Brookwood Farms president: Company continues to grow, always progressing

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/24/20

SILER CITY — Brookwood Farms and its president Jerry “Twig” Wood III are probably used to all the praise by now.

The barbecue-producing company, based in Siler City, won a 2019 Triangle …

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Brookwood Farms president: Company continues to grow, always progressing

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SILER CITY — Brookwood Farms and its president Jerry “Twig” Wood III are probably used to all the praise by now.

The barbecue-producing company, based in Siler City, won a 2019 Triangle Business Journal Family Business Award and earned the 2018 Manufacturing Leadership Award for developing markets from the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Additionally, Wood said, the company has grown each year since 1982 — and Brookwood Farms’ growth last year clocked in at an impressive 12 percent.

“We work awful hard at what we do,” Wood said. “We make a really good product, probably considered the best product in the county in our category. Certainly not the biggest by any stretch, but probably the biggest that cooks like we do. We do everything just like you do in your backyard, except we’ve got steroids.”

The company stretches its production at its Alston Bridge Road plant across 900 yards of cooking space that can produce up to 130,000 pounds of cooked and sauced meat every day, and it’s got a rich history as well.

Wood sat down with the News + Record earlier to talk about why Brookwood Farms being a family business is important, plans for expansion and his favorite thing his plant produces.

What does it mean to you that this is a family business?

WOOD: It means everything. Everybody has a common goal. Every family wants their kids to come and work with them if it’s feasible to do. I’ve got two kids, (Mid-Atlantic Regional Sales Director) Burton and (Quality Control Director) Stephen, and (brother and Vice President) Craig has (Retail Regional Sales Director) Craig Jr. and (National School Commodity Sales Director) Ashley — they’re all in, three of them in sales, Burton and Craig and Ashley, and Stephen is assistant plant manager here inside with me. It means everything. You have a goal at the end of my time that it keeps going on rather than an exit strategy to sell out to the Hormel or the Smithfields of the world.

It’s why you do what you do, why we do what we do. My granddad started in 1941 here, and my dad with Chatham Foods and Hickory Mountain Farms and now Brookwood Farms. It’s just carrying on the idea.

How does Brookwood Farms as a company “carry on the idea” while keeping things fresh and innovating?

Just brainstorm. We have family meetings at least every quarter, hopefully every month. It’s hard to get the kids off the road and have everybody here. We bounce ideas off the wall. Some stick, some don’t, of meat items. You take a meat item and say, “What can we do with this? Do we sell it whole? Do we slice it? Is it retail? Is it food service? Or K-12?” We started out really as a pork barbecue company back in ‘78. We now do pork, beef, chicken, turkey. We do ribs, hot dog chili. It just expands, the line expands.

The young ones keep pushing us old ones to not be satisfied. With them coming on, you say, OK, now it’s going to be six families out of this instead of two. So we’ve got to support these six families, and the only way to do that is growth. You’ve got to grow. If you’re not growing, you’re backing up, you’re standing still.

What are the farthest reaches of your sales efforts?

Alaska — we ship to Alaska. We don’t export, but we’ve got the United States covered (from) Denver east, and then we’ve got a representative in Los Angeles, actually, who works for us. She goes up and down the west coast, and then (someone) in the school side in Idaho. We haven’t got to Hawaii yet. Working on it. I’m going to go close that deal.

It’s got to be a little surreal, not just to you but to folks who don’t know much about Brookwood Farms, that a little company in Siler City ships meat all the way to Alaska.

It’s hard to wrap yourself around it sometimes. We’re proud of what we do. In 2006, there’s a company down in Charlotte that is called Premier, a healthcare co-op. We presented our barbecue to them. And they said, “Wow, this is really good. We’d like to get on your contract.” We were just in the southeast, starting a branch. “We’d like to have you, but this contract is a national contract.” My brother Craig came back and said, “What do you think?” I said, “What do you think?” He’s in sales, I’m in production. He said, “Let’s go for it,” and I said, “Let’s go for it.” That was in November, and we were awarded the barbecue for them.

My brother put together a national broker network from November to February, and all of a sudden we were a national company through U.S. Food Service. That’s really what jump-started this, supplying (Premier). They’re a big outfit.

What’s next for Brookwood Farms?

What’s next is growth. We have one dock that we ship out of that is 35-40 years old now that we have put 15 million pounds a year through. We are in the process of buying a piece of land skirting the (Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing) Megasite out there, and our shipping and distribution is going to be moved out there, and our shipping crew and everybody is going out there, which gives us room to expand processing-wise here. We’ve just purchased Chatham Trades — we own that now, all the way to the armory. We need employee parking, we’re outgrowing our offices. We need a new office building. Just getting bigger and better.

Have we got things on the horizon? We’ve got projects on the horizon. Some work and some don’t. Just turning over rocks. Our sales motto is “drag the bag.” What it means is you’re going to take stuff out and you’re going to sample people. You’re going to put it in front of them and that’s how you sell, food shows and cold calls. Then all of a sudden, it hits.

Bojangle’s is a big player, big factor here for us. Food Lion is a big factor for us, Publix down in Florida is a big factor for us. We’ve got a convenience chain out of Oklahoma that’s going to be a real big player for us in the next three to four years. We call it the “Pig Board.” We’ve got seven salespeople, and under their name is who they’re going after. You get to strike off a thing on the Pig Board if somebody lands an account.

Do you have a favorite Brookwood Farms product?

We have a product that is made with Boston butts that’s pulled, not so much vinegar sauce. That’s my favorite. That or our brisket. Our brisket is about as good as you can make it. Took about three years to develop it. My son actually went to Texas and we’re selling a lot of brisket in Texas, which is hard for somebody in North Carolina to go down there and sell what they make down there.

What else should people know about Brookwood Farms that might be interesting and maybe even surprising?

Other than the way we cook it — which is just like you do it in your backyard — we have about 120 employees, and we have a saying. “Once you’re inside the fence, you’re family.” We really try to treat our folks like family. Is that unusual? I don’t know, that’s just the way we do things. We’ve got a lot of long-term employees. We’ve got a lot of short-term employees. Since Mountaire (Farms) came into town (last year), it’s really diluted the workforce, and we’ve had a lot of new turnover. We really try to treat people like family and want them to want to work here. That’s my goal. My goal is operations, to do little things that hopefully mean something.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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