Spending a lot of time on the negotiation, design and fabrication of a signage product is only successful if the end-product looks as good as everyone expects it to. As such, finishing becomes an integral part of the signage design and manufacture process and can ultimately change the total look and feel of a particular project. Its importance cannot be overestimated and, at Behrends Group, we pride ourselves in having high-quality and consistently good finishing for all of our signage products. As artisan craftsmen, our finishers are part of our holistic team, where every individual is a cornerstone to the success of the whole system. When we all work together, beautiful things are accomplished and no one knows this better than Steven Schwandt who is part of the generational family at Behrends Group.
Tell us a little bit about your personal history and what brought you to Behrends Group.
I am the third generation in my family to have the pleasure of working for this company. My grandfather worked here for a bit in the 1980s and my father did as well, for about 30 years. Several uncles have worked here as well and so I have inherited my position. I have been here for about 19 years now and I’m carrying on that legacy of commitment to this company.
Can you tell me about some of your favourite moments while working for the company?
Seeing some of the milestones achieved has been really amazing. There are guys who have been working for this company for over 40 years and that is inspirational. I particularly love the company picnics and Christmas parties. Really anything that happens in terms of the company culture – because we are such a tight-knit group – is so positive.
What is your current position at Behrends Group?
I am a metal finisher which means that I get to finish everything from plaques to letters and everything in-between.
So, you are primarily responsible for managing the finishing of products that have been fabricated by Behrends. What can you tell me about this particular aspect of your work?
My work is really about paying attention to detail. You have to be a perfectionist. You have to know how much to finish and when to stop to get the perfect final product every time. I’m all about troubleshooting and this position is just it. You have to figure out how to solve finishing issues quickly and effectively to get the quality you want.
Can you tell us what kind of products go through the finishing department and what finishing means?
The majority of the products I see are bronze and aluminum plaques but we also go through cut letters, and sometimes deal with plexi or stainless steel depending on the material the client and designers have chosen to best suit their needs. Finishing is the last step before the final product goes out the door with our professional installers so my job is to make things look like a million bucks basically.
What sets this company apart from others? What, in your opinion, has made the company so successful?
It is a smaller-based company and a very small group of people who do a high-volume of high-quality work. The company is family-oriented and prides itself on that. I have personally known the owner of the company, Gen Russo, my entire life and I feel like the whole crew is part of my family. We probably spend more time with each other than we do collectively at home so we become a pretty tight unit. The other thing is the products, of course. There are not a lot, if any, other companies that do what we do, or can do what we do. I would say that our output, in terms of quality and longevity of a product, is 1000% better than any competitors on the market.
What are some of the most memorable projects you have worked on so far? Do you have a particular favourite?
A really memorable one that sticks out was actually from a while ago (in the 1990s) was when the Bank of Montreal was rebranding and in need of all new logos and letters for their branches and offices across Canada. I personally spent four months doing nothing but that project which was incredibly tedious but paid off so well in the end. I really liked doing Strathcona Archway as well. The Toronto Air Canada Center is neat too – I can say I had my hand on that project in a sense because we did work on some pieces for it.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy doing stuff around the house, fixing things, watching sports and going to the movies. I’m pretty outdoorsy too: I love camping, fishing, hunting, and anything else outside.