Andrew Brown
Billy Brown Photography / Andrew Brown

A lot of "good ol' boys" do business with Brown Lumber and Building Supply, says Andrew Brown of his family's business in Columbiana, a central Alabama town of 5,000 that's the seat of Shelby County. Most have been around more than 30 years; some were friends of his grandfather, the second Andrew Brown. Now a year out of Auburn University, this fourth Andrew Brown is getting on-the-job schooling. Here's what he knows:

Log On: I usually get in about 6:30 a.m. I run sales reports before I start getting phone calls and a cup of coffee. We're on the Advantage computer system; it's the end of day, month, and year reports that I look at. First thing and last thing I look at is the delivery board, see what we have coming up.

Business Clues: Other than profit being up or down, I look at the permits; that gives me a gauge. [Also] we're big in retail. The nearest Lowe's or Home Depot is about 20 minutes away, so we've made a nice niche market here. We do look at our daily and monthly ticket count.

Father Knows Best: Dad handles more of the legal side of things, the accounts receivable, filing liens, profit and loss, balance sheets–that buck stops with him. We share inventory duties. ... He's kind of gradually giving it to me.

Stand-Up Guys: We have a country kind of area, and we have a local co-op. We try to honor our local businesses. They shop with us, and we try to return the favor. Everything we do, we try to do as much here. I know I can get it cheaper elsewhere, but I like dealing with Susie down the street, I like seeing her face.