Ford Motor Co. popularized the slogan “Quality is Job 1” in its 1980s ad campaigns.
Consumers understood what Ford did revolved around a simple philosophy — make quality products, and everything else will fall in line.
Henry S. Belden began operating Belden Brick Co. with that approach nearly two decades before Henry Ford started his company in 1903.
Belden Brick President & CEO Robert (Bob) F. Belden, Henry’s great grandson, said quality still drives the Canton-based company.
“Our motto is, ‘The standard of comparison since 1885,’” said Bob. “We do special things to make our quality as high as it can be. We work to live up to that motto every day.”
The quality standard includes everything from people to products to manufacturing to equipment. It’s worked pretty well for Belden Brick.
Belden is the sixth-largest manufacturer of bricks in the United States by production volume. It’s also the country’s largest family-owned-and-operated brick company.
Belden Brick’s 133-year history makes it one of Stark County’s oldest companies. Now operated by the fourth generation, a transition to the fifth generation is not far off.
“In 1983, the third generation of the family was nearing retirement,” said Bob. “My cousin, Bill Jr., and I were invited to continue that Belden tradition.”
Brian S., Robert T. and Bradley H. Belden, and John J. Streb Jr. are part of the fifth generation soon to take over day-to-day operations.
“Family businesses transitioning to the fifth generation are rare,” said Bob. “We’re fortunate that multiple generations of our family maintained interest in daily operations.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Through the Great Depression, two World Wars, multiple recessions and more, the family has managed to keep the company an industry leader.
“We never could predict what would come next,” said Bob. “But we’ve always been able to adapt, change and survive.”
While the product hasn’t changed much over the years, technology has advanced.
From the semi-automatic mason, a technologically advanced, laser-guided, software-programmed brick layer, to premanufactured panels, there’s opportunity for more change to come in the industry.
Belden is now innovating within its own manufacturing operations. The company is undergoing a $20 million capital investment at its Plant 8 in Sugarcreek.
“We’re reimagining this 50-year-old operation,” said Bob. “We’re rebuilding everything between clay preparation and the kilns, changing the drying process, making things more automated and generally making the operation more efficient.”
Automation is key. It’s challenging maintaining a consistent workforce.
“There’s still plenty of manual labor in the brick industry,” said Bob. “It’s becoming more difficult to find and keep the right people.”
The parent company of Belden Brick is Belden Holding & Acquisition, which also owns Redland Brick in Williamsport, Md.
Belden companies operate 10 brick manufacturing operations and two brick distribution companies, employing about 750 people overall.
Not only does Belden compete against other brick manufacturers, the company also finds itself going up against stone, fiber cement board, siding, glass and other building materials.
“We sell Belden Brick as the resource that provides the best quality and most value,” said Bob.
Brick is popular in buildings built to endure, like schools, hospitals and homes. About 65 percent of Belden bricks are used in non-residential buildings.
Belden sells products across the United States and in Canada. Some specialized products, like chemical-resistant brick, can be found as far as Australia.
One need not look far to find Belden products, used right here in the Innis Maggiore office building, the Pro Football Hall of Fame (original building and expansions), the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s Zimmermann Symphony Center, and Kent State University’s new Center for Architecture and Environmental Design.
Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., and Miller Park in Milwaukee also feature Belden bricks.
Five generations of Beldens have held leadership roles in industry organizations, including the Brick Industry Association in Reston, Va., and the National Brick Research Center at Clemson University in Anderson, S.C.
Giving back to the community also is a Belden tradition. Organizations impacted by the Belden family’s time and resources are too numerous to mention, but include the United Way, Aultman Hospital, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Sisters of Charity Foundation, the Canton Student Loan Foundation, and the Stark County Historical Society.
“Serving our community is an expectation that comes with being part of the Belden family,” said Bob. “We’re fortunate to have kept community service a Belden tradition and expect that to continue with future generations.”
Understanding Belden Brick’s history provides a glimpse of what the future may hold.
A focus on quality will remain, as will the ability to adapt, change and survive.