Blazing Trail’s family business empire

Metro Vancouver appliance retailer’s gamble on expanding during the recession has paid big dividends for the 300-employee operation

Trail Appliances president Jason Broderick (left) with company executive VP James Reynolds in a Trail showroom | Photo: Dominic Schaefer

Now retired, the foursome who founded Trail Appliances – couples Mike and Pat and Pete and Deb Broderick – turned over day-to-day operations in 2012 to heirs Jason Broderick, now president, and executive vice-president James Reynolds, a salesman from Trail’s early days who became Jason’s brother-in-law by making a bold, if well-sold, move on the owner’s daughter.

“I asked her out and the rest is history,” said Reynolds. “She was worth the risk.”

Turns out the story makes great fodder for ribbing among family.

“I always joke that he wasn’t good enough to move up in the company,” said Broderick, poking fun at Reynolds. “He had to marry in.”

It’s the kind of good-natured camaraderie that underscores a critical element of Trail’s culture.

“As we get bigger, we’ve continued to strive not to lose that family feeling,” said Broderick.

Now 300 employees strong, Trail employs 22 members of the Brodericks’ extended family.

“Having the family working here gives us extra reach in engaging the staff,” said Reynolds, noting that having family members scattered throughout the company also makes employees feel closer to the founding family.

It doesn’t hurt that Broderick heads out on deliveries with front-line staff once a month, a practice he said not only provides valuable insight into the struggles employees face, but also shows them they are deeply valued. And that, agreed both Reynolds and Broderick, keeps them from leaving.

“Our turnover is very low,” said Reynolds. “Average for managers is about 10 years, and for salespeople it’s about eight.” That’s less than 1%, leagues better than the industry average.

A 2014 Conference Board of Canada report showed the retail sector’s voluntary turnover rate for 2012-13 was just over 20%, a rate that according to an Alberta Human Resources and Employment report translates into direct and indirect costs of around $4,000 for a minimum-wage, entry-level worker. That number is significantly higher in the case of managers and salespeople.

Those savings have been a key factor in the company’s continued growth during what has at times been a volatile financial climate. The 2008 recession hit the housing industry hard. BCStats reported housing starts in 2007 and 2008 were 39,195 and 34,321, respectively. In 2009 that number dropped dramatically to 15,203.

Unsurprisingly, the retail appliance market suffered along with it. Statistics Canada reported a 6.5% drop in home appliance sales in 2009, where both 2008 and 2010 showed increases of around 9%. Yet, when the economy was approaching its worst dip in 2009, Broderick and Reynolds invested heavily in what would become Trail’s biggest store. “It was a huge investment at the beginning of a recession,” said Reynolds, noting it was a tough sell for the senior Brodericks.

“They’re going, ‘Are you guys sure?’ But it was nothing different from what they had done in the past. It was just a rejuvenated risk-taking approach.”

They didn’t stop there, either. Broderick and Reynolds are set to complete Trail’s most recent expansion, a 22,000-square-foot showroom and 13,000-square-foot head office in the home decor hub on Sweden Way in Richmond. 

Jason Broderick’s top six tips for running a family business

1. Be active in your business: understand every part of your business and drive for continuous improvement.

2. Lead by example: show others that you will ask of them only what you are prepared to do yourself.

3. Show patience: with your staff and with your family. Remember you are all on the same team and have the same goals. Don’t be petty.

4. Appreciate one another: respect and appreciate each person’s strengths and differences. It is important for family members to exemplify this. If everyone uses their differences to play their position well, the team will win.

5. Foster a nurturing environment: truly care about your staff and your customers. Engage them and show them that you care.

6. Ensure you and your team: get the job done and have fun doing it