Holmes & Brakel

It's what's on the inside that counts

When Rick Holmes started pursuing his career, he wanted to be an architect. What Rick really enjoyed was actually building and working with people. Rick says his father had a shoe business that he worked part-time in while studying, and while he knew retail wasn’t for him, entrepreneurship was the ultimate goal.

Holmes & Brakel opened its Toronto headquarters in 1975, as a contract interiors business that works with clients on a national and international scale. Rick says the decision 25 years ago to align as partners with Teknion Furniture Systems, at the time a small growing Canadian company rather than the larger well established manufactures was the best decision, albeit risky at the time. Building on success in Toronto, since then the company opened four other locations across North America. Today, Holmes & Brakel has developed into a mature and profitable company focused on high tech, commercial and financial sectors, and represents some of the finest office furniture manufacturers in North America. Further proof of its success is shown with high-profile clients such as IBM, BMO, CIBC, RBC and JP Morgan.

After 35 years of hard work and dedication, Rick is still enjoying the industry. “Our strength is in our people and proven process to deliver ongoing furniture services to our clients year after year.  Our methodology for project implementation and order processing is unique to our competitors.  We continuously review and improve it to meet our client needs.”  The company tracks all project activity utilizing a proprietary database they developed called Design Tracker. Combined with their reporting tool also developed in house called Performance Metrics, the company not only manages their client’s projects effectively, but as well allows Rick’s management team to self-audit the operations. “We are always focused on ensuring the highest level of service to our clients.” says Rick. “We also meet regularly to focus our continuous improvement initiatives founded in the analysis of our metrics. In other words: we audit ourselves.”

Green furniture

In any long-standing business, there are bound to be industry changes or market changes that will affect how the company makes decisions. It’s a part of the game. For Holmes & Brakel, one of those changes has been the environmental movement which has, in Rick’s opinion, been a really great thing.
“I like that, in the past couple of years, there has been a formal program developed for the specification of green buildings, as well as green office spaces,” he says. “It bothered me for the longest time to see hundreds of thousands of products go to waste without any thought given about what could be reused.”

Holmes & Brakel just completed installation of a complex 4,500 workstation 10 month implementation of a LEED NC Gold project while also installing a 1,500 workstation LEED CI Gold project concurrently phased project.  While most of their competitors can claim they have done a project in excess of 1,000 workstations once or twice in the past, Holmes & Brakel has proven capabilities to handle these types of projects not only year after year, but as well multiples at the same time while also providing just as much attention to the day to day work of much smaller furniture projects.  “While it may be important to have a LEED certified senior project manager on staff and installation crews experienced in the LEED process, we have been an environmentally responsible company long before it was required by the marketplace,” explains Rick.  “We have been repackaging cartons and sending them for reprocessing, as opposed to putting them into the landfill.  We have decommissioned furniture by taking it apart and reusing it. We also donate products to causes such as United Way. We’ll convince the big companies we work with to take a write-off and ship their product to these places for reuse. Long before it was considered to be good business, we have been focused on getting more mileage from a product, and help somebody at the same time.”

Looking ahead

Of all its accomplishments, Holmes & Brakel is most proud of its record of successful projects and long-term client loyalty. The company has indeed established its abilities as a proactive, dedicated team, who set the pace and ensure projects of every size are completed correctly and on time.

If the past is any indicator of the future, Holmes & Brakel will continue to thrive in its market and lead the industry—even as Rick begins to take a step back. “We just had our annual managers’ meeting with our leadership team, where one of my objectives this year was to pass the reigns of the company to my brother, Mark, as president,” says Rick. “Holmes & Brakel is lead by a cross disciplined leadership team comprised of the front line managers at each branch office along with the senior management team in Toronto.”  Rick continues by describing the team in Toronto have responsibilities across the entire business. “Steven is responsible for the project management and specification teams with over 15 years of corporate office design consulting experience.  Scott is responsible for corporate accounts and client relationships with over 15 years of office furniture manufacturer experience. Gord is responsible for the installation and implementation teams with over 25 years of office and move logistics experience. Jennifer is responsible for the administrative and accounting teams with over 10 years experience in the financial industry. Kevin is the newest member of the team, responsible for sharing local market intelligence & sales knowledge between branch offices.”  Under the guidance of the leadership team, each individual in the organization or, as Rick refers to it, the H&B family, is empowered to make decisions that best serve our client needs.

Of course, Rick isn’t going anywhere any time soon. “Right now, we’re looking at acquiring another company, but I won’t name where that is, as we’re still in negotiation,” Holmes smiles, revealing what he plans to do with his schedule. “The company is now lead by young dynamic leaders, combined with the depth of knowledge and resources that every staff member adds, I now spend more time looking at where we can make strategic planning decisions that would help our growth. I enjoy that part of the equation very much.”

Anticipating a lot for the future, Holmes & Brakel have much more to look forward to.  CB