Brandons doing drapery, floors and carpets for 45 years

 

October 3, 2019

Havre Daily News/Derek Hann

Bob Brandon, from left, Kelly Brandon and Paul Hanson pose in front of Brandon's Drapery and Floor Covering.

Brandon's Drapery and Floor Covering is still going strong as a family owned and operated business after 45 years, but the credit goes to the community for their support, owner Kelly Brandon said.  

"If it wasn't for Havre, the Hi-Line and Big Sandy, all of those customers, we wouldn't be here, and so we are very thankful to try to support the community in as many ways as we can," Brandon said.

He added that he and his father are both Shriners, members of the North Central Montana Shrine Club, and try to do a number of different things for the community.

He said one thing that is important to him is buying locally, keeping the money within the community and helping other local businesses around town, adding that he could also see that downtown is turning around and he is excited for the future.

A long history in Havre

Brandon said that his father, Bob, started the business in 1974, after working for Valley Furniture and Havre Floor Covering for a number of years. 

Bob Brandon said that when he was a young man, he worked part time for Valley Furniture while in high school. After that, he earned his drafting certification while working for the highway department doing compact testing for roads. He added that it took him three years to afford his two-year degree and, after working a few other part-time jobs, he decided to leave the highway department. He said that he had ambition and knew he wanted to do something more.


After leaving the highway department, he went back to work for Valley Furniture for a number of years. After a knee injury, though, he left Valley to work for Havre Floor Covering, he said. At both Valley Furniture and Havre Floor Covering he learned a lot about how the industry worked and eventually decided to strike out on his own.

He said he went to Jerry Tucker and a few other people who worked at First National Bank and got a loan to start Brandon's Drapery and Flooring. He first opened on the 500 Block of Fourth Street across from Havre City Hall, where Bullhook Community Health Center now is, in an old church.

"It scared me because I had everything in my life hung out, and it made me want to work," he said.

He added that for the first 13 years he was in business he never took a two-week vacation.

Kelly Brandon said that looking back on when he bought the family business, everything was already established, he didn't have to go out like his father and have to start everything on his own. He added that he remembers his father used to drive his old grain truck to Spokane, Washington, to pick up carpets.


"We don't have to do that anymore," he said.

He added that he has worked hard over the years to keep the business successful, but his father, when started the business, had a much harder time because he was the one who was taking a big risk.

Bob Brandon said that out of any new business, 1 in 7 may last 10 years or longer, and he is proud they have been able to grow to where they are.

"If you are going to stay in it, you have to do everything you can," he said. "... We are not like Billings or Great Falls; we have to keep every customer we can find."

He added that one of the reasons they have been able to be successful is that they do good work and focus on the customers' individual needs.

Kelly Brandon said that he was born a few years after his father started the business and grew up with the business. He added that when he was a child, he remembers coming into work and doing a few things around the business, but also remembers climbing around on the carpets and riding with his father to different calls.

"The interest wasn't really there, maybe, I guess until I was older, but I think that was good because it was a place I would like to go, but it wasn't a place I was forced to go," he said. "He wanted me to know that I wanted to do this, as well, not just because he wanted me to."


Brandon said that he didn't start working for his father until January of 1996, a year after he graduated from high school. He added that he attended Montana State University-Northern for a year, studying drafting, but after a year decided his place was with his family's business. When he was first hired on, his father told him he would have to start at the bottom.

He added that he left college because he was more of a tradesperson, wanting to work with his hands and be able to see the work he has done.

"It may be a bathroom or the whole house or whatever, but you know you've made it better and made people happy," he said.

Bob Brandon said he started his son at the bottom because he wanted him to understand the business and the work they did.

"He said he wanted to, and I said, 'Well, yeah, OK, but you are going to start on your knees like I did, and you can still end up being a manager, but you need to know how to do it the right way,'" he said.

Kelly Brandon said he learned everything from floor covering to what products worked where and installation, but the most important thing he learned was the importance of trying to give the customers the best product for the job.

He added that he worked as an installer for years, but after some medical issues, was no longer able to do the manual labor. He then set his sights on purchasing the business. He said he and his father did a 10-year buyout period, where he would pay his father 10 percent every year for 10 years.

Bob Brandon said that it was a very successful plan and allowed him to keep working. He added that other businesses have approached him about also using this method.

Kelly Brandon said he was very fortunate to have the opportunity that he did. The buyout period also allowed his father to mentor him on the business side of things as well as gave him time to learn about bookkeeping and finances.

He added that he often talks to his father, but not always about work.

He said that the buyout was completed in 2013, the same year the business moved to its current location at 517 Second St. 

From his childhood and his adulthood, Brandon said, he remembers his father always carrying a pencil behind his ear and a tape measurer on his belt, something that he has adopted himself. But the most important thing he has learned from his father, he said, was how to be honest. Honesty is important to customers as well as having a good work ethic, he added.

The business has changed since 1974, with hard surfaces now in popularity because they are more water-resistant, child- and pet-friendly and easier to clean, he said. But as the industry changes, Brandon's will keep in pace and still provide quality service. He added that more and more people also want to be able to do the work themselves, but Brandon's is still available for help. He said that he is happy to work with people, even if they want to install it themselves.

"I don't want them to buy something, even if they are putting it in themselves, and find out it didn't work," he said.

He added that he is proud of his family business and stands behind what he sells. 

He said that having good employees also helps business run smoothly. Employee Paul Hanson, who has been with the business for 30 years, has been an anchor for the business, teaching him a lot over the years beside his father, he said. He added that Hanson is considered family and is important to the business.

The next generation

Kelly Brandon said that he also has two children himself, twins, a boy and a girl. He added that his daughter occasionally comes to the business, but his son is a little more reserved, but that is fine, as well.

"I remember what it was like for me," Brandon said. "I want them to come if they want to come, and I don't want to make them come down and say 'You have to work every day for two hours' or something, because I don't want them to be burnt out by it."


He added that if his children want to be involved in the future with the family business it would be great, but if they wanted to do something else that would be equally as great. He said he loves seeing his kids in the store; it brings back memories of himself at their age, climbing carpets, looking at samples of tile and going for rides with dad in the Brandon's van.

"It definitely brings back memories for sure," he said.

 

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