BCR: All in the Family

November 30, 2003
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Through a firm commitment to quality, customer service and its employees, family-owned Lee Brick & Tile has positioned itself for continued success.

Independent, family-owned manufacturing companies are becoming increasingly scarce in today's economy as the cost of doing business steadily increases. However, some family-owned companies have continued to thrive despite the challenges. Lee Brick & Tile in Sanford, N.C., is one such company. For more than 50 years, Lee Brick & Tile has met the needs of builders, architects and developers in the southeastern U.S. under the guidance of the Perry family. As the company has passed from generation to generation, its founding principles haven't changed: Meet the needs of the customer, value the employees and produce a high-quality product. With a firm commitment to these principles and a willingness to invest in the technology necessary to ensure efficient manufacturing, the company has experienced tremendous growth-and remains poised for continued success in the future.

Left to right: Adam Perry (Hugh Perry’s great-grandson), Rad Holton, Don Perry, Frank Perry and Gil Perry.

A Quality Mindset

Lee Brick & Tile was originally founded by Hugh Perry and 10 local businessmen from the Lee County/Sanford, N.C., area. Each of the investors contributed to help construct a facility that could compete with existing plants of Sanford Brick and Borden Brick, earlier arrivals in Lee County. Construction of Lee Brick & Tile began in 1948, with the official plant opening in 1951. Then, in the late 1950s, Hugh Perry bought out the investing partners for sole ownership, making Lee Brick a family owned and operated company.

Quality was paramount, and the Perry family knew that making a high-quality product would require a clean, efficient plant. "My grandfather believed that if you work in junk, you're going to do junky work," said Don Perry, president and third-generation owner of Lee Brick.

Good housekeeping was an important part of the Perry family's strategy, but the owners also knew that investments in modern, high-quality equipment would be necessary to help the company operate efficiently. The original grinding room was replaced in 1964, and the construction of a new, fully automated plant began in 1970. The plant, which opened in 1972, was the first fully automated brick plant in North Carolina at that time. The new plant featured one of the first major technological breakthroughs in the industry-the tunnel kiln, which allowed the brick to be fired continuously. The plant's two six-brick-wide tunnel kilns were built by Boyd Miller of Salisbury, N.C. The original plant was gradually phased out in 1973 as Lee Brick's annual production increased from 25 million to 35 million modular brick equivalents per year in what is known today as Plant #1.

As word of Lee Brick and its commitment to quality spread throughout the building industry, demand for its products increased. In 1985, Lee Brick began construction of its 70,000-square-foot Plant #2, and the opening of this plant in September 1986 increased capacity to 70 million modular brick equivalents per year. Construction of Plant #3-including a new, fully automated grinding room-was completed in 1998, increasing the company's capacity to 115 million modular brick equivalents per year.

While each new plant incorporated the latest state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, the company didn't stop there. It also continued to evaluate its existing technology to ensure its plants were operating at optimum efficiency. In 2002, the company completed updates to its original grinding room, which serves Plants #1 and #2. A new jaw crusher replaced a single-roll crusher that had been built in the 1940s, and a Basic Machinery automatic reclaimer-which was also used in the grinding room for Plant #3-replaced an outdated bucket feeder system. "A lot of people told us that a jaw crusher wouldn't work in the brick industry because damp clay materials tend to clog up the system, but that hasn't been a problem for us," said Don Perry. "Our old single-roll crusher couldn't crack a rock much bigger than a baseball. The jaw crusher has significantly increased our material throughput, enabling us to easily obtain 100 tons per hour."

The automatic reclaimer has also provided significant benefits. "Since we're no longer using front-end loaders to load material to the plants, we're able to get a much more consistent blend of material," Don said.

Additionally, the company is able to operate both grinding rooms with a total of six people (three people per room), compared to the five people that were required to run the original grinding room. "We're actually getting more material with fewer people," Don said.

Prior to 1970, almost every phase of production at Lee Brick & Tile was done by hand. Now, the first person to physically handle the product is generally a brick mason. Through its willingness to invest in new technology, the Perry family transformed a very labor-intensive process into a technologically streamlined operation.

A Commitment to Service

While investing in technology has been an important part of Lee Brick's growth, the company's owners believe that the real key to success has been its commitment to quality and customer service. "As an independent, family-owned company, we have a lot of flexibility to meet customers' needs," Don explained. "A builder might call in on Monday morning and say that he's short on brick, and we'll make them that day. We're very customer-oriented."

According to Don, the company's employees have played a primary role in establishing and maintaining the company's good reputation. Lee Brick currently employs 76 people, many of whom are trained to serve in multiple functions within the plant. The employees know that they are valued and respected; as a result, they take great pride in their work and, in turn, help ensure customer satisfaction. "There's no doubt that the people working in our plants have been a key part of our success. It's really a team effort," Don said.

Positioned for Success

As the demand for housing construction has increased over the years, so has Lee Brick's knack for brick trends. The company currently produces brick in modular, oversize, closure, utility, norman and queen sizes in more than 50 colors and textures. Its products are primarily sold east of the Mississippi River, but the company has also begun to target a broader customer base.

The company has passed from Hugh Perry to the next two generations-Frank Perry (CEO), Frank's sons Don (president) and Gil (vice president), and Frank's brother-in-law Rad Holton (secretary/treasurer)-who continue to carry on Hugh Perry's legacy. Making brick is one of the oldest industrial processes in recorded history, and Lee Brick has helped mold that history through its solid business sense, customer awareness and family pride.

For more information:

For more information about Lee Brick & Tile, contact the company at (800) 672-7559.

Sidebar
Brick Production at Lee Brick & Tile

Lee Brick's raw material-basic Triassic shale-is located and mined on site, which consists of 500 acres with 300 acres available for quarrying efforts of necessary material supplies.

After mining, the material is stockpiled. Annual material usage for brick production is approximately 225,000 tons for all three plants combined. One storage pile is produced for Plants #1 and #2, while a second storage pile is produced for Plant #3. These two stockpiles are built twice annually.

When needed, the material is transported by front-end loader to the apron feeder. From the apron feeder it goes to the crusher, then the scalping system, hammermill and screening system. The material is then stored in a reclaim storage building, which holds approximately a two-week supply of ground material. The ground material is taken out of storage by means of a Basic Machinery automatic reclaim system, fed into a surge hopper, and then into a J. C. Steele #90 brick machine.

Side-grip air bag setting machines, which are capable of setting a full car at a time, are used in all three plants. The brick are stored in a holding room, and then go into a pre-dryer with hot air supplied from the tunnel kiln. From the dryer, the brick are automatically fed into an 18-brick-wide kiln that fires cars 14 courses high. They are discharged from the kiln to automatic car moving equipment, which feeds into a dehacker equipped with automatic veneer insertion and a tine-building system for forks. The brick are then automatically strapped and pushed out of the plant, where they are ready for shipment or storage and can be stretch-wrapped if desired.

Sidebar: Equipment at Lee Brick & Tile

PLANT #1:

Grinding Plant (Common to Plants 1 and 2)
(Designed and built by GENCO)

  • Gator 24 x 36 jaw crusher with vibrating grizzly
  • GENCO Blue Max hammermill
  • One Simplicity 4 x 10-ft scalping screen
  • Four Deister 5 x 8-ft finishing screens
  • Conveying system

Extrusion and Mill Room Equipment

  • J. C. Steele 90 AD extruder
  • J. C. Steele 90 pug sealer
  • J. C. Steele Pug 1000 water system
  • EA Industries setting machine

Dryer
(Manufactured by Swindell Dressler)

  • 94 ft long
  • Three tracks
  • 24 cars
  • Three recirculation zones
  • 280 degrees F exit temperature

Kiln
(Manufactured by Swindell Dressler)

  • 246 ft long
  • 40 million brick/year capacity
  • Natural gas fired with propane backup
  • 2030 degrees F firing temperature

Packaging

  • EA Industries dehacker installed in 1974
  • Signode MHT-80 main strap
  • Cable haulage units supplied by Basic Machinery Co.

PLANT #2:

Grinding Plant (Common to Plants #1 and #2)
(Designed and built by Genco)

Storage

  • Basic Machinery Co. conveying system
  • Basic Machinery Co. reclaimer
  • J. C. Steele 124 E even feeder

Extrusion and Mill Room Equipment

  • J. C. Steele 90 BD pug sealer
  • J. C. Steele 90 AD extruder
  • Manual/remotely accessed water system
  • Auto Systems slug cutter
  • Pearne & Lacy setting machine

Dryer
(Manufactured by Swindell Dressler/John Holmes)

  • 125 ft long
  • Three tracks
  • 10 cars
  • Four recirculation sections
  • 275 degree F exit temperature

Kiln
(Obtained from Atlanta Brick; moved and rebuilt by John Holmes)

  • 325 ft long
  • 26 cars
  • 107,184 SBE/day capacity
  • Natural gas fired with propane backup
  • 2040 degrees F firing temperature

Packaging

  • EA Industries dehacker
  • Signode MHT-80 main strap and M50 cross strap

PLANT #3:

GrindingRoom
(Designed and built by Basic Machinery Co.)

  • Basic Machinery Co. apron feeder
  • Basic Machinery Co. conveying system
  • Basic Machinery Twin Rotor MM3648 primary crusher
  • Basic Machinery Co. Model 32-4-5 hammermill
  • Four Basic Machinery 5 x 8-ft Clayshaker screens
  • One Simplicity 4 x 10-ft scalping screen
  • Basic Machinery Co. automatic reclaimer
  • Basic Machinery Co. Spiral-Flo feeder

Extrusion and Mill Room Equipment

  • J. C. Steele #90 pug mill
  • E. H. Wright Pugmaster® water system
  • J. C. Steele #90 extruder
  • Auto Systems setting machine

Dryer
(Manufactured by Swindell Dressler)

  • 170 ft. long
  • Two tracks
  • 34 cars
  • Five recirculation zones
  • 300 degree F exit temperature

Kiln
(Manufactured by Swindell Dressler)

  • 340 ft long
  • 44 million brick/year capacity
  • Natural gas fired with propane backup
  • 2020 degree F firing temperature
  • Transfer cars supplied by Swindell Dressler

Dehacker/Packaging

  • Basic Machinery Co. twin head dehacker and packaging system
  • Signode MHT-80 main strapper
  • Signode MHT-80 cross strapper
  • HiVac vacuum system

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