Keeping It in the Family

by Sara Browning

A family business for five generations, Peoria Brick Company is one of the leading suppliers of brick, stone and landscaping materials in central Illinois.

When Frederick R. Carter purchased the Spurck Paving Brick plant near East Peoria in 1899, he could not have foreseen a business that would last for more than a century—but that’s exactly what happened. The firm, then known as Peoria Brick and Tile Co., operated from that location until 1909, when Carter built a new plant on Cole Hollow Road. Sixteen years later, he purchased Rapp Clay Products at the business’ present-day location, where he managed the firm with his three sons, Raymond, Ben and Charles, and son-in-law, Harry Mau.

“After my grandfather, Charles Carter, passed away in 1964, the business transferred to my mother, Jane Carter, and father, Tom. I started in 1970, and my sister, Mary Pat Turner, and her husband Steve started in 1978. They retired in 2010,” says Tom Carney, Jr., president of Peoria Brick Company. “Now we run the business, which includes my daughter, Kim, who serves as senior vice president, and her husband, Kevin Reece, who is vice president.”

Today, the family-owned and operated Peoria Brick Company is one of the oldest firms in the state and the largest brick, stone and landscaping distributor in central Illinois, representing more than 100 manufacturers nationwide.

Building Relationships
Just as any home requires a solid foundation, so too does any business, and Peoria Brick Company stands firm on five generations of family dedication. Indeed, the business has remained in the Carter/Carney family for 114 years, giving all generations something to smile about. “There are so many benefits working with family that I just wouldn’t trade,” says Kevin, “both on the business end of things and in our daily lives.”

The chance to see each other every day not only enhances family ties, it provides opportunities to share advice across generations. “It’s nice to have different opinions from family members,” explains Tom. “There’s that closeness, that certain level of trust you have with family. You know you can always count on them to be there.”

As for balancing work and family, Kevin and Kim claim it has never been difficult to separate the two. “I’ve always said we’re 75-percent business and 25-percent marriage,” Kim laughs. “In a lot of ways, I think working together has really been a good thing,” adds Kevin. “We’ll bring our two-year-old daughter into the store, and she’ll go up to our products and shout, ‘Brick!,’ and our son will play outside in rock piles for hours. It’s good to see them excited about what we’re doing.”

And business is always a topic of conversation, Tom says, because “it’s something we’re always proud of.” The family business gives him, Kim and Kevin opportunities to build relationships, both within the family and beyond.

“I value the contacts and relationships I have built over the years working in the construction end,” says Kevin. “Our customers have become our personal friends. Sometimes we’ll go out after hours, and it’s just nice to be able to know people on different levels.”

Kim is content knowing she is following in the steps of her father and grandfather. “It gives me a real sense of accomplishment just knowing I’m where I’m supposed to be—with family. It’s a good feeling.”

Simply Better
Tom and his family harbor a firm belief that the quality and durability of brick ranks it far above other building materials—that brick is, by and large, simply better. It never requires painting or cleaning, and owners of brick homes need never be concerned with whether brick will rot, fade, peel or dent. “Homeowners can save on labor charges and paint... and a lot of headaches!” says Kevin. “Brick and stone are two of the most enduring building materials known.”

Brick homeowners can also save on energy bills. A proven insulator, brick is slow to lose or absorb heat, reducing the burden on heating and cooling systems. Brick homes stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and its proven durability helps withstand potential damage from rain, hail, ice, snow and high winds. In addition, “some homeowners believe brick and stone looks better with age,” says Tom.

Not only can brick withstand the elements, it’s also fire-resistant, causing many insurance companies to offer reduced rates. And while premiums decrease, resale values rise. “On average, brick homes command at least six percent more than other home styles,” notes Tom. “When a brick house sells, the return on the initial investment almost always proves to be a wise one.”

“Other products, such as artificial stucco, cost about the same as brick, but are far less durable, and the maintenance and upkeep are substantial,” he adds. “People who go with brick definitely make the best investment.”

Keeping Up With the Market
Consumer demand for brick and other landscaping materials has propelled the expansion of Peoria Brick Company’s line of products. Though it stopped manufacturing brick in 1982, the company continues to distribute different varieties. “When Kim came into the business, we started carrying stone products, and when Kevin joined us, we began offering landscaping supplies. Approximately 40 percent of our sales come from landscaping. You have to have diversity in order to stay with the times,” according to Tom.

At Peoria Brick Company, this diversity consists of products encompassing face brick, patio brick, thin brick, cultured stone veneer, natural building stone, custom limestone, landscape stone, masonry supplies, rock, fire pits, erosion control fabric, bulk materials, and landscape lighting. “We also sell sand, topsoil, mulch and boulders,” Tom adds. “We have over 30 different styles of boulders, mulch and decorative rock to choose from.”

In addition, Peoria Brick Company stocks various lines of retaining wall block, clay and concrete pavers, and grills. “We’re like a retail shop, but the quality of our lines is significantly better,” says Kevin. “We’ve really become a one-stop shop. We carry everything needed for masonry and landscaping. It’s really the market that dictates what we sell and supply for homes and businesses.”

In addition to the general population, Peoria Brick Company sells to homebuilders, landscapers, contractors and architects. The company has supplied building materials and products for businesses including Senara Health Center, General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport, CityLink, Westlake Shopping Center and Dozer Park, as well as Jonah’s Oyster Bar and Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria.

Exceptional Service, Continuous Growth
Peoria Brick Company services an 80-mile radius service area within central Illinois, its growth over the years reflecting the family’s hard work and love for their profession. “I began working in the business full-time in 1970, and since then we have experienced substantial growth,” says Tom. “Even within the last five years, we have evolved from selling bricks only and moved more into supplying landscape material.”

In May, the business expanded again, opening a second location in Mossville. “We’ve really grown with the times,” Tom notes. “The Peoria market has been good to us.”

Tom says 2012 was one of the best years the company has had to date and claims it is on pace for even greater success this year. “Once our customers come here, they get to know us and get to know our products and consistently come back to us. I think that speaks volumes for our service and the quality of what we have to offer.”

Tom says his employees go above and beyond for customers, each trained as an expert in his or her field. “Our employees can give guidance on why certain materials are better than others. Our goal is extraordinary service, and our customers take notice and remember us.”

Kim says the family would love to keep the business thriving into the sixth generation and leave a legacy of personalized service. “We’ve left our mark all over this area. Pieces of our history are scattered throughout central Illinois and further.”

“It’s a real privilege to be able to do what you love,” adds Tom. “And it’s a joy to do it with family beside you.” iBi

Peoria Brick Company, located at 501 Cole Street in East Peoria, is open Monday through Friday, 7am to 5pm and Saturday 8am to noon. For hours at its new Mossville location, call (309) 579-2800. For more information, call (309) 699-1116 or visit peoriabrick.com.

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