Fifty years ago, in August of 1967, “Up Up and Away” was playing on the radio, Super Bowl champ Bart Starr threw a 27-0 victory against the College All Stars, and three little boys named Bob, Mike, and Guy made each other’s acquaintance in Sister Colleen’s third grade classroom.

Can you imagine being a fly on the wall in Sister Colleen’s class? Who got A’s in penmanship, who squirmed in his seat dreaming of Cat Woman, and who stared in desperation at the second hand of the clock? Those are questions we must pose to Bob, Mike, and Guy when we see them.

One thing we do know — those three boys stuck together. They hung out together, drank their first beers together, and attended Prom together.

Forty years ago, in the spring of 1977, “Hotel California” was playing on the radio, the Milwaukee Brewers had just drafted Paul Molitor, and Bob was down on his luck. Fresh out of carpentry school, he was struggling to break into the trade unions. So he did what many entrepreneurs do – he struck out on his own.

Okay, so maybe struck out on his own sounds a bit heroic. He roofed his parents’ house. But from that perch, he could survey his street, and it got him thinking. He knew everyone. And when one roof in a neighborhood goes, they all go.

Canvassing the hood with a mimeographed flyer, Bob lined up roofing and siding jobs. Soon, Mike left a position with the railroad to join Bob. A year later, Guy quit a factory job and came aboard.

They adopted the name “Brillo”, Bob’s old nickname derived from a reference to his wiry mop of hair. “It is a memorable name, especially if you do the right work and people like your service,” said Bob.

In the early days, Bob’s mom answered the phone for them. Bob’s dad, while supportive, voiced a valid concern about going into business with your best friends and ruining your friendship.

In response to that question, let’s skip to today. It’s summer of 2017, “Despacito” is on the radio, the Milwaukee Bucks are building a new stadium, and Bob, Mike, and Guy are celebrating forty years in business together.

They were sitting in my kitchen, which, incidentally, they built, and I asked them if they realized they won the lottery. Did they appreciate that being their own bosses in a business they love, and working side-by-side with their best friends, is the stuff of Hollywood buddy movies? Guy answered in his usual dry matter-of-fact way:

“We’ve been working fifty, sixty hours a week for forty years and it’s not all luck. But everything we ever did was good fun.”


In celebration of Brillo’s 40th anniversary, I will be profiling Bob, Mike, and Guy, and sharing some of their best stories, their silliest pranks, and maybe even some secrets of their success, here on the blog.  Need to catch up?  Read, Introducing: The Dirt Under Our Nails Blog Post.

Mithra Ballesteros blogs at The Bubble Joy about her antique business and her four man-boys who don’t shut doors.