Dealerscope 2019 Hall of Fame: Angus Bryan, BrandsMart USA
If you were to ask Angus Bryan, he’d tell you that he was always going to end up in sales and retail. He felt, as a young man graduating from college in the late 1980s, that sales was his calling. Sure, he tested the waters at an industrial computer company. But after a short while, he felt the itch to get back into doing what it was that he loved, and that was selling things—especially consumer tech.
“I'd always been in and around sales when I was in high school, when I was in college—the first couple of years or so I still went back and sold various things and in department stores and always had a passion for electronics,” Bryan, a member of the 2019 class of Dealerscope Hall of Fame inductees, said in an interview.
And, as luck—or fate—would have it, as Bryan was looking to get back into the game, BrandsMart USA was also seeking to expand its retail footprint for the first time. Founded in 1978 by chairman, and past Dealerscope Hall of Fame honoree Robert Perlman, BrandsMart was a one-store operation until the company sought to open its second location in 1990. It was at that time that Bryan answered an ad for a sales position in the audio department at the store, landed an interview, and was brought on board.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Now some 28 years later, Bryan has seen his title change numerous times with BrandsSmart USA, going from sales, to merchandising, and settling into his current role as the Senior Vice President of Merchandising for the retailer. And in that time, the operation has expanded from just two locations in south Florida to 10 locations in two states—including a brand new store that opened this past fall in Dania Beach, Florida.
The BrandsMart USA story is a unique one in and of itself. But to find a personal story like Bryan’s within the retail community—someone who has basically spent his entire career with a single company—is one that is practically nonexistent in today’s retail environment. And he credits that longevity and staying power, for himself and the BrandsMart brand, to a couple of things.
“First, its opportunity,” he said. “As the owners will tell you, it’s a meritocracy. You earn your way. It's not about the time you put in, it's about the work you bring to the table during the time that you're there. And I felt like you know what that that speaks to what I believe in. If you work hard and you contribute, opportunities will knock on your door. The other thing, again, being a privately owned company and being a family-run company, it's a very open door policy company and there aren't tons of layers. When you need an answer or when you need to get something done, it's as simple as walking across the hall. We move very quickly here and flexibility, speed to decision is something that I hold dear, and because of those things for us, I feel like we're poised to meet all challenges, and because of that we've been able to survive for just over 40 years.”
A major factor in the success of the brand and Bryan in his career with BrandsMart has certainly been his leadership style. When asked to describe it, Bryan said he thinks of himself like the coach of a team. “I'm not a loud yeller or screamer—that's never been my style. But when there are people that work for you that want to achieve and that are hungry—that makes my job a heck of a lot easier than you could ever imagine,” he said. “And that's what I have, I have a fantastic team, and these guys are all willing to go the extra mile, try new things that are out there, and they're warriors.”
Just as important as acting like a coach though, Bryan said, is his adaptability—which is something that was instilled upon him early in his career.
“When you start somewhere new you've got a lot of ideas, you've got a lot of knowledge, a lot of things that you want to implement. But the mistake a lot of people make is they jump in, they don't learn anything about the company they're working for, they don't learn anything about the culture,” he said. “So the advice I received was to take all of your knowledge, roll it up inside a paper bag, and stick it outside your office for a couple of months and absorb and learn and understand what it is that the company does and why they're successful in what they do. It's one of those things that taught me that rigidity is not the way you go forward in this business. You have to be willing to adapt, but you've got to know what to adapt to. You can't just jump in and make changes without understanding what it is that you're trying to change.”
And to that very point, Bryan has played a major role in driving BrandsMart USA’s adaptability as a retailer. Having been with the company for as long as he has, Bryan was able to experience the rise of ecommerce in retail, which was something that—as we know today—completely revolutionized the way that people shop and how they interact with stores and brands.
“To see that transition from, well we have a website that provides information to consumers, to something where we not only have a website that provides information for consumers that also allows them to make purchases, and then it's almost like in this full circle you now see how many customers actually use this site to make that decision,” he said. “The one thing about the Web that is really interesting to us is just how fluid it is. And if you think you're done working on your website, then you've already lost the battle. It is constantly changing, every day is something new that you have to look out and work on and tweak because no one is standing still.”
That same mentality, he said, applies to the technology that shoppers will find on the shelves at a BrandsMart USA. Brands aren’t standing still in their efforts to push products to new limits every day. And for Bryan and BrandsMart USA the trick is finding the balance between helping consumers make sense of all of these new gadgets and why they need them in their homes, and providing that seamless in-store experience—and it’s a challenge.
“Today more than ever you're talking about how quickly technology changes, and what was introduced two years ago isn't compatible with the items that are going to be introduced at CES this year. Well, we hope they are compatible, but who knows?” Said Bryan. “Now, put yourself in the consumer's shoes for a minute and say well we can't hope, we have to make that a reality. It's our job to, as retailers and manufacturers, figure that out for the consumers and not to leave them high and dry with all of this great tech. I think that if we can answer that challenge, we're going to open a lot of doors for a lot of new product opportunities over the next few years, and it should be a great thing for the industry.”