A new era is set to begin for Lake Forest-based Brook Furniture Rental Inc. as company founder Bob Crawford is retires and the company is acquired by an investment firm.
“My dad has been at the company for 35 years,” noted Bob Crawford III, who will remain in command of the daily operations of Brook Furniture. “The time was right for us to celebrate and help him start his next career.”
Brook sells high-end rental furniture at 16 different stores in the U.S. including California, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, where it has three locations.
The company was the brainchild of the elder Crawford, who saw an opportunity in February 1979.
“This seemed like a business with good potential,” he remembered. “There was not anybody focused on the high end, particularly the business person. Our focus has been the business person who has to be on the road for six months to two years and wants to live comfortably.”
Corporations found it hard to move people as they started to need to expand,” he continued. “People needed to live comfortably. It was an opportunity that emerged and led to our success.”
Soon the success was evident through the respect he received in the business community. Crawford was named chairman of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a board member of both the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. In addition, he served on an advisory council to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
In April 2012, Bob Crawford III was named Brook’s CEO and father and son have been discussing a transition for some time. Specifically, the company is looking to expand with the outside capital. That will be provided by Agman Partners, an investment firm, which will purchase the outstanding shares of Brook, coinciding with the retirement of the older Bob Crawford.
“The two things happened at the same time as we had to develop our strategic plan so when we looked at Brook, we looked at it very objectively as how do we evolve our company and we needed to find a new business partner,” Bob Crawford III said.
He said the company is targeting new markets for expansion, but declined to name specific locations. Crawford III will remain in charge of the daily operations in Lake Forest.
“For me operating the company as CEO, we maintain a rigorous process in managing our process,” he said. “We have very disciplined meetings. There will be a new owner but our customers won’t experience any changes in Brook.”
Brook has 400 employees nationwide, but Crawford does not see any layoffs coming, as can be the case in transitions such as these.
He is particularly excited about what the purchase by Agman Partners could mean.
“They will bring some outside experience and perspective and they will ask some newer questions and some outside expertise,” he said. “We have developed a three-year rigorous strategic plan where we offer some new services to our customers and expand our geographic reach.”
However, there is going to be an adjustment period for all involved, according to one expert.
“There is going to be so much of the history that the investment firm is going to be out of touch with because they didn’t live through it,” noted Patrick J. Murphy, a full professor at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business who has consulted over 100 businesses in Chicago and has published research on the transitions involving family businesses. “The investment firm is going to make decisions likely based on fully maximizing the return on their investment. The investors are expecting to get something out of it.”
The younger Crawford, who likes to bicycle through forest preserves, backpack and play baseball with sons, is anxious for the new era to start, which is expected to be sometime in the fall.
“The overall vision we have for the company,” according to Bob Crawford III, “is to be the leading furniture rental company in America and to be our customers’ best ally.”