Healthcare X Missouri

Bruce Holland: Walking away from stable job pays off -- in a big way

  
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Bruce Holland had what so many want, job security. He was managing a 95-year-old family owned construction company. He could have continued in that role, and have enjoyed what might have been years of financial stability.

But something was missing. Holland wanted to start his own construction company. He wanted to build a roster of clients his way, by emphasizing relationships over open bidding.

So Holland took the risk. He walked away from the comfort of his job to form his own construction company, Swansea, Illinois-based Holland Construction Services, a construction company serving the greater St. Louis and Southern Illinois areas.

That risk paid off. For more than 30 years, Holland’s new company has been growing, building multifamily complexes, healthcare centers, retail developments and office buildings in St. Louis and its surrounding areas.

But this success wasn’t always a certainty. During its first six months, Holland’s company had exactly zero projects on which to work.

Holland didn’t panic. Within 15 months, Holland Construction Services grew to $18 million in revenue. And Holland’s gamble had officially paid off.

“I decided that it was time for me to do things a little differently,” Holland said. “But I like to think I left the company in the right way. My own brother worked there, but I did not take him with me. Other friends of mine worked there. I did not ask them to come with me. I didn’t want to raid their people or go after their clients. I didn’t want them to think I was leaving to hurt them. That wasn’t my intent.”

A year-and-a-half after Holland left the family owned business, though, it shut its door. At that point? Many of the people who had worked alongside Holland joined Holland Construction Services.

And Holland’s company has been growing ever since.

But those first few months? They weren’t easy.

Holland said that his ability to save coupled with sticking to a vision for his company made the difference.

“Fortunately, I’d always been a saver,” Holland said. “I didn’t take a salary for almost a year. I had enough money to keep us going without us having to take out a big loan to survive. I also had it in my mind that I wanted to be a certain kind of contractor. I didn’t want to be identified as a company that did only really small jobs. We set a target of what we wanted to do. It took us probably six months to land a good job. But it worked out great.”

How did Holland build his company so steadily? He points to the relationships he built over time. Holland said that he met with companies to discuss their projects in depth. And once Holland earned business from a client, he continued to meet with them to stay ahead of their upcoming needs.

This approach, Holland said, has worked better than bidding on projects as they come up.

“I wanted to develop relationships with owners,” Holland said. “I was fortunate enough to establish connections with some of the right clients.”

Holland points to a developer of nursing homes. The developer had already been successful building nursing homes in the Chicago area. He then came to the St. Louis region and developed an entirely new model of nursing home facility. Holland already knew the architect who was working on the project, so the two sat down, discussed the ins and outs of the new facility and, as Holland said, everything clicked.

Holland formed a relationship with Grandpa’s, a chain of discount stores, too. Holland earned the trust of this company by performing especially well on a challenging first project with the retailer. Holland said that his company was tasked with building its first Grandpa’s from start to finish in just three months. Holland succeeded, and went on to build 13 total Grandpa’s discount stores.

“We provided them with super service,” Holland said. “We told them that we would be like an extension of their staff. We promised that we would take care of whatever needs to be taken care of to make the project work. We came through. Those were the kind of projects that helped establish us.”

Around the same time, Holland began building stores for Schnuck Markets, a grocery store chain. The company’s relationship with this grocer helped further cement Holland’s relationship as a trustworthy and efficient construction company.

“They picked us because of the team we had and the work we’d already done,” Holland said.

Holland said that his goal when founding Holland Construction Services was to have 75 percent of its work come from relationships and repeat clients. Today, Holland has not only achieved that goal, he’s surpassed it. He said that closer to 95 percent of the company’s business comes from relationships and referrals.

Holland’s roster of clients has changed over the years. When the company started, about 60 percent of its business came from retailers. That has changed. Today, Holland Construction Services is busier with healthcare clients, multifamily projects and seniors housing developments.

“I do love this business,” Holland said. “You get to help people grow. One of my real goals is to have people on our team who can grow and succeed. You give people opportunities, you nurture them and mentor them, and they grow into positions of leadership. You see people who start out as interns, graduate from a local college, work here and are now in leadership roles. To see people grow and become successful in the business is a true pleasure.”