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Finding the Solutions

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Todd Bish. Photo by EPIC Photography Inc.

Solutions Business Interiors, a preferred Haworth Dealer, believes in creating spaces that empower people to work, heal and discover in new and exciting ways. Todd Bish, CEO and Founder, launched the company in 1995, growing it from servicing Edmonton to providing for clients across Canada. During the pandemic, Solutions continued to grow and expand its footprint. How? Well, simply put, Bish never found a challenge he couldn’t turn into a solution.

“You can accomplish anything you want to accomplish but you have to have the tenacity to see it through,” is Bish’s philosophy. “It takes persistence. You have to have trust in yourself. I love learning. I love taking risks. All of that is part of my best life and I wholeheartedly lean into it. You just need to keep your foot on the gas pedal.”

That gas pedal once had him driving in a very different direction.

“My stepfather was in the interior furnishings business,” he explains, “At 15 I swore I would never follow that path but at 22 I started working for him and the business became a passion for me. I wound up working with my stepfather as a manufacturer agent for eight years. At 30, I wanted to set out on my own.”

Bish had a true talent for matching clients with the products they needed. “That’s where the wins came in,” he smiles. “Then more wins as we transitioned into building spaces.”

Another milestone was when Solutions started dealing for Haworth, a global contract office furniture manufacturer and design leader. Haworth’s history stretches back to the 1940s; it is among the largest manufacturer of its kind in the world with an outstanding reputation to match. Within nine months of carrying the Haworth line, Solutions earned preferred dealer status.

“That was lightning fast, to be preferred in such a short period of time,” says Bish with pride.

Solutions is a key supplier to the Provincial and Federal Governments as well as Alberta Health Services. This results in the best available prices, with substantial savings for the highest quality of products on today’s market.

But the wins didn’t stop there. In 2019, Solutions completed its first acquisition. In 2021, two more followed, pushing the energetic brand into interior construction and flooring. That year, 2021, was also when Solutions merged into a group of companies. Included are: Solutions Business Interiors, NorLab Laboratory Services, Richking Interiors for tenant improvement construction and Division Nine Flooring. With this group of companies, anything you need to make an interior space special, be it commercial office, laboratory, healthcare, industrial or warehouse, one call to Solutions Group does it all.

“It’s exciting!” Bish’s enthusiasm is contagious. “We took advantage of COVID and the opportunities that came from cross selling in a post-COVID world.” He references how Solutions is poised to reinvent workspaces to accommodate hybrid models to better adapt to the future work environment.

He continues, “At the start of the project we can deliver innovative thought leadership and project guidance. We provide tenant improvements, flooring solutions, modular walls and all your workplace furnishings. Solutions Group delivers the complete process for all our clients.”

Being a one-stop shop for every client’s needs is just one part of why Solutions is so successful. Bish’s vision of how to run a company internally, and the care he gives each employee, is notable. Especially since not all of the employees are human.

What?

For 14 years Solutions has supported a Director of First Impressions. Her name is Jazzie. She’s a dog. It is very hard to resist her puppy dog eyes and impossible not to smile when she greets you. Jazzie isn’t the only four legged team member, although the second one joined kind of by accident. You see, Solutions is a pet friendly office. Team members and clients are welcome to bring their well-behaved pets to the office. This is probably why a stray mouse felt right at home and moved onto the executive floor. Every effort was made to catch and remove him humanely, but the wily mouse evades capture at every turn. With an “if you can’t beat them, join them,” attitude, the mouse was adopted. His name is Gus.

“We weren’t planning on being pet friendly to Gus, but we just can’t catch him. So, he’s part of the team now,” Bish says dryly.

As he reflects over the years of growth and change, Bish points to a project that really helped define the DNA of the company.

“With Rogers Place there were a lot of products, a lot of challenges, and a lot of logistics. All those factors came together and to be part of such an iconic project for the city was fun and rewarding.  We are proud to have been a small part of a generational project in Edmonton’s downtown core.”

The wins he celebrates are not always related to projects and acquisitions.

“When you are an entrepreneur, you always worry about staying relevant. I’m proud to say we have continued to reinvent ourselves. Recently we added an advisory board for oversight. This was a very good, strategic move. Sometimes, as a business owner, you get in your own way. An advisory board helps with accountability and clarity.

Here at Solutions Group we just look at things differently. We see challenges as opportunity. Our greatest challenge would be facing a lack of opportunity.”

For Bish, to build all this in Edmonton is as humbling as it is rewarding.

“I treasure the relationships we have in the business community and am very fortunate to have met and been inspired by so many business leaders. Those leaders are now personal friends. Edmonton is a great place to do business.”

He continues, “Solutions provides the team with a culture of learning, continuous improvement and support. We live our five corporate values: PMA (always showing up with a positive mental attitude); excellence (in business and personal life); tenacity (lean into everything with all we have); inspiring (our team, staff, and other companies); and challenge the status quo (daring to do things differently). We constantly push those values in our town hall meetings and we accomplish our success by working together.” He adds slyly, “Also we bribe the team with Dairy Queen blizzards.” In reality, the Dairy Queen treats are part of fundraising for the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. “Solutions is a great place to watch the employees flourish and meet their personal and professional goals. I’m proud of each one of them.”

Recently, Bish got a taste of that pride from the other side.

“My son (Dylan) said he was proud of me and the company that was being built! That took me by surprise and a tear hit my cheek. I smiled and said, ‘thank you.’ When a son says that, it really hits home and it really feels special. When someone so important to you says something as important as that, you can look back over the journey and know it was worth it. It was so worth it.”

As a business leader, Bish has some advice for the new generation of entrepreneurs in the capital city.

“When you support Edmonton, Edmonton will support you. That is what I have discovered. Business leaders support each other in a way that is unique to Edmonton. Don’t get me wrong – it is competitive. But it is a great place to start and grow a business.”

He stresses the need for entrepreneurs to be flexible, adaptable and to turn crises into opportunities.

“For us, the pandemic did affect our business, so how does one overcome such a challenge? We adapted to the home office environment. We ensured our staff had the proper tools. That was the first thing. Then we used the pandemic as a springboard to diversify. We bought two companies and changed up our business model. As hard as it was, we kept our eyes on the silver lining. With this way of thinking, some of our best decisions have been borne through crises. That being said, we make allowances to fail. This is difficult but we recognize that failure is how to grow personally and professionally. We don’t say ‘no’ to opportunities, challenges or customer requests. ‘No and can’t just aren’t in our DNA.”

Supporting the community is very important to everyone at Solutions Group. As a team they support many local causes. Personally, Bish sits on the board of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. With eleven other awesome humans, Bish went to Africa to summit Mount Kilimanjaro as part of a fundraising mission. Together they raised more than $1 million for the Stollery.

Bish and Solutions’ accomplishments have been recognized many times over the years. While he treasures each one, the awards from Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) are especially meaningful.

“YPO has some of the best business leaders in the province. I was honoured to chair events for YPO, and later become the Education Chair and Chapter Chair for Alberta. Any entrepreneur should consider joining YPO or Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). I can’t stress enough the positive influence YPO has had on my personal and professional life. This is why the awards from them matter so much.”

So, where does it all go from here? Bish muses as he reflects on the company he built and the future of Solutions Group of Companies – as well as his own future as an entrepreneur.

“This thing called leadership, it’s unique. I used it to take the company to new heights but now it’s time to pass on the things I have learned and enter a mentorship role. I’m transitioning from being all-in to being an ambassador. My style has always been about continuous evolution and my journey is focused on continuing to learn. I love the journey. It’s worth it. It’s worth leaning into it with everything you have.

“Solutions has many moving parts and we never stand still. Next on the horizon is geographical expansion across Canada. We are currently involved in exciting projects that validate our move to expand. Just watch what we do next!

“I’d like to thank everyone that has been a key supporter on this journey. My mother for her unconditional love and support. My staff for believing in our mission. Haworth for allowing us to be a dealer in this province, our clients and vendors and YPO for the experiences that helped me grow personally and professionally.”

Bish concludes, “If you want to start a business in Edmonton – do it , but it takes a lot of grit. You have to really dig in. It’s been an incredible journey with lots of ups and downs and plenty of plot twists. But I’ve lived my best life through sheer determination. I wanted to start a business. Twenty-seven years later, here we are.”

Learn more by visiting www.solutionsgc.ca online and Solutions Group of Companies on LinkedIn.

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