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Bradham Brothers — Part 7: ‘Pete’s business’

User IconMike Persinger
Clock IconJune 10th, 2021
Glasses Icon6 Min Read
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Bradham Brothers, an HVAC and electrical company in Charlotte, N.C., is going through onboarding with ServiceTitan. With 50 employees and about 20 trucks in the field, taking on a new software can be a challenge. This company took ServiceTitan along for the journey. 

Part 7: ‘Pete’s business’

Rodney and Larry Bradham built Bradham Brothers Inc. on simple principles: Fair prices, a family atmosphere, and slow growth driven by word of mouth.

They had both been in the Navy, and attended Central Piedmont Community College on the G.I. Bill. They wanted to learn to be electricians, but that program was full. They asked for whatever was next on the list, and it turned out to be HVAC.

That worked out pretty well.

Both preferred working outside. Both had plenty of friends and family in Charlotte, where they grew up, and did heating and air work for them on the side. That led them to strike out on their own, founding the company that would become Bradham Brothers.

“They didn't go into it to make a fortune,” said Shelby Bradham, Rodney’s wife and mother of Bradham Brothers President Pete Bradham. “They went into it to have an income and to be able to offer their services at a reasonable price.”

When you’re born into a business, like Pete Bradham, the pull is strong.

“From the time Pete was probably just a little boy, he rode in that van with his daddy on calls,” Shelby Bradham said. “He worked with his daddy all the way from the time he was probably 5 or 6 years old.

“The family was raised in that office,” Shelby Bradham said. “Our children were raised in the van riding around, and Larry's family rode with him the same as we did.

“A lot of times, if you wanted to see them, you'd get up in the van with them or you weren't going to see them, because they were working seven days.”

That work ethic shaped Pete Bradham, and the business he wants to build now.

Maybe, even, for his son.

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Calling card

For years, the company stayed small. Shelby Bradham worked in the office part time, doing the bookkeeping in addition to her other job as a hairdresser.

Growth was at the pace they wanted: slow.

“They didn't want to go into it and have a lot of stuff going on,” she said. “I don't want to say it was easy for them because they did have to work hard,” she said. “They were in the service truck. It was nights and weekends, because we offered 24-hour service.”

Treating customers well was, and is, the calling card.

“You could go out at 12 o’clock at night,” Shelby Bradham said. “When it was really cold, they never hesitated. People can sweat it out with the air conditioning off, but we didn't want anybody being cold.”

The brothers tried to balance the prices they charged with making enough money to pay employees well. After long days in the truck, invoices, customer history and accounts receivable were all done by hand, with Shelby’s help.

“If there's any warranty parts, you've got to have something to refer back to,” she said. “Index cards, filing cabinets galore.”

And, later, early generations of computer programs.

“Rodney and Larry, they always tried to keep things up to date,” she said. “I think when Pete took over, he brought us up into the 21st century. Larry and Rodney knew what was going on and they kept up with what was going on. Pete needs to SEE what's going on.

“They could tell you what was what, when and where, but Pete can tell you what's when and where, and he can back it up.”

That desire to see everything is part of what led Bradham Brothers to ServiceTitan. But change naturally brings anxiety. And excitement.

‘A smart cookie’

Shelby Bradham still does the accounting for Bradham Brothers, and she’s nervous about how ServiceTitan’s integration with QuickBooks will work. It’s something she won’t see until after the company is live.

She has faith in her son’s decision, because she knows he has done the work to figure out which tools he needs to take his business where he wants it to go.

“He's looked at a lot of them. He's investigated a lot of them and he's worked through it. ServiceTitan is what he thinks is the best.”

But she also doesn’t want to give up her role.

“I don't want to be without something to do,” she said. “It keeps you busy when you're retired.”

For her, any concerns are overshadowed by pride.

“I'm very anxious,” she said, “but I'm also very excited because Pete is doing this his way. No matter how anxious I get, I want it to be the way he needs it.

“This is Pete's business now. We're gonna run it the way Pete wants to run it.”

Generation to generation

Rodney and Larry Bradham always knew Pete wanted to be part of the business, from those early days in the truck to their final active years in the business.

Pete Bradham admits he hated school, and would cry every day on the way to kindergarten … because he would rather be in the truck with his dad.

“They've always been close to him,” Shelby Bradham said. “They've all talked about what needed to be done. He had input even before they retired.”

Pete and Dana Bradham’s son, Boyd is, in many ways, similar. He has been around the shop from his earliest days.

“When I started working there, I had my son,” Dana Bradham said. “(Shelby) got shirts made with his name on it and he would have around this little bubble car in the shop with his little name tag, with Trane written on the side of the car.

“I'd work and he’d go around everywhere in the office.”

This summer, Boyd is at UNC Wilmington, working toward his degree in Business Operations.

Like father, like son?

UP NEXT: Accounting Angst

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