J.M. Brennan Doubles Down on Its Commitment to Prefabrication
J.M. Brennan is adhering to its best practice of staying nimble by adding 13,000 square feet to its facility.
The rules of construction are changing in the eyes of J.M. Brennan Inc. Gone are the days when a mechanical contractor waited to source materials and didn’t begin work until they were on the job site.
Today, trades are expected to perform faster and safer while increasing the project team’s productivity. This is why J.M. Brennan Inc. is expanding its Milwaukee-based facility to handle increased demand for prefabrication.
“The world has changed,” Co-President Matt Brennan says. “Now you build BIM models to turn into prefabricated drawings before you prefabricate and install. We are now building everything long before we get to the job site, so the minute we arrive we are ahead of the curve.”
J.M. Brennan is adhering to its best practice of staying nimble by adding 13,000 square feet to its facility, bringing its total space to 100,000 square feet. The addition will allow the company to expand its piping and plumbing prefabrication shop, as well as provide space for trade partners to work collaboratively with J.M. Brennan.
This is important because “we deliver a completed building system to projects at once and begin installing immediately,” Brennan adds. “We are not installing the old-fashioned way where we take up a hallway for three to four weeks while other tradesmen are trying to get past you. Now we can complete a hallway in a day and our team is on the ground in the shop prefabricating rather than welding in the air or on a lift. We can do it faster, safer and more productively in our shop than in the field.”
J.M. Brennan’s customers demand that more work be prefabricated to maintain project schedules and improve quality, which is more easily achieved by being in a controlled environment. “You now define yourself based on who can do it better,” Brennan says. “We are making the investments and see the benefits, differentiating ourselves to contractors as the guy who has more technology and capabilities invested in prefabrication.”
A Changing Culture
Co-President John Brennan, Matt Brennan’s brother, says embracing prefabrication requires a change in the team’s mindset. “Everyone is used to doing things the old-fashioned way,” he notes. “To get the field people to accept prefabrication — and learn to trust they are going to get the product and that it won’t complicate their job, but make it easier — requires a change of culture and mindset that doesn’t happen overnight.”
The attitude among J.M. Brennan’s rank and file has progressed from hesitation to excitement. “Our team is now looking at new technology and at new ways of doing this, spending their time coming up with a better way,” Matt Brennan adds. “They are getting excited and working as a team between trades, so now it’s no longer something we are pushing down from the top. They push back and see the possibilities. It has taken on a life of its own.”
Prefabrication has allowed J.M. Brennan to navigate the labor shortage, but finding high-quality field labor as well as office staff, project managers and engineers is still a constraint. “It has become a tighter market to get quality people who understand our way of doing things,” John Brennan notes. “It’s not just about getting bodies, but good, quality people and not diluting our team.”
John Brennan Sr. founded J.M. Brennan in 1932 after immigrating from Ireland to Milwaukee. He opened a storefront plumbing shop with one employee and continued to grow through the years. In 1962, Brennan’s son, John Brennan Jr., took over the company and began to offer piping and sheet metal services to the commercial and institutional markets.
John Brennan III and brother Matt Brennan bought the company from their father in 1997 and have continued to expand its services ever since. The company decided to build upon its roots in the service and small project market to include construction on commercial, industrial and institutional projects. The company performs a majority of its work throughout southeastern Wisconsin, but will occasionally follow its customers outside the Milwaukee area.
The Brennans credit J.M. Brennan’s customer-driven mindset for its expansion and success over the past 88 years. The company is now one of Milwaukee’s most trusted mechanical contractors.
“A focus on the customer was something instilled from the beginning,” John Brennan adds. “As we grew and performed work on larger projects, we always maintained that focus on the end-customer and I think that has really been the recipe for our success. Taking care of our customers through their projects has built lifetime relationships and we have become their trusted partner.”
The majority of J.M Brennan’s work is for repeat clients and the organization has grown with its customers as their businesses expanded. For example, the company recently added fire protection to its services, as well as sewer jetting and video inspections.
“Those were customer-driven demands who wanted to take care of their facilities but only deal with one company,” Brennan explains. “Part of our formula is not looking to do one-time projects. The facilities we focus on tend to be heavy users of mechanical services. Healthcare is a big focus area because they have a need for higher-performing systems and need a partner who has expertise in those areas to provide that.”
J.M. Brennan foresees continued collaboration with its partners to deliver exactly what its customers want, but expects to do so faster and safer. And although it continues to grow, the company still comes out to fix a leaky sink.
“Our strength in construction is our service focus,” Matt Brennan says. “One thing that differentiates us is that we have maintained a family-owned, employee-first culture, which is attractive in today’s marketplace. People want to know the people they work with and we control our own destiny.”