Thursday, April 24, 2014
Ask Brent Burger his secret to success in the hardware and energy business, and he talks about putting customers first, treating employees with respect and giving to the community.
Brent Burger, owner of five Maine-based True Value stores as well as an energy company, is now chairman of the board for True Value Company, one of the world's largest retailer-owned hardware cooperatives.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
You might say such vision has taken Burger to the top.
The owner of five True Value stores, as well as an energy business in central Maine, Burger, 47, recently was named chairman of the board for True Value Company, one of the world's largest retailer-owned hardware cooperatives.
"Brent brings a wealth of hardware knowledge and leadership experience to our board," Lyle Heidemann, president and chief executive officer of True Value, said in a prepared statement. "As a local store owner and dedicated board member, I know he will provide great insights into the future growth of True Value Company."
Burger was elected chairman last month in Atlanta after having served as a board member since 2007.
"The role of our board is oversight of the company, and our focus is on the strategy that the company has deployed," Burger said.
As chairman, he leads the board and works closely with the chief executive officer of True Value. He holds board meetings five times a year at the company's Chicago headquarters, kicks off semi-annual trade shows and serves as a liaison between the board and CEO.
Burger owns the multi-million dollar business Campbell's Companies Inc., which includes Campbell's Agway True Value stores in Winslow and Farmingdale; Campbell's True Value Hardware, Campbell's Building Supply and Val-U-Energy, of Madison; and Campbell's True Value store in Skowhegan.
He has 72 employees, works about 15 hours a day six or seven days a week, and still has time for his two boys, 11 and 14.
"I have unbelievable employees," Burger said. "I totally get that they are the face of the company. They make sure that customers come back. We don't sell much stuff that somebody else isn't selling. A customer has to choose."
What his business really offers, he said, is the attention customers deserve.
"I say to my staff all the time, 'The only place we get revenue is from the customer. Your responsibility is to make sure that customers get the attention they deserve because they chose us over somebody else.'"
Burger regards his managers as peers.
"We don't have hierarchy in the company," he said. "We're all as equal as we can be. Somebody has to steer the ship, but steering the ship is not what paddles it along."
Burger's generosity extends much further than the parameters of his company. He has given to many causes, including the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville. His $50,000 contribution helped build a new, 40-bed shelter on Colby Street that more than doubled the number of beds at the former Ticonic Street shelter.
In 2007, he rescued a woman and her nine children from losing their home. As part of the "Nine Days for Nine Children" project, Burger saved the home from foreclosure, helped do a home makeover and guided the family in financial matters.
He remains involved and active with the family today.
"We call it giving back," Burger said of helping others. "We believe that we are in business because the community keeps us in business. I believe that it is our responsibility to give back. We have a special focus on disadvantaged families and children."
From farm to business world
Burger's climb to success was anything but predictable.
He grew up on a family farm in Indiana with his mother and three siblings. They grew fields of hybrid corn and sold it to farmers who planted corn crops for the highest yield. The family's farm also had hogs, chickens and cattle.
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