Brenlo Breaks the Mould
It was the pursuit of better products and a bespoke approach that led to the creation of Brenlo Custom Wood Mouldings & Doors in 1988. Now, after decades under the Kitchen family’s leadership, it’s that same affinity for custom craftsmanship and constant evolution that keeps Brenlo’s shop busy.
Since opening 35 years ago, Brenlo has expanded from a four-person operation to a team of 108 professionals across two facilities in Etobicoke and Mississauga, Ontario. Combined, the company produces over 10 million lineal feet of trim annually and oversees a massive inventory of stock doors, trim, and plywood.
Yet while being well-stocked is no doubt a factor behind the company’s success, Fraser Adams, Brenlo president, says its the team’s half-century of custom woodworking experience that seals the deal:“About a quarter of what we do is custom. We’re fully integrated in terms of taking somebody’s vision or design and bringing it to life, and I think that’s where Brenlo really shines.”
Brenlo’s custom library spans thousands of door profiles and products, ranging from tailored trims and moulding to specialty glass inserts, metal inlays, applied beading, and beyond. According to Adams, it’s the company’s capacity to accommodate any design vision that makes it a go-to source for custom home builders: “It’s why we’re always involved in these high-profile tie-in projects, whether those are penthouses in Toronto, estates in King City, or luxury cottages in Muskoka, and its why people keep coming through our own doors.”
A Growing Family
Kitchen isn’t the first family to carry the Brenlo name. The company was originally founded in 1988 by Brent Peebles, a custom home builder who started to see the trend to bigger houses with higher ceilings and, subsequently, the need for thicker wider mouldings.
“The design community was begging for a better selection of profiles to fill this need, so Brent decided to start manufacturing mouldings himself,” Adams recalls.
Hence, Brenlo was born, assuming its name from the first letters of Brent’s name and that of his wife’s, Louise. Those early years saw Brenlo become a trusted supplier to high-end luxury home builders. It also saw the company grow faster than Brent could handle by himself. And so, in the late 1990s, he set out to look for a buyer.
“Having been a long-time Lansing Buildall customer, [Brent] knew the Kitchen family well and approached us,” says Adams. “And having competed against Brenlo, we knew the strengths of his company and its strong position in the marketplace.”
“It was a natural purchase and worked out well for all parties involved,” he continues. “We also decided to keep the name.”
The acquisition took place in 2000. A short time after, Brenlo was merged into one operation with Brittania, another company the Kitchen family had purchased earlier in 1998.
“That was a big move because it positioned us as one of the largest producers of poplar mouldings in Ontario,” notes Adams.
The next big move came in 2015 when the Kitchen family picked up Artistic Doors, a small door manufacturing shop specializing in solid wood entry and interior doors which was merged into Brenlo’s manufacturing facility three years later.
“A lot of our customers wanted us to get into the custom door manufacturing space,” Adams recalls. “They liked what we were doing with trim and the quality we were producing and motivated us to do the same for doors.”
Supplying the Industry
Brenlo’s reputation isn’t built on custom work alone. Over the years, the company has leveraged its 200,000 sq. ft. of space to stock a vast supply of third-party products.
“We’re aware that home builders and renovators need stuff quick, and having these two facilities allows us to do stock and supply over 600 trim profiles and various stock door styles from third-party suppliers that anyone can come in and grab when they need them,” explains Adams.
Having access to a machine shop in its Mississauga location has been equally advantageous, he adds, especially when it comes to filling in gaps when stock is unavailable: “For example, if our supplier of shaker doors says they’re having supply chain issues and they’re going to be out of stock for the next few months, we can step in and make that door in-house.”
“I think clients appreciate that flexibility,” he adds.
Taking a significant inventory position has proved to be a market advantage. This was especially true during the pandemic when the company’s efforts to keep its distribution space full prepared it to handle its customers’ orders.
As Adams clarifies: “At the time, we had the benefit of doing forecasting to make sure that we had the right SKUs in stock and the space to store it. That ended up being a huge advantage that helped us get through COVID, whereas other people had supply chain issues and couldn’t get their product.”
A Trusted System
Managing custom orders and a massive inventory is no small feat. As such, Brenlo has made a point of investing in technologies and systems to streamline its manufacturing and customer management.
One such investment is its material requirements planning (MRP) system, which provides a fulsome view of operations across all locations and helps the team manage customer demands and expectations.
“We’re very highly transactional in that anyone can come in and order a product. You don’t have to be building a $15 million home to buy from us; you can just walk in off the street,” says Adams, explaining, “Having a really strong MRP system that allows us to stay flexible and have what our customers need and when they need it.”
Moreover, the MRP system is integrated into the enterprise’s manufacturing equipment, allowing it to fine-tune its manufacturing processes and unlock efficiencies throughout.
Still, says Adams, as much as Brenlo has relied on technology to build its business, it’s the talent in the shop that gives the company its competitive edge: “We rely on technology to guide us through operations and manage our timelines but, ultimately, our ability to put out good product comes down the fact we have people who understand that quality is what drives our brand.”
“We’re blessed to have a team that understands our values,” he continues, “which is why we invest in our people and make sure that they share the same passion as we do.“
A Green Finish
Sustainability ranks high on Brenlo’s priorities. The business is FSC Certified and committed to upholding Canada Green Building Council, LEED building and AWMAC commercial standards. It is also served by a network of suppliers comprised of hand-picked local partners who share the company’s focus on sustainable harvesting and yield management.
“[Sustainability] is one of those things that I’m passionate about,” says Adams. “For us, that means aligning with suppliers that are up to our standards and that we’re doing everything we can to manage the impact of our operations.”
Notably, up to 50 tons of waste per week from the company’s operations are repurposed into greenhouse supplies.
After 35 years, Brenlo is just getting started. Backed by a solid foundation and sturdy reputation, the enterprise is focused on enhancing its customer’s custom-building journey and make it as seamless as possible.
“I think our steps are to double down on our door division and make sure that we’re investing in the right technology that allows us the flexibility to produce what the clients need,” Adams says. “We’re never going to be this match shop that runs three or four profiles. We’re always going to be a custom shop, and we’re always going to work closely with designers and architects to achieve what they want.”
“That’s been our claim to fame so far, and it’s not going to change,” he adds.
Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.