Nearly 80 years ago, W.L. Brown borrowed a $50 gold piece from his grandmother to open a business. Brown and his brother Charlie, started Brown Brothers Plumbing and Heating Company out of a backyard Durham, NC shop in 1928. In 1933, the State of North Carolina officially issued license No. 282 to Brown Brothers Plumbing.
Today, president Rick Whitaker and vice president Morris Stanford manage 80 employees serving commercial and residential needs of the Triangle. Whitaker’s father, Norman, bought the Brown Brothers business in 1977 and quickly expanded the operation absorbing eight other firms. To accommodate the growth, Whitaker moved the business into a larger building next door to the original location in 1986.
“We have been on the same block in North Durham forever,” Whitaker explained. “We have a lot of repeat customers and have been serving the same areas for several years. Some folks tell us stories of when they were playing at their grandparent's house and remember a Brown Brothers truck pulling up.”
Brown Brothers is a leader entrenched in the local community. Both Whitaker and Stanford are actively involved in local industry associations, charity organizations and youth athletics. Brown Brothers provides plumbing and heating services to several area universities including Duke University, North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“When students leave in May, we will provide renovations, repairs and replacements to the dormitories and other facilities to help keep up with growth,” Whitaker stated. “We do a lot of work commercially for institutions, businesses and high density areas of Durham like Croasdaile and Hope Valley.”
Whitaker invited Jason and I into his office describe the operations of Brown Brothers. As a pioneer in the industry, the company has evolved to incorporate new technologies into their workflow. Brown Brothers is always looking to accelerate business through new efficiencies.
“We still did things the way my dad taught us, but we needed to be on the leading edge of how we dispatch or collect payments,” said Whitaker. “We’ve used two-way radios and Nextel service in the past. In today’s world you have smart phones and a lot different ways to communicate.”
Brown Brothers has used GPS to track their vehicles for over 10 years. Today, the company dispatches all of their technicians using GPS and Garmin capabilities. Whitaker expressed the challenge keeping up in a complex work environment, that includes a commercial and residential side, between accounting, dispatching and inventory.
Whitaker and Brown Brothers continue to keep up due to highly trained and knowledge servicemen. From humble beginnings in 1933, Brown Brothers Plumbing and Heating is a state-of-the-art company that is always looking for a way to stay ahead of the curve.