Building blocks of success

Architectural Facades' owners Alice and Frank Bracken.

Alice and Frank Bracken are weathering the toughest economic
storm since founding their precast stone company the only way they
know how
– by continuing to treat their loyal clients and employees with
fairness, respect and honesty.
Alice and Frank Bracken are weathering the toughest economic storm since founding their precast stone company the only way they know how – by continuing to treat their loyal clients and employees with fairness, respect and honesty.

The Brackens’ integrity in business was recently recognized June 23 by the Rotary Club of San Jose with its first Ethics in Business Award.

The Bracken-owned Architectural Facades Unlimited Inc. was one of 11 businesses nominated for the award, which honors high standards of conduct to serve as an educational model for business ethics.

Alice told the Rotary Club in her speech, “We believe that most small businesses are the same. They are led by people who honor their word and their work. They do not believe that business ethics is an oxymoron. Even in this economy, they know that they can still do something to make a difference. And they do. Against all odds, they do.”

The economic downturn hit the Gilroy business hard in January 2008, when real estate and building industries suffered, impacting building material supply companies such as Architectural Facades. Located at 600 E. Luchessa Ave., the company is an ornamental cast and stone company specializing in balustrades, columns, mantels and other ornamental flourishes made from precast stone.

The Brackens started Architectural Facades in San Jose, where they still reside, in 1986 and moved it to Gilroy in 2000. The company’s custom stone is used for residential, commercial and restoration projects, including San Francisco’s city hall and Ritz Carlton Club and Residences and the Chua Duc Vien Buddhist Temple in San Jose.

Having coped with previous economic slumps in the Valley in 1991 and again in 2001, the Brackens immediately put employees on California’s Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance program as a tactic to spare layoffs.

The program allows for the payment of benefits to workers whose wages and hours have been reduced and is a temporary alternative to layoffs.

“We only had to use it for six months before,” Alice said. “We used it for two years this time.”

When the work sharing benefits ran out in December 2009, the Brackens faced the dreaded decision of whether to make layoffs for the first time in their company’s history. First, they went to the Silicon Valley SCORE office in San Jose. As part of SCORE.org the office offers small business advice online and in-person.

“We were looking for a miracle,” Alice said. “We would have liked one. They (SCORE) were just saying we needed to make cuts. That was one of the things put up on the table. At that crucial point, we realized we had to scale the company around what the economy demands.”

The Brackens laid off 16 employees, but they haven’t had to let any more employees go since then.

“For Frank and me, it was one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do in our lives,” Alice said. “It was very sad, very emotional. That’s what we felt, and we tried to do it the best way we could. It was heartbreaking. These are good people. These are difficult times. There wasn’t one employee who wasn’t a loyal and a good employee.”

SCORE also suggested eliminating employee health benefits because they were a large and growing expense. The Brackens refused to take such a drastic step. Last January, Architectural Facades asked employees to pay $20 per month for their healthcare coverage. The company still covers 96 percent of its employees’ medical benefits.

All 44 employees who come from Gilroy and nearby cities are working reduced hours, and the office staff took a temporary 10 percent pay decrease in February.

“All of our decision-making was not about profit,” Alice said. “It was about trying to keep everybody working during this tough economy.”

The Brackens’ sense of duty to their employees has kept employee morale high. Workers still pal around during lunchtime soccer games.

“They’re in good spirits,” Frank said. “They’re happy to have a job. They’re a good group of people.”

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