When you’re a customer, there’s no bigger credibility-builder than having the ear of the person whose last name is on the building.
So say brothers Tim and Arthur Barrett, whose moniker is, in fact, on eight buildings owned and operated by their third-generation, family-run distribution chain, Barrett Distribution Centers.
Here’s why: “Family run” immediately stresses stability, commitment and firmly-footed roots, the brothers say. Simply put, customers understand immediately that the company is in it for the long term, noted Tim Barrett, chief operating officer.
“They see that this is a business that’s not going anywhere,” he said.
And, for 68 years, it hasn’t — in fact, the company, with eight locations and roughly 150 employees, has experienced rapid and immense growth.
Now specializing in distribution services for various industries, Barrett was launched in 1941 in Lawrence by the brothers’ grandfather, James Barrett II; it originally serviced wool merchants in the then-booming textile Mecca.
In the 1950s, James Barrett III, Tim and Arthur’s dad, joined and started a tradition of diversification as the “textile industry literally moved south,” explained Arthur, company president.
Expansion helped draw new customers from the grocery and raw materials industries, he said. Growth continued steadily for the next 30 years.
Then, when James Barrett died in the 1980s, Arthur, a fresh graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, took over. For the next decade, the distribution center stayed stable as the brothers worked toward graduate degrees and Tim, the younger brother, temporarily explored other employment. Then, in the early 1990s, the brothers rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves.
Since, they’ve expanded the company to eight locations in four states — including Franklin, Mansfield, Bridgewater and a new facility in Leicester, as well as Rochester, New York, Baltimore, Denver and San Francisco.
Largely, growth has been customer-driven — they’ve built spaces around their bigger customers, of which they currently serve about 100, including Lindt, Rite Aid Pharmacy, General Mills and Best Buy.
With a firm presence on the east coast, they’d soon like to expand to the country’s other shoreline: The goal is to buy a distribution company in Los Angeles. Considering that the west coast accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s import business, the implications of such an expansion are “tremendous,” explained Arthur.
Other goals are to expand into assembly, packaging and returns processing, including bench testing of electronics — all of which the company dabbles in now.
Above all, keeping the company private and family-run has allowed for such exploration and flexibility.
“We’re able to do a lot of things that, honestly, if we had an equity investor, we wouldn’t be able to,” noted Tim.
One example: The company’s 260,000-square-foot Franklin facility, located just off Route 495. When the brothers leased the building in 2001, it was twice as large as any they had.
But they saw potential. “We had had success with smaller buildings, but we often ran into constraints,” Arthur explained.
In 2006, another risk: They purchased the building outright.
“In the short term, it had an adverse effect on profits,” Arthur acknowledged. “But in the long term, it was the right decision for the growth of the company.”
Indeed, sales have been robust: From 1993 to 1994, sales more than tripled from a modest $600,000 to $2 million; by 1998 they were at $5 million; by 2004, $10.5 million; and just last year, close to $20 million. All of this is candidly shared with employees: Fostering trust, respect, and responsibility, the Barretts run their business with open-book accounting, and financial results are shared with all workers.
Taking the role as patriarchs to their employees, the brothers have assisted employees with personal problems, such as offering financial advice, researching doctors and hospitals for those dealing with medical conditions and granting leave for visits to ill relatives overseas.
“People do feel like they’re working for a family,” said Tim. “There’s camaraderie. They know we care.”