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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Building a name: Acme Brick at 125

George Bennett had an ambitious idea back in 1884 when he quit his job at McCormick Reaper and Harvester Co. in Dallas. He planned to start his own brick-making business on three 160-acre tracts in Parker County.

Bennett couldn’t have imagined that his business, chartered as the Acme Pressed Brick Co. in 1891, would still be building dreams and paving the way forward 125 years later as the Fort Worth-based Acme Brick Co.

To date, the company has produced brick for more than 2 million homes and thousands of commercial, civic and educational buildings. Acme currently has more than 2,000 employees and operates 25 brick plants in six south-central states, Colorado, and Alabama.

Acme’s core market is Texas and the nearby states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and portions of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Mississippi. Acme officials say it is the only brick manufacturer that stamps its logo into residential brick products and gives a 100-year guarantee to homebuyers that is transferable to every successive owner.

The company has managed to hold onto its roots while diversifying and remaining flexible with market ups and downs.

“Our footprint is in the South and Southwest,” said Britt Stokes, Acme’s marketing director. “We realized long ago that in order to continue to succeed, we would need to become a building materials supplier.” (In addition to the brick manufacturing facilities, Acme owns six concrete block manufacturing plants, two natural stone operations, a tile division, and a division that specializes in glass block and glass flooring systems.

Brick is still the main business, but now Acme sells iron doors, outdoor kitchens, ceramic floor and wall tile. Most recently, ‘Thin’ brick brings Acme’s core product into home interiors, and it is easily installed without the need for a structural foundation.

The long-lived company has survived several big economic downturns, the Great Depression and the Great Recession, two world wars and an onslaught of cheap imported brick. Over the years discipline and planning for the long term have served it well.

Plants and businesses have been acquired, divested, shut down temporarily, closed permanently and merged with others as the market has required, Stokes said. Hesitation to act would have been crippling.

“During the recent Great Recession, Acme was forced to downsize to better meet the size of the market,” Stokes said. “Manufacturing plants reduced production or were temporarily shut down. We experienced up to a 75 percent drop in available business in some markets.”

Even while scaling back production, the company continued to diversify its product line to keep market share growing despite the recession.

Now, Stokes said, Acme is positioned to scale up to serve the growing needs of the market.

Acme produces brick for both residential and commercial construction, with residential use being the larger part of their business. About a third of Acme’s 25 brick plants produce commercial brick, including special shapes for dramatic details in commercial brick architecture.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges for any 125-year-old company is keeping relevant from one generation to the next.

“Keeping our product line current or ahead of market trends can be a challenge,” Stokes said, adding that contemporary colors, patterns and shapes must freshen product lines. “The construction cycle in building is cyclical, and we have to redirect our sales efforts when homebuilding levels are lower to sell into the commercial and remodeling markets.”

No one can get comfortable with his successes, he said.

“There has to be a lot of internal change and innovative thinking,” Stokes said. “Acme was one of the first brick companies to embrace computer technology, back in the 1970s. Acme’s delivery fleet is second to none in the industry, with centralized logistics and geocoding experts in Fort Worth coordinating with about 80 local dispatchers to make sure our products get to the job site when needed.”

Fort Worth itself is a showcase of structures built over the years with Acme products. Among them are dozens of public schools, Sundance Square, Tarrant County’s Justice Center and Family Law buildings, Bass Hall and Amon Carter Museum of American Art (both from Acme’s Texas Quarries Limestone division), Texas Christian University’s new Brown-Lupton University Union and Clark Residence Hall, and the historic Thistle Hill and Eddleman-McFarland homes.

Historic buildings in Fort Worth also include the First United Methodist Church and Texas and Pacific Lofts building.

Charlie Powell, president of the Fort Worth branch of Ciera Bank, says it was a natural choice to use Acme Brick products in the bank’s new 20,000- square-foot building at 1501 Summit Ave.

“We know them at many levels through personal relationships, so it was an easy decision to work with our friends at Acme Brick,” Powell said. “They do so much for the community and they’re such good corporate neighbors.”

And, Powell said, Ciera officials liked the product.

“We were so impressed with the beauty of Acme Brick’s corporate office that we ordered the identical hard-fired brick for our bank,” Powell said. “It is important to us that when people drive past our building, which is the gateway to downtown for those entering on Summit Avenue, they recognize Ciera Bank as a financial institution that is built upon quality and is here for the long haul.”

A sense of shared history also came into play, according to Powell.

“Ciera Bank and Acme Brick were both founded 125 years ago in rural North Texas,” said Powell. “We feel that by using Acme Brick on our bank building, we are giving a vote of confidence in Fort Worth’s continued success.”

Acme Brick Co.’s milestone birthday was celebrated on April 15 at each of its 66 offices and 25 brick and block plants in 14 states. Employees at each location enjoyed birthday cake and every facility got a 125th anniversary plaque near its entry.

Company president Dennis Knautz made a congratulatory tour of the sites. Mayors attended some of the parties and governors made proclamations and sent congratulatory letters.

A large-format book of historical photographs and company history is available for viewing on the company web site at www.brick.com/history.

Acme Brick Co. has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. since 2000. It is one of several Fort Worth companies – including Justin Brands, TTI, Mouser and BNSF – owned by investor Warren Buffett’s company.

Sidebar:

Brick-by-Brick

Acme Brick’s memorable moments range from business emergencies to a triumphant tour for the world’s largest brick. Here are highlights from the company’s first 125 years:

• In 1901, Acme purchased its first print ad to publicize the buildings that had been built with Acme brick during the first 10 years.

• In 1902, construction began on Acme’s first largescale job, and it was an historic one for the company and for Fort Worth: the Swift and Armour meatpacking plants in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

• A 1908 strike and an ensuing economic depression led to Acme’s only full shutdown, in 1910, but in December 1910 a fire in Midland and the urgent need for brick for rebuilding prompted the plant’s reopening.

• In 1911, Acme’s headquarters was on the move, relocating to 824

Monroe St. in Fort Worth. Two years later it moved to the First National Bank Building at Seventh and Houston streets. Acme later headquartered in the Neil P. Anderson Building at Seventh and Lamar streets.

• In 1952 Acme built its own headquarters at 2821 W. Seventh St. using brick from its own Denton plant.

• In 2007, Acme moved into a new building along the Trinity River in southwest Fort Worth at 3024 Acme Brick Plaza. Mayor Mike Moncrief helped dedicate the facility. Brick, block, stone, IBP Glass Block Grids and tile from all Acme facilities are incorporated into the structure.

• An ad in the Star-Telegram in 1921 touted the use of the company’s brick in several new downtown Fort Worth buildings: the Texas Hotel, the W.T. Waggoner Building, the Farmers and Mechanics National Bank Building, the Star-Telegram and the Neil P. Anderson Building. The slogan “Build for the centuries with Acme Brick” was prominently displayed.

• In 1928, Acme sold 165 million bricks, a record that would last 20 years due to the Great Depression that began in 1929. The results of the economic disaster were swift: In 1930 Acme sold 98 million bricks, and by 1932 sales were just 24 million. In 1934 the first annual loss was posted.

• By 1940, annual sales were back up to 85 million bricks.

• During World War II, German prisoners of war worked at Acme plants in six locations.

• Postwar sales tripled between 1945 and 1950, from $3 million to $9 million.

• By 1960, Acme had 19 plants, 32 sales offices and annual sales of $300 million. That same year Acme developed King Size brick at the Oklahoma plant and Classic brick in Denton.

• In 1968, Acme made its first non-brick acquisition, concrete block maker Nolan Browne Co. of Dallas. After acquiring several precast concrete and stone products, the company formally changed its name to First Worth Corp., and merged with the Justin Companies and Louisiana Concrete Products.

• John S. Justin Jr. became president of First Worth in 1969 and president of Acme Brick in 1970. First Worth changed to Justin Industries Inc. in 1972. Later, Justin Industries put its entire building products division under the umbrella of Acme Brick.

• By 1976 Acme had become the nation’s No. 1 brickmaker in both sales and production.

• In 1978 Acme set the U.S. record for single-year brick sales.

• The years of 1976 through 1979 saw both a building boom and an outside threat to Acme’s business. Poorly made brick imported from Mexico flooded the Texas market. In the peak year, 1978, shipments of Mexican brick totaled about 500 million. Acme countered with an informational campaign to fight the competitive threat. In 1981, as housing starts hit a 35-year low, Acme built its brick inventory to 400 million. Mexican brick sales dropped 60 percent from 1978, and Acme crafted an advertising campaign aimed at apartment dwellers who might be thinking of buying new homes.

• Record housing starts in 1983 and 1984 translated to record sales figures for Acme, and the company opened more than a dozen new sales offices.

• Acme began stamping its name on one end of each residential brick in 1987.

• A takeover attempt occurred in 1989 when an investor group announced its intent to acquire Justin Industries. A flurry of counteroffers and legal actions stretched into 1991, when the investor group sold off its stake in Justin Industries to other Texas investors, ending the takeover bid.

• In 1991, Acme Brick Co. celebrated its 100th anniversary.

• In 1993, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman became Acme’s spokesperson in radio, print and tv advertising.

• In 2000, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired Justin Industries Inc.

• In 2001 Acme’s annual shipments exceeded 1 billion for the first time.

• Dennis Knautz, a 23-year employee of Acme Brick, became president and chief operating officer in 2005, positions he still holds.

• “Baby Clay,” the world’s biggest brick according to Guinness World Records, was born on July 4, 2007. It travelled to every plant and sales office to mark Acme’s 116th anniversary.

Acme Brick to receive Spirit of Enterprise Award from Fort Worth Chamber:

www.fortworthbusiness.com/news/acme-brick-to-receive-chamber-s-spirit-of-enterprise-award/article_5950e140-2766-11e6-b24a-c3a8f12a2f61.html

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