All Hands on Deck: Committed to Customers, Community, and Collaboration
As a company that has experienced steady, impressive growth since 1968, Brannon Steel has not only enjoyed successful expansion, but has managed to maintain its initial goals and focus of caring for its employees, clients and community. Fostering a deep commitment to family and teamwork, this ISO certified manufacturer with three facilities in Brampton, Ontario offers a wide range of services processing carbon steel plate while expertly handling an array of top-level clients.
With markets ranging from OEMs in rail, agriculture, material handling, forestry, off-road construction and mining to infrastructure, energy, and fabrication, the company’s dedication to quality is upheld by a team of dedicated experts.
Brannon Steel’s long and proud family history began with Tom Brannon who, at the age of 40, left his job at Dominion Bridge, sold his house and used the money to launch the company.
“Tom basically saw an opportunity back in the ‘60s to help a small guy out,” says President Kirk Brannon. “Dominion Bridge was a very large company where the small guy couldn’t get service, so that’s really the early roots of Brannon Steel.”
Tom was quickly joined by son Al, who continued to advance his own skills and knowledge of the business world through both night classes and hands-on experience.
“Those family roots were important then and are still important today,” says Kirk. “Al took over from his father in the ‘80s, and it was under his leadership that our biggest growth started taking place, with a focus on the larger OEMs.”
A cousin of the family, current president Kirk started at Brannon Steel in 1988 and considers himself “the holding generation”. Al’s sons, Tomm and Dave Brannon, the current owners of Brannon Steel, have been working in various roles within the company for over 25 years.
While leadership has changed over the years, the company’s dedication to providing exemplary customer service — a mainstay of its commitment and a key to its ongoing success — has remained steadfast.
“Customer satisfaction is a thread throughout the company,” says Dave Brannon. “Our employees are committed to customer satisfaction. They take responsibility to make sure the customer always gets what they need. The customer is key and when everybody understands that, everyone pulls together and gets the job done.”
Success involves not only listening to customers over the years, but the willingness to invest both time and money, adds Kirk.
“We’ve grown as a result of understanding what our customers’ needs were, and they’ve evolved and continue to evolve,” he explains. “We’ve grown our company from what was originally a cutting house, and over the years we’ve gone into more value-added offerings. I think that’s what our strength is now.”
The company’s growth can also be attributed to ongoing loyal partnerships with various OEMs over the years, a growth that’s organic, Kirk adds, and not reliant on mergers and acquisitions.
“It’s definitely a two-way relationship,” he says of the company’s clients. “The good thing about us is we’re able to adapt and move fairly quickly, unlike large organizations where it’s tougher for them to transition. We don’t have to answer to our shareholders. If it makes sense to us, we’re investing.”
That customer relations side of the business is one of Kirk’s more active roles as President, and one he thoroughly enjoys.
“At the end of the day you have to be willing to take the good and the bad,” he says. “It’s not always rosy. When things aren’t going so well you need to listen, and I think that’s the one thing we’ve always done.”
Customer service, he adds, is how you go about solving problems, and how you deal with issues: it’s picking up the phone, resolving the problems and moving forward so you don’t encounter the same problem again.
Along with maintaining quality customer service, Brannon Steel also remains dedicated to Al’s original vision of serving the local community. Just a few of Al’s positions over the years include two successful stints as campaign manager for the mayor of Brampton, chairman of the Peel Memorial Hospital board, founder of the Progress Club in Brampton in 1980, and president of the Brampton Board of Trade in support of the business community. Today, Al’s passion is seen in the company’s support of numerous organizations including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Oak Ridges Hospice, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the William Osler Health System.
“Al has always displayed a commitment to our local community and has a deep sense of civic duty,” says Kirk. “Growing up, that’s what I saw, and what his boys saw. Their father was actively involved.”
That drive to support and give back has carried over to the employees as well. To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018, the company launched the Brannon Steel Family Foundation, and encourages employees to donate to their own personal charities each year. “Brannon Steel is in Brampton, but a lot of our employees live in surrounding communities,” says Kirk. “Whatever community they’re in, we tell people to get involved and if you need support, come back to Brannon Steel and we’ll help.”
This atmosphere of support, teamwork and cooperation within the company has also extended to dealing with the ongoing effects of COVID, which has of course wreaked havoc on supply chains and labour.
“Finding quality people and retaining them isn’t easy, but we’ve had success,” says Kirk. “In the front lobby we have our service recognition board that lists 10, 20, 30 and 40 year employees. As you reach each milestone, your name moves up the chart and it’s pretty impressive. We’re proud of the fact that we have many people who have chosen to spend their entire careers with us.” Brannon Steel has a long established service reward program which recognizes 3, 5, 10, 20 and 30 year anniversaries with gifts and travel vouchers.
Those types of accomplishments continue to outweigh pandemic challenges, and aside from celebrating an impressive 50 years in business, the company received the Silver Award in 2020 and, in 2021, was recognized with the Gold Supply award from Caterpillar.
Looking ahead, Brannon Steel strives for continued growth, perhaps following in the footsteps of Magna International, a Canadian-based, worldwide automotive parts supplier. “We want to continue to be a significant parts supplier to OEMs,” says Kirk. “That’s our niche market and that’s what we want to be recognized as in North America.”
On that front, the company has met with great success, with customers including Caterpillar, Hitachi, JLG, John Deere, Skyjack, Tigercat and Volvo, to name a few. “We want to continue to grow in the upcoming years and create more jobs in Brampton,” Kirk says.
When asked what makes the company stand out, Kirk looks to the employees and the team spirit displayed throughout the company.
“We have an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he says. “Whether it’s your internal customer or your external customer, it’s working together with everybody to make everybody’s job easier and safer. It’s that culture of responsibility and ownership.”
When it comes to the company’s longevity, Dave says, “I have to go back to customer satisfaction — understanding their requirements and making sure people are satisfied.”
The company also has no commissioned sales people, instead preferring to provide a salary to further build teamwork. “We work with a bonus system, but it’s non-commissioned,” says Kirk. “That way you’re not just looking after your customer — you look after all of our customers.”
Promoting that sense of camaraderie makes a difference. Brannon Steel recently had its ISO audit, and after interviewing all employees, the auditor made a point of commenting on the company’s positive atmosphere and culture.
“If you’re here all day it can be stressful, but there’s that honesty and integrity and passion,” says Kirk. “We’re only steel, but people are passionate about it. And it is seen throughout the organization.”
That atmosphere is paramount to the company’s ongoing success, he adds, especially during the past few turbulent years, with employees working at home and later returning to the office. “Being home is good on one hand, but you lose that whole teamwork feeling,” says Kirk. “But you have to look at safety first, and that’s what we do.”
Protecting employees has always been a priority at Brannon Steel, not only during the pandemic’s upheaval, but throughout several previous recessions. The company has remained dedicated to riding out the tough times, preserving a family atmosphere, and not only growing, but thriving.
“What does this company do? We cut carbon steel plate with Oxyfuel, Plasma and Laser technologies. We make parts to print and add value along the way by forming, machining, beveling, rolling and kitting. That’s what the company does, but the culture is the true success of this company,” says Kirk.
Now, he says, one of our customers’ biggest concerns is, can Brannon Steel keep up with continuous growth in their business?
The answer to that is a resounding yes. In the late ‘80s, the company had one building with 20,000 square feet; after continued expansion and re-investment, today Brannon Steel occupies three buildings covering 200,000 square feet.
“I always say to people, we recognize as the market’s growing we will grow with it, and we recognize the downturn,” says Kirk. “When the downturn comes it gets really ugly, but we have experience with surviving recessions. We’ve gone through several and every one is slightly different.”
Brannon Steel, he says, has seen it all, has learned a lot from each, and has become a stronger company for it.
“It’s our honesty, our integrity, and there’s a passion we all have here,” says Kirk. “It’s not just a brand. When people come to Brannon Steel and talk to our employees, when we do tours, you hear it from them, too; it’s not just us paying lip service to it. It’s about teamwork from the plant floor all the way through the office.”