The third generation owner of Barrett Supply Co. at 2501 Mike Padgett Highway has been holding the reins for 30 years.
Started by his grandfather, F. Madison Barrett, in 1925, Barrett Supply Co. specializes in plumbing and irrigation supplies. Most of the company’s clients are within 70 miles, but it ships products throughout the world, from the Virgin Islands to the Philippines, and assists customers via the Internet. Most of his clients are industrial businesses, he said.
Barrett said he was destined to be a small business owner.
Before taking over the business, Barrett worked for his father, Alex Barrett, for years. He joined the business after college in 1972 because he liked numbers and working with people.
When his father died in 1989, Barrett decided to buy out his siblings’ share of the business.
His father never gave him anything and taught him the value of hard work, he said.
“If you pay for something, you’ll appreciate it more,” Barrett said.
When employees come to work at Barrett Supply, they stay for the long haul, he said. Barrett’s six employees have worked at the business for between 19 and 35 years. His pump manager and salesman, Charles Johnson, has worked at Barrett Supply for 35 years. His wife, Marsha Barrett, who he said plays a vital role in keeping the business organized, has worked there for 21 years.
A rare practice in business today, his wife sends out thank you cards to all customers to make them feel appreciated. If his business doesn’t have merchandise that a customer wants, Barrett will contact other retailers to see if they have it.
“There’s more to business than dollars and cents. It’s emotion. We try to keep our customers as happy as we can make them,” he said.
His grandfather started in the business in 1922 with several partners. He decided to branch out on his own and moved to the 500 block of Broad Street. He later purchased the building at 635 Broad St., where the business remained until Barrett moved to Mike Padgett Highway in 2001. The new location was more convenient for industrial customers and had additional parking, he said.
Barrett said his grandfather was self-educated because his parents didn’t have the money to send him to school, but he was a very smart man. He started out as a plumber.
His grandfather initially sold tubs, water heaters and cast iron pipes and later specialized in plastic pipe valves and fittings, industrial pipe valves, pumps and sprinkler/irrigation equipment. Barrett said his grandfather sold the original piping for Augusta National Golf Club.
Loans were difficult to come by in Augusta when his grandfather was trying to purchase the Broad Street building, so he had to travel by train to Atlanta to find another bank. He was able to get a loan for $125,000. He spent $25,000 on the building and $100,000 on inventory. His grandfather died in 1960.
Today’s market is the most challenging the business has ever faced, he said. Business began to suffer after Sept. 11, 2001, when the economy slowed, but the company was able to stay afloat because it had quoted a large order for material for a business in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Barrett needs to order materials in large quantities, but getting financing is difficult because of the banking crisis. Businesses also have more rules and regulations to follow, and there is big competition from retailers such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot. But Barrett said he isn’t giving up on the 87-year-old business.
“We’re still here. That’s more than a lot of people,” he said.