbuhler family of companies at large? When you look at marketing B2B as a manufacturer and as a service provider.

Dennis: Putting up with you weekly, right?

Bill: I think that is the biggest challenge.

Dennis: Well, that's a very complex question, but what we've tried to do is have more of an online story, an online presence. Let people get know who we are down to the gritty details. And with that being said, a lot of the time in the past, culturally speaking, we just didn't disclose a lot. We kept it private. And, you know, for right or wrong, that's what we did. But now it just seems like things have turned to you have to have a story. You have to have a brand. We're doing this podcast. This isn't something that we typically would do, to share, to put a light on I should say, some of the things that we do that we are very proud of and I think people are attracted to. So from a marketing perspective, I know I'm generalizing here, but it's just to market, advertise, put out more of what we do every day.

Bill: No, that's great. And I think we're seeing that trend because asking for the sale online or lead gen is really difficult. What people seem to be responding to and what all the research is showing is good, authentic, candid content about brands is what's changing the conversation, opening doors for sales reps to give that opportunity. And I think when we look back over the last 20, 30 years and even before that, there was a lot of what happened behind closed doors. Well, that's over because there's no privacy. And that's a whole other conversation we could have. But when we look at privacy, even of companies, we have to be open and communicate everything. And at some at times, we end up communicating our dirty secrets and some things and showing our underbelly. But then that gives us the opportunity to be open and honest about it and figure out a way to improve. And, you know, so I think we're at a moment in B2B marketing where it's about content and transparency and organic as opposed to produced and contrived lead gen.

Dennis: I couldn't agree more, and that's one of the impetus behind American Grit that we know that message isn't going be for everyone, but we do not every six months change who we are. It's who we've been since 1929. And I think a lot of people can get behind what we're doing and we're going to stay true to it. And that's the promise to our customers, our suppliers, that specifically our employees. That we have your back, this is how we make decisions.

Bill: No, that's great. And one, as as we're sitting here, which side all the cameras will show in the backdrop here behind Dennis and I, is, maybe talk a little bit about this, this is like the wall of fame. This is like a historical timeline of the Brechbuhler journey. Maybe just talk about why it's here and what was the genesis of it and the outcome of this project.

Dennis: Yeah, so this is our training and development building and we'd have new personnel come through. And how difficult is it to tell your company story in 30 seconds to a minute? I mean, let's face it, you don't have a lot of time to get the message across. But what we wanted to do, because we have such a rich history, is put a timeline up on a wall each decade since 1929 of some of the major things that we accomplished, some of the companies we work with, some of the important figures in the company and just allow someone while they're here for the first time to take it in on their own terms of what we've done. To just to show them, because at some of our satellite offices, you have five to seven employees. This is a pretty large campus. So we have our manufacturing building, three or four other buildings here as well. So it's a lot to take in. But this condenses it down to, okay, this is the company that I chose to work for and to get an appreciation of our history.

Bill: That's great. And I think I've been here I think this is the third or fourth time I've been here over the past three or four years, and I've seen some of the changes on the wall and just some of the updated content. It feels like it's taking on a life of its own and then seeing some of the content that's been developed for social media with the employee anniversaries. So, you know, I think we can recognize that you guys are building to an amazing moment, right? So there are very few companies, and I don't know what the statistics are, we could find them, but there are very few companies that make it to 100 years. And we're knocking on the door here. Yeah, isn't that correct?

Dennis: Yeah. Don't blow the lamp. Five years.

Bill: Yeah, we don't want to jinx it, but no, you guys are strong and we have a couple of other clients that are in the century mark, which is, I don't know if that's serendipity or if old companies like us or what that what that means, we could extrapolate that out to something repeatable. But that's such an accomplishment for the family and for all of the people who are involved in this enterprise or have been over the past 95 years to see that moment coming. So do you feel that a lot of the definition of the culture through the mission, vision, values and in the American Grit is going to help bring the entire enterprise together for that anniversary?

Dennis: Yeah, there's a lot, and that's the answer, but historically we've never disclosed what our vision was. We never disclosed with the core values were. We kept everything private, and this past year I went around talking to all the employees about what that actually is, we actually do have a plan, we actually built where we're going. And I think it was very refreshing for them to hear that and to be a part of, oh, that is their ten year vision, and things were being done. But yeah, the the American Grit, the the culture plays a big part of that. And I forget exactly what the last part of that question was, if you could remind me?

Bill: Yeah, as we're building towards 100 years.

Dennis: Right. I gotcha. So what, 2023, so 2024 if my math is correct five years, we do have a plan in place to get there and it feels like in some respects we've, we've reached some of those goals, you know, even even this year, but we're going to be around. You look at the statistics like you were talking about, family owned business is 100 years. We're in fourth generation. When I talk to employees or we talk to employees, I should say that's not by mistake or accident. And why are we fourth generation and still growing? Yeah, we have a plan. Yeah, we have a vision. Yeah, we put things in place and execute, but it goes back to that culture of throughout the years, since 1929, we've never taken our eye off the ball of knowing who we are in the mission and what we need to do every day to be successful. And I don't want to make it as simple as that. But if we execute our mission and go about the things we know about doing, the way we do it, we will be successful. We'll be here standing at 2029

Bill: No that's great. And I think even though that is simple, I think that it's true. Yeah, there's so many I think even a lot of the online communication, a lot of the conversations, a lot of the media and press is about get rich quick or, you know, launch this thing and it goes from 0 to 10 billion overnight and then it goes from 10 billion to 0 another overnight, right? When we look at business that wears well, that is maintained over time, there are many, many businesses in this great economy in the United States that just do a really consistently good job. And they weather the storms and they weather the technological storms, the inflationary, economic, whatever those storms are, they just keep figuring it out. And it's kind of like tying back to the American Grit. You just got to get through it and knuckle down and get dirty and work hard. And that's really been the history that we see here on the wall and the experiences of those folks. And then also we see that there's some space on the other side of the wall here for the next ten year installments. So that's that's great.

Dennis: And to add one thing to that was when we got around talking to employees we disclosed some financial information which historically we haven't done and maybe good reason, maybe not. But the point that I wanted to bring out was as an employee, what should you be looking for? And I ran through some basic math about how much comes to the bottom line, let's say. Not much after it's all said and done, right, after Uncle Sam gets his cut and what I told them to concentrate on was, do you see it being reinvested? Sure, because ownership doesn't have to do that. They could take it and run it. But yeah, every year we're either buying new equipment, upgrading buildings, and if the building we're in is beautiful here and sure, take pride in the the new trucks and just our image. And again, we don't have to do that. We believe in that and we believe it's important and we believe it's important to the people that you work in the company too.

Bill: For them to take pride in. I've been to, I think at this point, four or five different Brechbuhler locations, and every one of them is, they're not cookie cutter. So you guys don't have like a McDonald's that every building is the same and that type of thing. But the consistency is not in their footprint, or the construction, but the consistency is in the quality. The grounds are well kept. The vehicles are immaculate. You go into the back bays where the trucks pull in, everything's clean, neat, tidy, well-organized. And I wasn't on many of the visits, was not announced that I was going, so not that I am important enough for them to clean up for me, but the point was, I think it was just another day. It wasn't a special moment and everything was consistent. So that's a testament to that commitment and that reinvestment and keeping things up because it's hard to keep everything up to date. It takes a lot of capital and planning and sacrifice for other investments that could be made, so that's interesting. Well Dennis, this has been a just fantastic conversation. I know we covered a wide range of topics from your cultural impetus here, your your start and where you've gone and then some marketing topics, but this has just been a fantastic conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time today and we really appreciate it.

Dennis: Thank you. It's been awesome.

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