Brad Pierce, President, Restaurant Equipment World, Inc., Orlando, Fla.
Brad Pierce, president of Restaurant Equipment World, Inc. (REW), Orlando, Fla., spends an inordinate amount of time crisscrossing not only the country but oceans to shake hands and thank his customers for their business. Recently, he learned that five customers in Alaska had placed orders within a few days of each other. He flew to Alaska to personally thank each of them.
“You can’t shake hands over Skype or a video conference,” Pierce says. “I often refer to what Warren Buffet said: ‘How can you be on the same page if you’re not in the same room?’”
In a digital age rife with electronic communication via phone, text, e-mail and social media, Pierce seems like a throwback to a different era, a time when deals were done with handshakes. The second generation to run a family-owned equipment dealership, Pierce, in fact, does business in much the same way his father Jerry did before him.
“He founded the business,” Pierce says, “and his influence in terms of ethics and values really made a difference in how I and my three sisters (who also work in the business) operate as individuals. But many others in the business—Ace Mart, Bargreen-Ellingson, R.W. Smith—have served as examples and their leaders are mentors.”
Pierce firmly believes that strong relationships are the foundation of a sound business. He’d rather spend half a day drinking tea with a customer talking about anything but business than simply ask for an order.
“So many people spend their days chasing the dollar,” he says. “I focus on relationships, listening to customers and doing what’s right for them. The dollar will take care of itself.”
Pierce cites the recent multi-million-dollar order his company received from a new customer in Dubai this past year. After the order was delivered, Pierce traveled 37 hours to Dubai to say thank you and offer his hand. When the customer seemed doubtful that Pierce would come all that way for nothing, Pierce assured him that all he’d come to do was express his gratitude. When Pierce returned to his hotel, a purchase order from the customer for additional equipment worth more than $100,000 already awaited him.
If it sounds like Pierce is stuck in the past, he’s not. He’s the reason REW is at the forefront of technology and pushing to do more. When he was in college, Pierce created the industry’s first online dealer catalog by typing product descriptions and scanning photos by hand. Not long after, he helped the company accept online orders, another first. And in 1992, he created a mobile app for the Palm 7, also an industry first. The company now offers customers the option of ordering online 24 hours a day and has mobile apps so customers can access the site with smart phones.
The company’s online presence helped it expand quickly. As a result, REW has grown from five employees to 45 today. Its venture online also helped REW establish a national reputation. That reputation led the company to expand overseas and open an office in Dubai to service the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Pierce also is on the board of directors of the EDI Marketing Group, a group that promotes electronic data interchange, and is a strong proponent of the protocol that would allow everyone in the supply chain—from manufacturers to end users—to have access to each other’s data for purposes of order entry, invoicing, inventory control and more.
“It amazes me that we are still using fax machines when all our systems can be tied in with EDI in real time. We continue to ask ourselves how we can reduce costs and increase efficiency, and here’s a technology that can do both. EDI will be a key goal of mine as I take on more leadership positions in the industry.”
Although taking over a family business would seem a natural career progression, Pierce says he got into the business literally by accident. He fell in love with aviation the first time he saw a helicopter take off and worked for an aviation company through his college years. He took flight lessons even while he was creating the online catalog for REW.
A week before graduation from Florida State, Pierce piloted an Angel Flight. Minutes after takeoff, the plane lost an engine. He dodged power lines and freeway traffic on the way down and crash-landed the plane by the side of the road. He still loves to fly, but the experience convinced him to work at REW after graduation.
It was a lucky accident for the industry that he did.