H2I Group of Minneapolis, Minnesota has undergone some major changes since it was profiled in July 2018 in Construction in Focus magazine. These include new corporate acquisitions, services, and leadership. As the employee-owned firm approached the hundred-year milestone, it also underwent a name change from Haldeman-Homme, Inc.
“H2I Group has changed tremendously since our last profile. The biggest change is that we are now a nationwide company. Over the past few years, we focused on expanding our company footprint across the United States through mergers and acquisitions. We now have an extremely experienced group of new leaders and have also elevated other leaders within the company. Everyone in our top leadership group, at least twelve to fifteen people deep, are all relatively new in their positions,” states Senior Vice President of Sales Kyle Saewert.
For all that, the company’s raison d’être remains the same. In simple terms, H2I Group is a specialty subcontractor or equipment and solutions provider. It helps create interior spaces and then sources and installs laboratory and athletic equipment, flooring, lockers, furniture, bleachers, seating, and other products for schools, gyms, laboratories, and athletic and entertainment venues. The company also serves as a reseller of technical education equipment and products.
H2I Group partners with multiple manufacturers, some of which the company has worked with for decades, allowing the team to provide the best products and solutions for each project. The list of partners is impressive, with each being highly regarded in their respective areas of expertise, whether that is athletic equipment, laboratory equipment, flooring, seating, or technical education products.
The company provides preconstruction, design-assist, estimating and budgeting, scheduling, project management, installation and support, service and maintenance, and product sourcing services.
“Probably fifty percent of everything we do is lab-based: fume hoods, upper and lower cabinets, a lot of equipment and fixtures,” says Saewert.
The company recently added architectural woodwork, also known as millwork, to its impressive list of services. H2I Group can furnish and install ornamental metals and wood carpentry for cabinets, reception areas, nurse’s stations, entryways, and more.
The company established an employee stock ownership plan or ESOP in 1977 and was 100 percent employee-owned by 1987. H2I Group has been rapidly growing with more expansion possible in the future. Including the Minneapolis headquarters, H2I Group now boasts offices in Houston, Chicago, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Cedar Falls, and multiple offices in California. Its eighteen offices, as well as its many remote workers, give the company a presence from coast to coast.
When the firm was founded nearly a century ago in 1924, it primarily sold racks, conveyor systems, and shelving to businesses in the Midwest. By the 1950s, with visionary leaders Duke Haldeman and Jack Homme at the helm, the company had spread into new markets, supplying schools, healthcare facilities, and labs with equipment. With the baby boom in full force, the firm, then called Haldeman-Homme (pronounced ‘homie’), Inc. thrived. Profit-sharing was introduced for employees during the 1950s and remains a company benefit today.
An office in Chicago was opened in 2005, followed by further expansion. Academic Specialties Texas, which sold lockers, bleachers, and other gear, was acquired in 2014.
H2I Group continues to grow today. It purchased Paton Group (an education technology reseller focused on CNC mills, laser engravers, robotics, 3D printers, and CAM/CAM software) as well as Dow Diversified (a full-service lab equipment and casework dealer out of California) in 2019. A year later, NexLab Design (a full-service lab equipment and casework dealer out of Baton Rouge) was bought. Knight Athletics (a distributor that also does product installation and maintenance for theatres, auditoriums, and gyms in Pennsylvania) and RPE Laser (specializing in engraving and printing) were both acquired in 2021.
“Integrating this wide array of firms into the H2I Group family has been an adventure and growing experience for our company,” according to Saewert. He is particularly excited about the performance of Dow Diversified which is “on the verge of doubling their revenue,” since it was brought onboard.
Thanks to these recent acquisitions, the H2I Group workforce has increased to around 255 employees (H2I Group only) with a total of around 400 employees including all field personnel. The new company name, H2I Group, was introduced in 2019 as part of a broader rebranding initiative. H2I Group is simply a tweak of the original name, referring to Haldeman and Homme and the company’s incorporated status.
For all this impressive growth, the past few years have not been without challenges. Of special concern, the arrival of COVID in early 2020 “caused a lot of unknown, unrest and still is,” says Saewert.
The company worked hard to keep its staff safe. Installers were given masks, sanitizing solution, and other safety gear. “Our installers were some of the safest ones out there.”
The firm continues to grapple with what he calls “the COVID hangover,” in the form of pandemic-related supply woes. Along with other materials, steel, used in much of the lab equipment H2I Group installs, has been hard to find of late, due to production delays caused by the pandemic.
Supply chain difficulties, in turn, have led to “a margin crunch: extra price increases on freight and materials, surcharges, labor charges. Everything went up. It caused our profit to shrink,” he continues.
Despite these obstacles, H2I Group has completed some very impressive projects over the past few years. These include a veterinary medicine building at Texas A&M, an athletic village at the University of Minnesota, and a science tower at the University of Texas in Austin. Over the past eight years, the firm has built two such science towers, stocked with laboratory casework, fume hoods, carts, and various testing and research equipment.
Some of these projects are in the $10 million-plus range. “We’re working on labs at leading universities and research facilities in California that are $15 million in size. Ten years ago, we didn’t take on projects that size,” states Saewert. Proud as the team is to tackle such huge jobs, H2I Group seeks to achieve a balance, with a mix of “small, medium, and large projects,” he notes.
H2I Group provides full-service solutions—from estimation to install—and likes to tackle what it calls total facility solutions—multiple assignments across disciplines at a single location. For example, a high school might hire the firm to provide and install equipment for its gym, auditorium, labs, and classrooms while also providing architectural woodwork. While H2I Group is open to adding new services to its repertoire, such a move would depend on various factors. The company wants to continue expanding but is wary of overextending itself.
“We have had considerable growth year over year on both the sales and revenue side. Just to keep our arms around everything, I don’t see us going out and looking at too many [mergers and acquisitions] right now. We have to be able to facilitate the business that’s coming in,” says Saewert.
This is a wise strategy for a company whose work has been recognized with industry honors. Recent kudos include Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in the Nation awards for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, plus The Nation’s Best and Brightest awards in the category of wellness for 2018 and 2019. The Best and Brightest awards are given out by the National Association for Business Resources (NABR).
These accolades reflect H2I Group’s company culture and status as an ESOP firm. “In addition to motivating existing employees, granting workers ownership in the company is a good recruitment tool,” says HR Manager Erika Flickinger.
The company also runs the Homme Education Foundation, which awards college scholarship money to children and grandchildren of employees and retirees. Full-time employees who have been with the firm for at least one year can apply for post-secondary tuition benefit including a 100 percent tuition-free program through the University of Arizona Global Campus. H2I Group also supports numerous charities, including the Salvation Army, the Boys & Girls Club, Toys for Tots, and the Relay for Life.
When hiring new staff, the company prefers “positive people with a can-do attitude. People not just looking for a job, but looking for a career, looking for a family atmosphere. Someone that wants to retire with our company,” says Flickinger.
The firm is currently revamping its company website, bringing together information from all the acquired companies and creating one cohesive brand. The new site, which should go online early next year, will showcase more projects completed by the company and provide useful content for partners and potential clients.
H2I Group is also gearing up for a hugely significant anniversary in 2024. “We are proud of the fact that we have been providing exceptional solutions for exceptional education, athletic, and science spaces for almost one hundred years. We try to live by the values set forth by the founders of this company while continuing to put processes, technology, partners, and people in place to continue to be successful,” states Marketing Manager Megan Tansom.
Marking the company’s centennial is just part of H2I Group’s plans for the near future. “Growth isn’t our number one priority—profitability is, for our employee shareholders. I would love to see this company move forward technologically speaking, systems speaking, and be more efficient and more profitable. We hope to continue to keep our customers happy, earning repeat business and building on our relationships with our industry-leading suppliers… In five years, I see H2I Group as a very strong company providing both a great customer and employee experience,” states Saewert.