When two brick companies joined forces to form General Shale Brick, they were looking ahead to the future of brick manufacturing and distribution. That was in 1928.
In early 2012, General Shale Brick announced it was dropping the word “brick” from its name as it continues to look ahead as the largest brick, stone and concrete manufacturer in the country.
In short, the 84-year-old company is about more than just brick now.
“Brick will always be our legacy product. That’s who we are and we’re not getting out of the brick business,” said Dawn Duncan, General Shale’s director of marketing and retail sales. “We’re coming up with new concepts every single day and we’re staying true to who we are but we’re making it so much bigger.”
General Shale is headquartered in Johnson City and employs about 2,000 people. It’s a subsidiary of the Austria-based Winerberger Group, which is the largest brick manufacturer in the world.
As the industry has evolved, so have General Shale’s product offerings, which are now being represented in the company’s focus on four new sub-brands: building products, outdoor living products, renovation products and Arriscraft building stone, brick and limestone.
One of the main reasons for the re-branding was a shift in the building industry as a whole.
Duncan said General Shale saw a change in how people were buying products, especially in the area of outdoor living. As those markets began to see significant growth, Duncan said the company knew it had to focus on being a leader in that trend.
“Homeowners aren’t buying and selling like they used to. They’re staying at home and modifying it, adding new things to it, so outdoor living space is one of the largest trends going on right now,” she said.
With its re-branding, General Shale is focusing on its retail locations in order to become more consumer friendly.
“We want the homeowner, the mason, the interior designer, the contractor, we want all of them to be able to come in here and ... buy pretty much anything you need to fix your house. You can get what you need inside the walls of General Shale,” she said.
General Shale’s retail focus began about 10 years ago. By offering its four new sub-brands at the company’s 40 retail locations across the United States — including ones in Johnson City, Kingsport and Abingdon, Va. — Duncan said General Shale is aiming to be a pioneer in that field just as it has been in the brick industry over the last 84 years.
The company itself has moved away from brick production in the Johnson City area over the last several years, but Duncan said the company still believes its roots are firmly planted within the local economy.
“Even though we’re a 84-year-old company, we still take pride in that we set trends. We’re inventing new products, we’re inventing new ways to use brick and then inventing new ways to offer that to the consumer. We’re not dead by any means,” she said.
Despite the company’s plans to auction off pieces of its property, including the former Johnson City manufacturing site at 102 S. Broadway St., and the fact the majority of the region’s production is now being done at a facility in Spring City, General Shale President and CEO Dick Green said the company is better positioned than ever before to answer the needs of the Tri-Cities area.
“While the brick manufacturing has been moved ... our block production facilities in Piney Flats is still running, as well as our focus on outdoor living products,” he said. “We have expanded our distribution in the Tri-Cities with retail showrooms located in Kingsport, Johnson City and Abingdon to directly supply all of our professional grade masonry products to our customers in this area.”