It was 60 years ago that the three elder Bourget brothers – Henry, Lawrence, and Leo – stumbled upon a business opportunity while walking down the street. It cost only $300 to set up shop on the corner of 11th Street and Colorado Avenue back in 1947. The brothers started with concrete blocks, which you can still spot if you look closely at some of Santa Monica’s post-war structures, but quickly diversified into other construction-related products. Over the years, that venture blossomed into one of Santa Monica’s landmark businesses. Still a family operation, Bourget Brothers Building Materials and Bourget Flagstone Company are now run by younger brothers John and Leonard, with its flagship store still situated on the original lot.
In a time when family-owned businesses are giving way to corporate chains, Bourget Brothers’ continued success after 60 years is impressive, to say the least. Leonard, who functions as the company’s treasurer, credits the business’s strength to good fortune.
“We’re just very fortunate that we all got along very well,” he says. “We never had any family flare-ups.”
It also helps that the brothers love what they do.
“We like the people…we like our employees,” says Leonard. “I think we have the greatest employees in the whole world.”
The enthusiasm that Leonard and John, president of Bourget Brothers, share resonates throughout the store, where employees expertly direct customers through a sea of tools, lumber, landscape pebbles, and other building materials. Of Bourget Brothers’ 80 employees, Leonard estimates that 30 have been with the company for at least 15 years.
“We’re very family oriented,” Leonard explains of the company’s success. “Hopefully, it works its way through the employees and down to the customers, so that they feel like they are part of the family.”
Leonard, John, and brother-in-law Roy Kinslow (who has since retired) joined forces with the elder brothers in 1961, although Leonard points out that he actually began working at the store in 1954, when he was still a high school student. The brothers have worked through all of the major trends in California home design, from used brick to “mortarless” wall rock to finishes like soapstone. All the while, they have been making their own innovations in the building material business.
“We were one of the first companies that went into tools and hardware,” says Leonard. “[Early in the Bourget Brothers’ history], lumber companies sold just lumber, and cement companies sold just cement. Eventually, we were the forerunners of what Orchard is now. We were carrying watches for the contractors, which was very unusual then, to come to a yard and find a watch and radio and so forth.”
One of the Bourget Brothers’ other notable ideas was setting up a jewelry supply shop geared towards hobbyists. This aspect of the business began in 1961 as a means to keep the store busy during the winter months, when construction jobs are few. As sales of jewelry supplies peak during the holiday season, this proved to be a wise move for the company, which also branched out into a mail order business. Unfortunately, the jewelry supply division ended in 2005, following the closure of Fisher Lumber Company and Bourget Brothers’ decision to add a lumber department. Despite the demise of the jewelry supply shop, Bourget Brothers still sells 50,000 copies of its popular how-to book Basics of Bead Stringing annually.
Bourget Brothers supplies material for construction sites in communities ranging from Newport Beach to Santa Barbara. Although the company’s boundaries far exceed the city limits of Santa Monica, Leonard acknowledges that the brothers’ hometown has allowed their business to flourish.
“We have just been very fortunate to end up in Santa Monica,” he says. “It’s an area that has been growing continuously.”
Bourget Brothers has a strong formula – good location plus solid relationships plus creative problem-solving techniques – but sometimes that’s not all it takes to keep a company running for 60 years. In the end, Bourget Brothers relies on a single code of business.
“Our aim is to get people to come in and take care of them,” says Leonard. “You can’t compete if you’re just going to try and do it price-wise. You have to be effective.”