Delivering the Goods: Brett Kelly brings work ethic to St. Louis’ Vivian Companies

Cinemas Features

This month, Film Journal International once again recognizes a rising star in the exhibition industry. Brett Kelly serves as the national sales director for Vivian Companies, a multi-dimensional equipment and beverage delivery system supplier headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. His primary responsibilities are to create a streamlined implementation from the customer’s vision to the delivered tangible materials.

Brett claims he has aspirations other than golf—i.e., “helping customers stay ahead of the trends,” but it would hard to fathom that with his 3 handicap on the green “18.” As a lifelong Missourian with no ambition to leave his native state, he has helped Vivian grow the family-owned business from 13 employees to over 30. His prevailing values match those of the “Golden Rule.” While he has witnessed the changes of the cinema industry over the past five years, he remains focused on the future.

Kelly was born in Kansas City, Missouri and claims, “I was born in Missouri, and I will never leave Missouri!” He is the youngest of three—his siblings are sisters he says are “awesome.” At age nine, he relocated with his family to St. Louis, where his father was a chemical engineer. Brett proudly boasts of his relationship with his father, who provided his mentorship. “My dad was a hard worker, his work ethic was to be admired. My dad would outwork anybody else, and proved to be my influence—hard work pays off.” Rod Kelly served as his best man at his wedding.

In his early life Kelly enjoyed many sports including baseball and golf. “At about nine years old, while I liked baseball, it was weird having someone throw an object toward my head and I was expected to hit it? I decided I would rather hit a golf ball sitting still on the grass,” he chuckles. It stands to reason that his first job as a teenager was at a golf range; it is ironic that he was the guy who drove the ball picker while people hit golf balls at him as he collected the balls.

Kelly graduated from Drury College, a small private liberal arts university in Springfield, Missouri, with a degree in Business Administration and a minor in Global Studies. He has a well-rounded foundation in customer service and began his work life as a manager for 84 Lumber Company. At age 24, he managed over $17 million in sales. “It was so much fun, but boy, was it chaotic!” After four years, he entered the healthcare industry with Athena as a sales coordinator and watched the organization grow from 200 employees to over 1,200.

In 2012, Kelly was invited to join the staff at Vivian. “The first question in my interview was: What is your golf handicap? I answered eight.” Dennis Fanger, president and principal, said, “You are hired!” All kidding aside, Fanger saw the influence and ability to build relationships in the Kelly DNA. “Brett has exceeded all our expectations and embraced the entire industry, He has knocked it out of the park, we are so lucky to have him on the team,” Fanger affirms. Kelly notes that he really admired the family atmosphere at Vivian and that was the motivating factor for his joining the team.

Brett Kelly masters the task of putting the customer’s concept into a real-life vision. He is unpretentious when he states, “My goal is to give the customer whatever they want when they want it”—that is the Vivian way. “I love the cinema industry as a whole, this is a tightknit channel. It is about building relationships, it is about friendships that are built through commitment and trust. My belief is that every customer should be treated the same way I would want to be treated if I were investing my money in that project.”

Looking at the future of the cinema operator, Kelly believes the evolution in foodservice will lend itself to more self-serve delivery systems and “grab and go” concepts. “I believe there will be a transition to a point where the equipment and service items of the past will be required to be redesigned to fit the next system of service. That will be the challenge, integrating beer, wine and alcohol along with concepts that allow the customer to make their own choices on food.” He sees his responsibility as that—helping customers bring to life new concepts, “taking these concepts into the design phase that are efficient, durable and show profitability, while creating eye-catching incidents.”

Kelly claims his favorite part of doing this type of work is seeing a project come to life, going from an idea through the design process, revisions, construction, and in the end seeing it shine when the theatre opens. Providing something the customer can touch, feel and see on a grand scale.

On a personal note; one of Kelly’s triumphs is that he has visited 48 of the 50 United States. Kelly loves the movies. His favorite movie treat is an extra large order of nachos with cheese and plenty of jalapenos. (His favorite snack outside the movies? Spicy dill pickles.) Few would guess he loves Quentin Tarantino movies, and he can list them all: Django Unchained, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, etc. His favorite actor: Christoph Waltz. And he lists Seven Days in Utopia by David Cook as his favorite book—yes, it’s related to golf. He is an avid outdoorsman and hopes to visit Patagonia, where he can hike or fish for days on end. For now, he loves camping with the kids and barbecuing. Brett serves as the chief cook of his BBQ team in St Louis.

Brett and his wife Gretchen have three children: sons, Jack, 9, and Clay, 8, and daughter Quinn, age 5.