The IT services firm that’s been constantly adapting — since 1955

Meet the leader of an ABQ IT services firm that’s been adapting — since 1955

Holmans USA Corp. President and CEO John Santoru. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The world has changed and so has Holmans USA.

From maps and equipment for surveying land to hand-held calculators and desktop computers to information technology solutions, the 67-year-old company has evolved to survive and thrive.

“We’ve always been good about seeing the trends and trying to be proactive and having the foresight before it passes us by,” said John Santoru, CEO and president of Holmans USA Corp.

The Albuquerque-based company began in 1955 as Holmans House of Maps. In 1972, employee Tony Trujillio, who would later become a president of the company, convinced then-owner E.S. Holman to sell Hewlett Packard Co.’s HP 35, the world’s first scientific calculator. Holmans went on to carry other products from Hewlett Packard and, in the next decade, added products from Apple Inc. as well.

Contracts with federal agencies, and then state, local and education entities, followed. Holmans expanded the information technology services and products it offered, eventually opening a second New Mexico location in Los Alamos, as well as offices in Tennessee and California. The company sells from coast to coast, in all four time zones of the continental U.S., Santuro said.

But while that division of Holmans developed, the retail industry for computers and survey equipment changed. Holmans had competed in both sectors, but it exited the retail market for computing products in the late ’90s in response to competition from chains like CompUSA and Best Buy. Then the prevalence of online shopping alternatives brought an end to its presence as a retail survey equipment supplier in the early 2010s.

“We had to shift the model … We took the resources and invested it in the IT side of the business,” Santoru said. “The IT side of business was growing.”

And it continues to grow. Holmans made $38 million in sales in 2011, according to Santoru, and it’s headed for $95 million this year.

Recently, leadership at Holmans noted another trend — the Great Resignation — and has made efforts to retain their employees.

Santoru, who bought the company in April, sees people as crucial to its success. He implemented initiatives this summer aimed at creating a “more upbeat, vibrant culture” at the place that’s been his work home since 1992.

Holmans increased the wages of roughly 75% of its employees this year, Santoru said. It instituted a bonus program, tied to the company’s sales performance, for full- and part-time employees. Also, for eligible departments, it now offers four different flexible work schedules.

“I really wanted to energize the whole company,” Santoru said of the employee-centric measures. “And I definitely wanted to keep the key people.”

What’s changed since you became the sole owner?

“One of the first orders of business was to focus on investing in the employee and the employee’s growth so the employees of Holmans saw a future in the company. … I polled all the employees and just got a pulse on what they thought about the morale and culture of Holmans. And they hit on things that were of concern for them — things such as competitive pay, flexible schedule, employee recognition, team building events, some type of bonus structure. So, you know, we’ve zeroed in on those types of things. And I’ve been addressing them one by one. … Slowly but surely we’ve been turning the company culture around.”

What does it take to expand a business from a regional to a national company?

“It takes vision, and it takes hiring the right people. … In the early 2000s, people didn’t work remotely. So there’s a lot of trust, because we’re here in Albuquerque. You have to hire the right people to work in California and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, because they have to be self-sufficient. … It’s really hiring the right people and trusting the right people.

“And then it’s a lot of dedication. I remember I had to make monthly travel visits just to go call on the customers and go call on the employees — to make sure they’re doing OK, and I’m paying attention to them.

“So it’s the vision. It’s also the investment. It’s quite a bit of investment opening an office: rental, personnel and sometimes even inventory to take care of the customers. … So it starts with the vision, but then it starts with the personnel, the trust, the inventory and things like that, which all roll into the investment.”

Besides people, what’s something your business can’t operate without?

“The first, very first, thing is employees. People. The second thing is good customers. That’s essential. … Meaning good paying customers and good customers that respect what you offer and value your services. And what I mean by that, in our industry, if you just want to do business with me because you just want the best price, then you’re not a Holmans customer. If you want a good price, but you want my services and everything we bring to the table — if you want great customer service, if you want the value-added services that we do, which is quite a bit, and you want to be taken care of — then you’re a Holmans customer. … But if you just want the best price and that’s all you want then, yeah, then you really don’t fit the model. Then you’re probably an Amazon customer and then that’s fine, too. But there’s definitely a set of customers that fit our model, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Is there a method to how you find those good customers?

“We’re not into the consumer, right? And we’re probably not even into small business, 10 to 50 employees. We’re into the commercial, state, local, education — larger institutions. So those are the type of customers that need our services. They’re easily identifiable. Obviously, all the Department of Energy laboratories, they’re pretty much all over 2000 employees. They’re gonna need those types of services. … So for Holmans to identify the customer model is fairly easy.”

What business practices have brought Holman success over the years?

“We invest in a lot of training for our employees — that’s one thing. … We spend a lot of time face to face with our customers and staying in touch with our customers. I think that’s very important. We have a very big personal touch with our customers — I think that’s really one thing. And then I think, now with the ownership change, there’s a big emphasis in investing in our employees’ growth.”

What makes your company unique?

“There’s a lot of room to grow within Holmans as a small business, a lot of room for advancement. And your efforts really get — you can really make a difference at Holmans, and it’s not hard to stick out and get your efforts recognized. … From what Holmans brings to customers? The JIT (just in time) model. We’re one of the last of the Mohicans. We carry inventory here. We try to deliver as quick as we can. We try — it’s tough to beat Amazon — but we try to cater to our customers and get inventory as quickly to them as possible. We have a unique service model, we just don’t drop ship to our customers. If something breaks, we fix it. … Another unique thing, especially in the federal market, we have 10 to 12 (security) cleared people at all times. So we have the highest clearance ratings with the federal government. We have access to lab property, and we fix things right on site and have access to the lab. Those are some of the things that make Holmans unique to a customer.”

What’s next for Holmans?

“Definitely more growth in the SLED, in the state, local, education and commercial market. Definitely. Definitely more growth in the emerging technologies market. We are definitely going to be looking at more manufacturers in, possibly, the cybersecurity space. Definitely more growth with customers that are looking at our e-commerce capabilities.”

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