Master of Manufacturing: Travis Hollman Unlocks the Appeal of the Locker Room

This is the latest in our “Masters of Manufacturing” series, presented in partnership with The Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Each month we share insights and ideas from innovative, growth-minded manufacturing CEOs from across the nation as they navigate this tricky time in history.

If you think that school and sports lockers are just a commodity business where mass manufacturing and low margins are the only way to make a living, you’d agree with Travis Hollman’s father.

But when his son took the helm of their Dallas-based company a decade ago, Travis Hollman began the transformation of Hollman Inc. into a custom-manufacturing, innovation-powered disruptor that has been redefining the locker business as it taps into trends in everything from corporate campuses to sports and entertainment culture.

And today, Hollman Inc. boasts about $75 million in revenues—more than tenfold the level of ten years ago—a significant and rising market share in the industry, and unmistakable momentum driven by the CEO’s understanding of the company’s markets and embrace of game-changing concepts in locker-room design, factory automation and employee benefits. He was selected the 2018 area CEO of the year by Dallas Business Journal.

As it happens, Hollman believes that a new Enterprise Resource Planning system and the success of the automation initiatives in the company’s factory are going to be key toward continuing Hollman Inc.’s upward trajectory.

“I think we can go to $250 million,” Hollman tells Chief Executive. “I think there’s a run rate in the office market to get there, and we’re going to keep on focusing on lockers, especially non-metal ones. With our new ERP system, we have a massive manufacturing facility, and there’s a speed we want to get to. We also have to add manpower.”

Joe Hollman founded the company in 1976 to construct racquetball and squash courts out of glass panels, and Hollman Inc. made kitchen cabinets as well as those familiar rows of lockers for school hallways and golf-club locker rooms. Travis Hollman helmed the company for the first time in 2001 and boosted revenues from $2.5 million to $23 million, he said. After a fallout with his father, Travis became an entrepreneur with ventures including Vacation In a Bottle, one of America’s first “relaxation drinks.”

By 2010, the family business was calling again, this time in failing mode, and Hollman bought the operation from his father with revenues having sunk to about $7 million a year. The Great Recession added to sales and financial stresses. Hollman Inc. was directionless, Hollman said, right down to unmotivated and ineffective “star” salespeople.

“My vision was to grow exponentially and set sales goals that were reasonable, and I remembered having million-dollar months in sales there just from what I was doing my first time with the company,” the 50-year-old Hollman recalls. “But I got with one of the salespeople and set a sales goal of $250,000 for that month and she said, ‘No way.’”

So Hollman and a couple of key returnees hit the road themselves for a few weeks “to shake hands and talk with everyone we knew,” he says. They landed some key, big, new locker customers such as Planet Fitness and rekindled interest by many previous small customers.

“Then as we started getting more volume,” he says, “we decided to make a better product. We always thought we had the best name, but we had to justify that and really move that [brand] to the market. We didn’t want to compete on price all the time. So we got our R&D department going and honed in on lockers and looked at different technologies and materials, such as soft-close hinges and anti-microbial materials” that would mitigate the spread of illnesses inside the cloistered realm of the locker room.

“We brought people in—anyone who was not in the locker industry—and asked them what they thought was cool. We started playing around with crazy ideas and focusing on how we could make our products the best.”

Hollman was doing all this just as new dynamics were creating openings for locker manufacturers. For example, to accommodate millennial workforces in a labor-tight era, more and more companies are providing on-site workout rooms along with lockers, and the open-office trend sans cubicles means that more companies are providing lockers for employees to stash their belongings.

“The office environment is going crazy,” Hollman says. “The new ‘desk’ is to pick out whichever desk you want but you have a locker to hold your bicycle helmet and other things. At Nike, they have dry erase boards and chalk boards with our lockers so kids can come and draw on them. Google has glass lockers for its employees.”

Hollman also has made marquee installations in the locker rooms of major-college sports teams. For the Texas Rangers of Major League Baseball and for Texas A&M University, for instance, Hollman handled the construction of new, highly customized locker rooms on a turnkey basis, including ensuring easy servicing of HVAC systems and installing a high-capacity electrical and electronic infrastructure to service the needs of modern athletes – with those needs varying to some degree, of course, depending on whether they’re at the collegiate or professional level.

“Your locker is your personal space inside a big facility,” Hollman says, “so what do you want in your spot? Do you want to keep your Gatorade cool while you’re sitting there? We have electrified cup holders. Do you want to charge your phone in a certain spot? We’ve got under-mount phone chargers. Are your shoes size 15? We accommodate that. Do you want to play video games on your tablet? How about felt bottoms in the drawers for your expensive watches? Every aspect of the locker is thought out because that’s where they want to spend their time.”

All of this growth in customized facilities for Hollman Inc. has presented a big challenge, however: “Every single order we make is made-to-order, which in manufacturing is very difficult to do efficiently,” Hollman explains.

And so Hollman Inc. has had to overhaul its approach to manufacturing to accommodate a market where customization not only has become de rigueur but also essential to the company’s sales and profit goals. Central to the factory-floor transformation has been an investment in a robotic, intelligent-storage inventory-management system provided by Homag. It’ll work all night to lay the groundwork for processing of thousands of individual sheets of material the next day.

“Georgia Pacific has four different colors on the doors it provides us, and we have to keep those four different colors of laminates in stock,” Hollman explains. “The robots grab everything and place it on our saws and just make us more efficient and customized.” An enhancement underway will add bar-coding to further increase productivity.

Still, meeting Hollman’s growth potential will require loyal employees, and more of them. That’s one reason in 2018 Holman decided to provide free college at selected local institutions – covering tuition and books – for all employees, spouses and children. Providing the benefit costs the company about $250,000 a year.

“We’re trying to get millennials to want to come to work for us,” Hollman says. “We’re an old business, and we’ve got to stay relevant. If we’re not on top of it, someone is going to come in and disrupt us. I want the disruptors to be with us.”