Investing in Your Team: Braam’s Custom Cabinetry

Grace Tatigian

The common denominator behind all the fantastic work in this industry is the people behind it. We want to highlight what some of these top-notch companies are doing to support their hardworking employees.

I reached out to Braam’s Custom Cabinetry, located in St. Thomas, Ontario, once I discovered they were part of the Ontario Living Wage Network. Living Wage Employers recognize that paying a living wage constitutes a critical investment in the long-term prosperity of the economy by fostering a dedicated, skilled, and healthy workforce.

A living wage employer pays all direct and indirect employers the living wage rate for the region in which they operate. In St. Thomas, that’s currently $16.57 per hour, more than two dollars above the province’s minimum wage. But a Braam’s starting salary begins above that; it began as a recruitment and retention strategy.

“We wanted to hire co-op students and graduates from schools like Sheridan, Conestoga, and Fanshawe, but a lot of them don’t want to move to St. Thomas, so we had to make it competitive,” explains general manager Dave Lebert. “And we want to convince them to stay. It’s tough when you spend four months training a new employee to do things the Braams way to have them leave a year later.”

Yes, it started as a tactic, but Braam’s also believes it’s the right thing to support their employees.

“This way, our employees can pay their mortgage and raise a family here,” explains Lebert. “We hope it gives them a reason to stay.”

St. Thomas is about 20 minutes outside of London, Ontario, and is home to under 40,000 people. The local economy has long been dominated by manufacturing, but the region lost many jobs when the Ford plant closed, and the Sterling Trucks plant moved to Mexico. But Braam’s has been a staple of the community for over 40 years, providing steady jobs at their head office and manufacturing facility.

The company started in Peter and Rob Braam’s garage four decades ago and has grown into a 47,000 square foot manufacturing facility and three showrooms. Their Oakville location services the GTA and all the way out to Kingston, and their London location covers all of South-Western Ontario. Their newest showroom is south of the border, servicing the Norman Rockwell-like community of Birmingham, Michigan.

“There are a lot of estate homes out there, old money,” says Lebert. Because the border’s only two hours away, it seemed like a logical choice for their high-quality product. “We produce very high-end cabinetry; everything’s 100 per cent custom, built for the space.”

Through all of that, it has very much stayed a family business, and their pillar values of quality and 100 per cent customer satisfaction haven’t changed.

“Peter and Rob still own the company,” says Lebert. “And it’s become a big enough company that we have all the resources of a big corporation, like a full ERP and state of the art equipment, but small enough that we still know everyone’s name.”

That family mindset is part of what encourages Braam’s to support their team.

“We make sure to do lots of cross-training with our employees, help them with career planning,” he explains. “That way, they can move around the plant and learn new things. That can help them advance in their jobs, and they can do well in their yearly reviews and get raises.”

Braam’s is all about keeping people around long-term and giving them internal opportunities. They have a couple of employees who have been there since the beginning, and about half their staff has been there for thirty years. While that’s great, some of their employees, Lebert included, are approaching retirement. This means they have to make strong hires within the next few years if they want the business to continue to flourish.

“There’s a trend these days of young people not staying in one job, with one company long term, and so we’re doing what we can to make Braam’s an attractive place to work,” he said. “This is our second year of being part of the living wage network, and it’s made a difference with our new hires.”

They also prioritize the health and safety of all their employees, having taken the pandemic very seriously since day one.

“All of our showroom staff are vaccinated, and 90 per cent of our plant staff are too. We provided shuttles to the arena to get vaccinated and gave them incentives as well. Now, is anyone going to get vaccinated just to get a gift card? No, but we want them to know that we take their health seriously,” he says. “And because manufacturing was deemed essential work, we didn’t lose a single day of production throughout the pandemic. And if everyone stays healthy, hopefully, we won’t have to. That way, no one gets laid off, no one misses a paycheque.”

It’s a good thing they didn’t have to close because, for them, business boomed during COVID-19. It was a huge challenge, to be sure, but Braam’s kept on top of it. Their dedication to their craft and team makes Braam’s a great place to start and maintain a career.

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