For Brooks Holmgren of Elite Insulation, the opening of his company’s new 15,000 square foot office, warehouse and production facility just south of Litchfield is the culmination of a monumental effort.
“It’s been three years of my life,” he said, sitting behind of the desk of his unfinished office.
Since he purchased the property in 2016, Holmgren spent nearly every moment of his free time working on the facility.
“If I’m not here, I’m out working on the job site,” he said.
Anyone who knows Holmgren knows that his work ethic is unrivaled. They also know his business has been a long time in the making. Holmgren started Elite Insulation 16 years ago after the company, where he learned the insulation trade, went bankrupt.
“I got laid off,” he said, noting that he didn’t know exactly what he was going to do at the time.
All he knew was that he wanted to run his own business. Since he understood the finer points of mechanical insulation, he felt confident continuing on in that field, Holmgren said. And so Elite Insulation was born. Holmgren was the sole employee and ran the business out of his home in Litchfield for the first eight years.
The biggest roadblock he encountered in the beginning was his age. He’s now 36, but at the time he started the business, he was just 20 years old.
“People didn’t think I had the experience or the know-how to complete the work,” he said. “But they didn’t know my work ethic.”
Holmgren has never had a problem getting his hands dirty, often putting in sanity-testing amounts of work for his clients. The first employee he hired drove him from one job site to the next, so he could catch a few winks between jobs. He said his non-union rates and excellent customer service are reasons he was able to court big-name clients like Faribault Foods, Le Sueur Cheese, Surly Brewing Company and 3M.
“It is a special trade,” he said. “Not a lot of people understand or know about it. People think we do typical insulating, like walls or ceilings, but we don’t do any of that. We do mechanical-based work. So piping, boiler systems, chiller systems — that’s all we do, and there’s an art form to it.”
Holmgren’s artistic inclinations are especially evident in the design of his new facility. The interior design of the office area is what he calls industrial modern, characterized by exposed ductwork, unique accent lights, glass walls and sleek furniture. There’s a locker room with a shower for employees, a workout room, a high-quality kitchen and break area.
“I’ve always had a thing for building and for design,” he said. “I love architecture. I love customizing things.”
But while designing his new facility has been a great outlet for his artistic side, the new facility touts the ability for the company to grow. Holmgren has come a long way from running things himself. He currently employs anywhere between 10-20 people, depending on seasonal factors, but he hopes to double that in the next three to five years. Eventually, he wants to expand his business into the manufacturing and distribution of insulation products.
The biggest hurdle Holmgren faces moving forward, he said, is finding people to handle the labor end of the job as the main limiting factor.
“It’s not a fun job,” he said. “You’re in very hot or cold locations. You’re sometimes working at high elevations. Some of the materials we use are itchy. The thing that’s going to always hold me back is finding the people who are willing to do the work, willing to travel, willing to stick it out.”
Now that he’s achieved some level of success, one might be tempted to think Holmgren spends most of his time in the plush office he’s built instead of doing such admittedly grueling work, but they’d be wrong. He refuses to rest on his laurels.
“I work hand in hand with my employees,” he said. “I still go into the tightest, dirtiest, hottest, coldest locations and do the work.”