“Making space for great ideas.” That’s the slogan of Franklin Park, Ill.-based Bretford Manufacturing, an innovative company that has traveled far from its relatively simple manufacturing roots. The word “roots” takes on added significance in the long history of this fast-growing company. It’s very much a family affair at Bretford, with the third generation of the Petrick family now stepping to the fore.
Bretford began some 53 years ago, founded by brothers Russ and Edward Petrick in the post-World War II era as a tool and die metal-stamping company with just two employees. The Petrick brothers soon found themselves making an eclectic mix of products — everything from hair dryers and barbecue smokers to sun lamps. By the 1960s, Bretford had repositioned itself to answer the growing demands of the audio/visual industry, providing A/V equipment for schools and other institutions.
Enter the next generation — brothers Ed and Dave Petrick (Russ’ sons) came aboard in the late ’60s. Soon thereafter, Bretford moved into the next generation of products, turning out copier stands, television-related products and projection screens. After buying L&B Wood in the late ’80s, the company moved full bore into the furniture business, making wood and laminate components for metal furniture products.
Best of Show
“Now that we had the necessary resources, we started marketing conference room furniture,” explains Chris Petrick (Dave’s son and part of the third generation of the family to be involved in the business). It was low-end and two-color, but it was comprehensive and it paved the way for taking the operation to a higher level. “A dealer mentioned to us that we had nearly filled a gaping hole in the conference and training furniture market. That hole was the lack of a one-stop shopping option,” Chris Petrick says. “‘If only you could take the line to a higher quality level, you’d have it made,’ the dealer told us. So we did.”
Over an 18-month period, Bretford conceived, designed, engineered and brought to market the Presentation Environments line. The company launched the new program at NeoCon, the interior design and facility management show, six years ago. By any stretch, it was a departure from Bretford’s more functional products. The handsome line introduced at NeoCon included everything from tables to A/V support furniture, TV mounts, presentation boards and lecterns.
Indeed, Bretford had successfully filled the furniture gap. Since then, components of the line such as the TransTable, Media Cart, Hospitality Cart, Powered Conference Table and Recessed Monitor Table have won the Best of NeoCon award five years in a row.
Next came the Here Metamobile Meeting Solutions line, which includes boards, tables and a presentation system. The line uses Gere technology to link tables to each other, mobile boards to each other and tables to boards. “The Here line is designed to make teaming, training and conferencing environments more effective,” Chris Petrick says. “This modular system understands the human side of meetings.”
Also part of Bretford’s offerings is Legacy Library Environments, which provides a range of products designed specifically for such settings.
Petrick is also “very, very excited” about the company’s latest venture — its foray into office furniture with its Free System. Free is an original design by the Formway Design Studio of Wellington, New Zealand, and Bretford has taken it to market in a big way. “It was first launched a year ago,” Petrick says. “Under the partnership arrangement we have with Formway, they send us the designs and we manufacture the products in the U.S.” In basic terms, Free is based on self-contained workstations without the panels, but with privacy screens.
Bretford’s initial entry into the workstation category, Free supports a variety of open office configurations, including nesting, teaming, individual work and “hoteling” (in which an employee uses whatever space is available for a particular day, instead of having an assigned area). The operative word here is “flexibility.” The system also includes what Bretford calls the e-Tower, an independent source of power and data. Without constraining wires, “you can plug and play,” Petrick says. “Once attached, the wires are concealed within the power hopper.”
The Free system is based on simple units, common parts and small groups of components. Bretford delivers the workstations whole. Accessories, screens and shelves clip onto the workstations.
The Support Desk
But all of the newest technology in the world doesn’t do much good unless it gets support. “That’s the biggest thing — how we support technology,” Petrick says. “It started with our making furniture for projectors. Our focus is to develop products that handle current technology and make it easy to transport it around. We now make TV mounts because TVs are more affordable and are seen more and more in schools. There has been a huge change in this organization that has allowed us to take advantage of opportunities that our competitors don’t.”
Bretford provides “support” in another sense by producing guides to assist users of its products. “The Pocket Guide to Training,” for example, describes useful ideas and techniques for getting the most out of one’s training and conference rooms. “Power Systems 101” deals with the proper specification of electrical systems for those ordering Bretford’s Presentation Environments and Legacy furniture. Other helpful guides from the company include the “Screen Specification Guide,” “TV Mount Specification Guide,” “Successfully Planning a Video Conferencing Room” and “Connections Power Bar Specification and Price Guide.” All of these are posted on the company’s Web site, www.bretford.com.
At the end of the day, success is usually measured in the numbers. By any standard, Bretford counts as a huge success story. From its modest beginnings (a tool-and-die operation with two employees) has emerged an 800-employee company. Its small machine shop has grown into 500,000 square feet of cutting-edge manufacturing capability, which makes state-of-the-art work- and training-environment products for the new millennium.
The bottom line for the company, according to Petrick, is that “we pride ourselves on being a quality manufacturer in many facets, including the contract furniture market, the office furniture market, the audio/visual market and the educational market.” In the end, the word that stands out for Bretford is “quality.”