For Bill Comrie, it’s about the team

Almost every important thing that Bill Comrie ever learned about business he gleaned from the game of hockey.

Almost every important thing that Bill Comrie ever learned about business he gleaned from the game of hockey.

The founder of The Brick furniture stores spoke in Red Deer on Tuesday about getting his sense of teamwork — leadership, competition and other principles that made him one of Canada’s most successful businessmen — from an early exposure to sports.

As a 16-year-old, the Edmonton resident had signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was playing for its junior farm team, the Moose Jaw Canucks, when his father died suddenly of a heart attack.

At age 19, Comri e — whose two sons Paul and Mike were to later play for the Edmonton Oilers — had to quit his promising hockey career to look after his mother and younger brothers by taking over the family furniture store.

The business struggled until Comrie innovated the “Midnight Madness Sale” in the early 1970s. Comrie, who was struck by how many people attended late-night drive-in movies, decided to apply this idea to his retail business.

He recounted at the ninth-annual Red Deer College scholarship breakfast for athletics how he went ahead with the midnight sale, despite nay-sayers telling him it wouldn’t work.

More than 1,000 shoppers lined up outside the store, proving him right and requiring Comrie to call in friends and relatives for additional sales help.

He ended up selling $144,000 of furniture in one night — more than his father had sold in the entire previous year.

After being bought out by partners, Comrie opened his own store, which was to become The Brick in 1975.

His keen sense of competition and leadership was evident when he innovated the ideas of same-day delivery and no-interest financing.

Comrie told the audience at Red Deer’s Sheraton Hotel that for four years, his Edmonton store was the only one offering no-interest payments for first six months, then 12 and 18 months. Now it’s common practice for retailers — not only in Canada, but around the world.

Comrie recounted seeing a Scottish store advertising the same deal in its window while he was playing golf in Scotland with Wayne Gretzky and other luminaries a few years ago.

Detractors were once again proven wrong when Comrie successfully broke into the difficult Toronto furniture market, making The Brick Canada’s largest furniture, appliance and electronics chain, with $1.5 billion sales in 2010. It now employs 7,000 people in 250 locations, and has buyers in 20 countries around the world.

Comrie was awarded with an honourary University of Alberta degree and an Order of Canada.

The businessman’s sense of teamwork was best illustrated when he put The Brick on the stock exchange in 2004. He took $45 million of the profits he made and distributed bonus cheques to his 6,000 employees.

The size of the bonus depended on time with the company. Twenty-year staffers got the equivalent of the entire previous year’s salary.

Comrie, who stepped down as chairman and CEO of The Brick, said he went against the advice of his financial advisors to provide the bonuses because he believes, “I didn’t do this on my own. I was part of a team.”

The heartfelt thank-you letters he received from people made Comrie feel “it was more of a reward for me.”

This week, he announced he would fund a $10,000 scholarship for two RDC athletes for the next few years.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read