Broder Bros. Co. History

Address:
45555 Port Street
Plymouth, Michigan 48170
U.S.A.

Telephone: (734) 454-4800
Toll Free: 800-521-0850
Fax: (734) 454-8971

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1919
Employees: 675
Sales: $344.2 million (1999)
NAIC: 42232 Men's and Boys' Clothing and Furnishings Wholesalers; 42233 Women's, Children's, and Infants' Clothing and Accessories Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

Broder Bros. is the largest imprintable sportswear wholesaler in the country. As we move forward as a leader in the industry, we continue to grow and improve the way we do things--from the way we take an order to the way we ship an order--dedicated to providing our customers with the best product selection and customer service. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

1919:
Max and Louis Broder found a haberdashery goods wholesaling company.
1955:
Jack Brode (his similar surname purely coincidental) buys the company from the Broder family.
1984:
The company begins printing a catalog.
1991:
First branch location opens, in Orlando, Florida.
1993:
Dallas, Texas branch opens.
1995:
New branch opens in Albany, New York.
1997:
Fresno, California branch opens.
1999:
Charlotte, North Carolina branch is added.
2000:
Broder Bros. is purchased by Bain Capital, Inc.; St. Louis T's is acquired.

Company History:

Broder Bros. Co. is the leading wholesaler of imprintable sportswear in the United States. The company's clients are businesses that imprint or embroider names, logos, or designs on clothing for sale to corporations, organizations, teams, and so on. Broder Bros. maintains seven regional branches, each of which carries its full line of products. The company places an emphasis on service: orders received by 6:00 p.m. are shipped the same day, and customer service representatives are given extensive training before they handle actual orders. Owned by two successive families since its founding in 1919, the company was acquired in 2000 by Bain Capital, Inc., a private investment firm.

Early Years

Broder Bros. was founded in 1919 by siblings Max and Louis Broder. The Detroit, Michigan company started as a wholesaler of haberdashery items and successfully operated in this field for the next several decades, gradually coming to specialize in hosiery. In the early 1950s Jack Brode, similarly named but not related, bought one of the brothers' stakes in the company upon his death. Brode himself had extensive experience in the hosiery business as a partner in Robbins & Brode, which also had been founded in 1919. Robbins & Brode recently had ceased operations when the building it occupied was sold to make way for a new highway, and Brode was happy to continue in the business as a partner in Broder Bros.

In 1955 the remaining Broder brother passed away, and Jack Brode bought the rest of the company from the Broder estate. After giving the idea some consideration, Brode decided against changing the company's name to his own to avoid confusing the firm's customers. Soon after taking full control he expanded the company's offerings into dry goods, and in 1959 he moved the business to a new location, a building that had previously housed a draft board during World War II.

Business was good during the 1960s, but the company's fortunes began to decline during the early 1970s when leading hosiery makers such as L'eggs began handling distribution themselves, cutting out middlemen like Broder Bros. Jack Brode, seeing the writing on the wall, began to look for other types of clothing to distribute. Noticing the growing popularity of imprinted t-shirts, he decided to concentrate on handling this line while phasing out hosiery and dry goods. Brode's gamble paid off, and the company soon found it was shipping new stock as fast as it came in the door. The company's clients were generally small businesses that silk-screened or embroidered designs and names on shirts for teams, school groups, businesses, and the like.

A key factor in Broder's success was its maintenance of a large backstock of goods, which led to a higher order fulfillment ratio and happier customers. The company's clients also benefited in that they were able, essentially, to use Broder Bros. as their own warehousing service, freeing them from having to maintain extensive stock onsite. To find new customers Broder Bros. maintained a traveling sales staff and also advertised in industry publications.

Beginning in the mid-1970s Jack Brode began to hand over control of the company to his son Harold, who eventually was named president and CEO. Harold's son Michael also joined the family business as an assistant buyer. Tragically, Jack Brode and his wife both died in an automobile accident in 1981.

A Successful Formula Fueling Rapid Growth in the 1980s

The company grew by leaps and bounds during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in 1983 it moved into a 20,000-square-foot location in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park. Growth at this time was topping 100 percent per year, and the new facility was itself soon bursting at the seams, requiring acquisition of an adjacent structure as well as the construction of an addition. Annual revenues were now topping $5 million.

A catalog was started in 1984 that could be imprinted with the logo of a small business that bought from Broder, giving the latter a useful marketing tool. The professionally designed full-color catalog did not mention its source, making the company's clients seem more substantial than they might appear otherwise. The successful introduction of the catalog helped the company's customer base double during this period, as did increased advertising and reduced prices.

By the late 1980s Broder Bros. had expanded its offerings well beyond t-shirts, encompassing a broad range of clothing that also included sweatshirts and pants, sport jerseys, golf shirts, coaches' shirts, and jackets. The company continued to distribute only imprintable garments. To differentiate itself from its competitors, Broder Bros. focused on setting high standards for customer service. The company filled all orders that came in before 1:00 p.m. by the close of business that same day and used an automated telephone routing system and an extensively trained staff to make sure that all of its customers' needs were met.

The company also continued to keep its full line of goods in stock at all times. To keep up inventory of items that were in higher demand, Broder Bros. purchased them in the off-season when they were easier to obtain. This policy proved its worth in the mid-1980s when a fleece shortage occurred. Customers who called imprintables distributors for fleece products were told they were unobtainable ... until they reached Broder Bros. Competitors and even clothing manufacturers also began to contact the company, which, wisely, had procured stock before the heaviest sales season began. For its foresight, Broder Bros. was rewarded with further growth to its customer base.

New Quarters in 1989, Surging Growth in the 1990s

Broder's rapid expansion continued to strain the limits of its Oak Park warehouse, and in 1989 the company again moved to a new location. This time it built an 80,000-square-foot warehouse and corporate headquarters building in Plymouth, Michigan, which was designed from the ground up with the company's needs in mind. Automated stock handling machines, conveyer belts, and a computerized barcode scanning system were all installed. The computer programs were written by Broder's own in-house computer programming department. The company was taking an average of 1,000 phone calls per day, up to 7,000 during peak periods, with an average order consisting of more than $300 worth of merchandise. Industry sources now ranked it as one of the top five imprintables distributors in the United States.

With growth still surging, the company opened its first branch warehouse in Orlando, Florida, in 1991. During the decade new branches were added every two years, with locations following in Dallas, Albany, Fresno, and Charlotte, North Carolina, respectively. Broder Bros. also created its own line of golf shirts and caps, Luna Pier, which was manufactured by outside contractors. The company was now distributing familiar names such as Fruit of the Loom, Lee, Jerzees, and Cross Creek. The lineup of clothing had expanded to include corporate casual ware, which was a new and rapidly growing segment of the market. This category included a variety of outerwear, sweaters, and woven and denim goods. Ratcheting up its service commitment, the company now offered same-day shipping on orders received before 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This virtually guaranteed one- or two-day service to 98 percent of the United States. President and CEO Harold Brode told Distributor Showcase magazine in 1995, 'From the beginning we set service standards as our goal--not necessarily dollar volumes or profit margins. We believed that if we could meet certain goals from service and productivity standpoints, the money part would take care of itself. It has.'

Annual sales had leapt to an estimated $160 million by 1995, more than double the figure of just four years earlier. Employees at the company were treated well and were paid better than average for the industry. Broder Bros. adhered to the philosophy that higher wages attracted a better quality staff, a policy that paid for itself through increased productivity.

With the rise of the Internet Broder Bros. also went online, creating an attractive web site that described its products, gave information on industry trends, and offered bulletin boards where customers could place their own classified ads. Online ordering and stock-checking functions were to be phased in later.

In 2000 majority ownership of Broder Bros. was purchased by Bain Capital, Inc. The 16-year-old private investment firm owned sizable stakes in more than 120 companies, including 93 percent of Michigan-based Domino's Pizza, Inc. Bain invested in a wide range of businesses that spanned the manufacturing, distribution, retail, information, and healthcare industries. After selling control of their company, CEO Harold Brode and his son Michael, now president, stepped back to take vice-president posts. Twenty-year company veteran and executive vice-president Todd Turkin took over as president, and newcomer Vince Tyra was named CEO. Tyra's experience in the field was considerable, as he had served previously as president of Fruit of the Loom and executive vice-president for T-Shirts & More, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky imprintables wholesaler. Following the acquisition by Bain, Broder Bros. purchased a St. Louis, Missouri company named St. Louis T's, which was converted into the company's seventh branch. Revenues of more than $344 million for 1999 were expected to rise another ten percent during 2000.

The growth of Broder Bros. since its entrance into the imprintables market in the early 1970s had been explosive, and the company was continuing its expansion in the new millennium. With seven warehouses that gave it coast-to-coast coverage of the United States, an expanding Web-based ordering service, and guaranteed same-day shipping, Broder's dominance of the imprintables marketplace seemed unlikely to diminish. The financial resources of new owner Bain Capital would give it further opportunity for acquisitions and expansion.

Principal Competitors: Alpha; Bodek & Rhodes; Full Line Distributors, Inc.; NES; Premium Wear, Inc.; Sanmar; Staton Wholesale.

Further Reading:

  • Fridstein, Stan, 'Silver Award: Wholesale and Dealer: Broder Bros.,' Catalog Age, September 15, 1995, p. 126.
  • 'The Golden Rule--Dedication and Service Drive Operations at Broder Bros.,' Distributor Showcase, 1995, p. A12.
  • Haldane, Neal, 'Domino's Owner Buys Sportswear Wholesaler,' Detroit News, May 26, 2000, p. O2.
  • 'Harold Brode: Selling Service,' Corporate Detroit Magazine, August 1, 1991, p. 4.
  • 'If You Haven't Got Service, What Have You Got?,' Printwear Magazine, April 1989, pp. 86--87.
  • Serwach, Joseph, 'Broder: Bain Deal Provides Fuel for Growth,' Crain's Detroit Business, May 15, 2000, p. 41.
  • Slater, Deborah M., 'Broder Brothers: Wholesaler on the Go,' T-Shirt Retailer and Screen Printer, June 1986, pp. 31--34.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 38. St. James Press, 2001.