tips you off.
So it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that the staffing firm serves engineering, accounting and light administration, with a niche in technical manufacturing by small, entrepreneurial companies. Brigham’s Baldwin office is central to the “technology corridor” between Hudson and Chippewa Falls.
Still, speaking to Jennifer Brigham, the longtime owner of Brigham Group Staffing, you don’t get the impression that being woman-owned is what she hangs her hat on.
“I’ve always been a very active, visible owner and I guess I never gave it a whole lot of thought,” she says. “At times I’m probably so immersed and so involved in what we do as a business that I haven’t thought how we might be perceived.”
That has been the case since Brigham started in business some 30 years ago.
“I was 22,” she says. “And I told a lot of people, ‘Hey, I’m going to start this business.’ And a few people told me, ‘Wow, are you sure you want to do that? You know it’s a man’s world, and it’s going to be hard.'
“I was stunned.”
Stunned, but not daunted. The reality of the “man’s world,” then and now, has never seemed an overriding consideration to Brigham.
A good example: Neither the local Kiwanis nor the Rotary club allowed women as members – but, that didn’t discourage Brigham. Instead, once both clubs allowed it, she became the first woman member.
“I’m not really aware of [a male-dominated industry],” Brigham said. “Most of the companies that we work with are male-owned, but have people in decision-making roles that are male and female, and staff that’s male and female.”
The goal instead has been visibility. Meeting people, making connections and forming lasting business relationships has been the bread and butter of Brigham Group Staffing.
That has been especially valuable through the recent recession, Brigham says.
“We cut back on some things during the recession,” said Brigham. “We couldn’t count on word of mouth and our stable of dedicated employees. We needed to come up with something that would maintain our visibility, but not spend a lot of money.
“It was important being very visible and vibrant and active … especially in social media and in the business community locally.”
While the new logo and brand ID got some attention (employees say it has helped account for an 89% growth in the nine months since it launched), Brigham credits a lot of the company’s recent success to strategic business changes during the down economy.
“We stayed profitable right through the recession,” she says.
The company currently pulls in about $4 million in annual revenue.
One of these decisions was not to have a sales force at either of the company’s offices.
“That’s still an experiment,” said Brigham on maintaining staffing coordinators but no sales. “[But having a sales force] never worked extremely well for us. At the end of the day, the clients are dealing with our staffing coordinators.
“A lot of it is relationships and a trust level,” Brigham said. "We’re all about results, and not really about sales. We’re not aggressively selling – we’re relationship building.”
The extent of some of these relationships can be seen through the company’s alphabet of certifications and memberships – the Women President’s Organization, (WPO), the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
But Brigham says that the WBENC certification in particular was a business move rather than a marketing move.
“We weren’t even certified as woman-owned until two and a half years ago,” says Brigham. “It’s a lot of work to get certified, and I stubbornly thought, ‘Why do I need to be certified?’ People should want to work with us because we’re good, not because we’re certified.”
Brigham says the system has evolved.
“It was a disadvantage to some of our customers because we didn’t have it,” she says. “Customers have to track that.”
It’s worth noting, too, the Brigham recently implemented a scholarship for female students at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, empowering and offering nontraditional career opportunities to women in the field of manufacturing.
“It’s kind of a pay-it-forward mentality – whether I get paid or not, I’m going to help you as a businessperson in my community,” she said. “And I think you’re going to help me back.
“I like to think I earn it. I don’t think I’m owed it.”