The value of collaboration
When Dan Legal formed Édifice Construction in 1999, his vision was to do things differently. He had been in construction for almost all his life, in one form or another, and he had seen how builders could be pitted against clients. He had seen how communication could break down, how disputes could arise, and ultimately, how quality could suffer. With Édifice, his goal was to avoid those adversarial interactions. He wanted to build relationships, like buildings, that lasted the test of time.
Prior to his realization, Dan had graduated from university with a degree in architecture, and then had worked in project management and sales roles with some of the largest builders in Western Canada. He had also spent three years with a smaller construction company, helping them to grow their business and take on larger projects. That experience inspired him to go out on his own and create Édifice Construction in Coquitlam. Soon after incorporating, the company earned a contract with TechBC, a special-purpose university in Surrey, and Dan got the chance to deliver the project in true partnership with the client.
From that point, he says “there was no turning back” – he had experienced a building process that was collaborative, transparent, and satisfying for all stakeholders, and he wanted to repeat that experience.
“I’d come to a couple fundamental realizations,” he recalls. “One, I realized it was far more important to me to feed my family than to feed my ego.”
His ego, he explains, used to be by doing really large projects. Afterwards, he would point to them and think ‘Wow, I was the PM that did that.’ He says there was satisfaction in that pride, but that ultimately, it was more satisfying to go home with a smile on his face. Too often, in his previous roles, he was unable to do that.
“And it wasn’t the culture of the companies I worked for that didn’t sit well with me,” he is quick to clarify. “I was very comfortable with those companies, and I still have a lot of respect for them. The challenge was more the environment in which we worked. We were doing relatively large publicly-tendered projects. That environment I found to be quite adversarial. There wasn’t much appreciation for partnering and working together. It was more a matter of us against you. That’s the part that grated on me.”
“When I started Édifice, it was with a very deliberate effort to accept that reality, and the reality that I couldn’t prevent wearing my heart on my sleeve,” he adds. “I can’t not care about what I do. I can’t not care about the people that I’m working with. When it seems like that’s not the case, that’s when I’m least happy with myself. I wanted to try to create an environment where I could distance myself from those situations.”
Instead, Dan says, he wanted to create situations where every project stakeholder was on the same page and working together, and never against each other. To that end, he gravitated towards retailers and property management companies, who he found “really understood the value of time” and the “value of cooperation.”
The Édifice team also gravitated to complicated projects, such as seismic upgrades and structural modifications. They like those jobs, Dan says, because “you really have to think outside the box, which we love to do.”
“We love to sit down with the design team and come up with solutions,” he says. “We love to offer alternative suggestions, and find ways to save the client money and time. That really excites us.”
That ability is not as highly valued on public tender jobs, Dan explains, so for the first decade of the company’s life, they avoided them entirely. Since then, they have loosened that self-imposed restriction, but they still prioritize the RFQ’s that have construction-management or design-assist components.
A recent example of such a project would be a local Animal Shelter, which Édifice Construction has been involved with since early on in the process. They have been playing a large part in shaping the design, and their team is very proud of the impact they’ve had to date.
Committed to quality
According to Dan, many clients choose Édifice Construction for a number of reasons, beyond simply their price being right. The number one reason, he believes, is the company’s sterling reputation.
“Almost all of our clients have either had first-hand experience with us in the past, or they know and trust someone who has first-hand experience with us,” he says. “We have a fantastic reputation. Word has gotten around about the kind of company we are and the level of integrity and level of caring we have.”
“I think our level of caring is pretty rare in our industry,” he adds. “We genuinely do approach jobs as if the owner’s dollar is our dollar. We have no difficulty in looking at a detail or a specification or a construction method and saying ‘Have you considered doing it this way instead?’ If we think it’s going to save them money or time, we’ll speak up. Even if it’s a lump sum tender. We’re ready and willing to volunteer ideas that would improve the outcome for everybody.”
Most of Édifice’s work, Dan explains, comes from repeat clients. Some of the company’s relationships even go back the entire 21 years of the company’s life.
“Once we’re given a chance to work through a project with a client and show them how we bring value, they usually hang on to us,” he says.
Clients also appreciate Édifice’s commitment to quality. To ensure that quality, they abide by a rigorous quality control program, and they foster a corporate culture where “everyone cares.”
“That buy-in is important,” Dan says. “It doesn’t matter how well written a program is, if you don’t have buy-in from people in the field, you’re not going to achieve your objectives. So quality really starts with ensuring our employees are firmly committed to the process.”
The company’s quality is also assisted by their use of technology. For example, they use a cloud-based construction management tool called SiteMax, which includes features such as timekeeping and geo check-in, QR code tool tracking, daily progress reports, purchase orders and progress photos. That software also provides native mobile apps and a client portal that allows clients to monitor project progress.
The company’s extended team – their roster of suppliers and contractors – are also vital to ensuring quality. Raicor Contracting, for instance, is an industry-leading wall and ceiling contractor. Like Édifice, they specialise in high-end projects, and they are highly valued for their ability to execute intricate and complex designs. They also work intimately with their clients and take pride in delivering the results their clients want. They are representative of the qualities Édifice looks for in all their partners.
The next generation
Over the course of Édifice Construction’s 21 years in business, Dan says the company has “always maintained a slow but steady growth pattern.”
“We’ve had very controlled growth,” he explains. “There have been fairly large market fluctuations within the 21 years, but on average, we’ve still had a steady, slow, calculated growth. I see that continuing.”
Dan also sees the company continuing past his retirement. Mark Fedje, Vice President, has been involved with the business for more than 15 years, he became a partner two years ago, and there’s a plan in place for him to eventually take over.
“We’ve got a number of years yet, and right now we’re thoroughly enjoying working together,” Dan says. “But we are in the midst of a transition plan. In time, Mark will take over the entire organization. There’s a next generation in place.”
In the nearer term, Dan says he sees the company taking on larger projects. Ten years ago, he says they could do a $10 million project but no bigger. These days, they can take on jobs of $25 million or more, and still provide the same personal and value-added service.
As far as the types of projects, Dan believes the company will continue down the path they are on. The company enjoys working in the industry, commercial and institutional sector, and they expect that work to continue. Their geographic reach may expand – they have already done work as far as Edmonton, and would be happy to venture that far again – and they may broaden their expertise – they have had some recent success doing pool projects – but Dan does not foresee “radical changes.”
“We’re going to keep doing what’s made us successful for over 20 years,” he says. “We’re going to keep collaborating with clients and adding value to their projects.”
For more on Édifice Construction, and to get in touch with Dan and his team, visit http://www.edifice.ca/en/