Doing it all
Oceanicflo Construction is an industry-acclaimed, Richmond-based builder of a diverse array of projects. Since forming in 2009, they have successfully delivered a long list of custom homes, religious facilities, interior renovations, industrial buildings, health care-related facilities, institutional facilities, and they have provided construction consultations for multi-family condominiums and apartment projects. Founder and Director Cary Tsai – who’s also a registered architect, and the principal of the firm ‘Architect 57’ – takes a lot of pride in the company’s diverse output, and in their ability to respond to virtually any challenge their clients throw at them.
“We’re not limited in our project types,” Cary says. “We’ve done it all. We’ve done single-family homes, temples, indoor playgrounds, industrial projects, commercial offices – there’s pretty much nothing we can’t design and build.”
As an architect by trade, and someone with a lot of experience in construction, Cary prefers to take on complicated projects that require him to draw on his deep well of expertise. His favorite projects tend to be the most challenging.
For example, during the height of the pandemic last year, Cary was commissioned to design build a 3,000 square-foot surgical mask factory in Vancouver, and he needed to turn it around as fast as possible. With the help of local government – who expedited the permitting process – he managed to fully deliver it in only 10 weeks. Two of those weeks were spent designing the building and earning the permits. Construction was fully completed in just eight weeks.
“That was a really exciting project,” Cary says. “It’s always exciting when you get to do something that contributes to the greater good.”
Cary met the client on that project through the Richmond Mandarin Lions Club – a non-profit, community service organization that Cary has been a part of for many years. That client, the owner of Sunwins Enterprises and Sunwns Health, typically did much larger projects, but after the onset of the pandemic, he wanted to do a project that would make a positive impact, and he wanted to do it fast. He first approached Cary to ask him to do the design.
“I quickly said ‘yes,’” Cary recalls. “I’d done some industrial projects before and I was very familiar with the zoning and codes. I wanted to be involved, but I told him that usually the review process would take quite a while. He told me to not worry about it and to just get the design portion done.”
With the help of some of their fellow Lions – who knew people who worked for the city – Cary and the client were able to expedite the approval process of the much-needed facility. In the midst of the process, the client approached Cary about doing the construction. Cary was excited by the challenge, as well by the opportunity to make a difference. He said ‘yes’ just as fast as he did before.
Cary credits the speedy delivery of the project to the buy-in from every member of the project team, including the trades and suppliers. For example, one supplier was able to acquire certain materials in days that would have otherwise been on back-order for weeks.
“A lot of people came together and helped,” Cary says. “That’s how we ended up saving a lot of time and finishing everything within those seven weeks of construction.”
The client, Cary remembers, was “very pleased” but also “really surprised.”
“We’d known each other for over 10 years, but we hadn’t worked together because our firm didn’t typically do projects of the size he was used to,” Cary says. “But when I told him the final inspection was happening next week and it looked like everything was going to be okay, he said ‘Seriously, Cary, we have to start talking about some projects.’ He was amazed by how fast we were able to turn this thing around.”
Not only was the project finished quickly, however, it was also finished to a high standard of quality – the factory was able to start producing certified surgical masks right away, and it’s still producing certified surgical masks today.
“All my masks I purchase from them,” Cary says. “I know everything that went into certifying them, so I feel very safe using them.”
Time is money
On the commercial side, Cary believes that clients choose Oceanicflo Construction due to their efficiency and speed. They are able to work fast and deliver projects quickly, so their clients can save money on construction and get to work in their facilities sooner. Their work last year on the surgical mask factory in Vancouver was a great demonstration of that ability.
On the residential side, meanwhile, Cary says that clients are drawn to Oceanicflo by their track record. In the early stage of the company, they delivered a high-end home in West Vancouver, which earned them some industry attention and even some award recognition (they were Canadian Home Builders’ Association National SAM Awards finalist). That original project led to other high-end custom homes, and the company has since built up a strong portfolio of some really high quality, eye-catching projects in some prestigious areas.
Cary credits the company’s success in both sectors, however, to his expertise as an architect. That expertise allows him to ensure that projects progress smoothly, especially early on.
“Because I’m an architect, I understand the application process very well,” Cary says. “I understand how to get projects approved. I know what city inspectors are looking for. I know the building codes. And when the codes change, I’m one of the first ones to know.”
As an architect – and as someone who designs most of his own projects – Cary can also predict and resolve problems earlier than a lot of builders. As an example, he cites an indoor playground project from a couple years ago, where they ran into a problem they had foreseen and planned for. They were able to consult with the property management’s structural engineer, submit new drawings, document everything, and get back to work the same day.
“A carpenter who worked on that project got a similar project the next year somewhere else,” Cary recalls. “There ended up being a similar problem. It actually cost him over a week as he waited for different engineers to come on site and figure it out.”
“So, we ended up saving our client one week,” he continues. “That’s critical. Time is money. We saved our client a lot of money by solving the problem quickly.”
They were able to do that, Cary reiterates, “because we understood everything and because we were able to react right away. And our client trusted us enough to go with our suggestions, because they knew I was also an architect and I wasn’t going to jeopardize my license over something like that.”
Oceanicflo’s problem-solving ability has resulted in a lot of repeat business. Cary says he has clients that he’s been working with since the beginning of both Oceanicflo and Architect 57. He believes that much of the rest of his work has been generated by referrals and word of mouths stemming from those clients.
“I think that shows we’re providing a good experience,” he says. “We’re doing the right thing by them.”
That loyalty, Cary believes, is also a result of his honesty and transparency. His philosophy is to provide clients with all the information they need in a timely fashion, and to always give his honest advice, even if it’s not convenient.
“I tell clients the truth right off the bat,” he says. “Sometimes they might not like to hear it. But we’d rather tell the truth and not get the job than tell the client what they want to hear, only to run into problems later. I think that approach has served us well over the years.”
Moving forward, Cary’s goal is to preserve that approach, and to preserve his reputation and relationship with his clients as a result. He believes that maintaining his reputation is more important than growing his company, which he only intends to do in a carefully-managed way.
Currently, both Oceanicflo and Architect 57 have small teams, and Cary is very hands-on with every project he takes on. Cary would like to add a few people to both teams, but he doesn’t want to compromise his personal touch, and he never wants to add bureaucracy that would slow down their timelines.
“Our goal is to do projects efficiently,” Cary says, “and we want to do the kind of work that requires especially talented people. That’s what we like to do. That’s what makes it fun to come to work. We never want to lose that.”
“We’d like to grow and do some bigger projects, but we’re going to take that growth slow,” he concludes. “We want to make sure we’re building the business the right way.”
For more on Oceanicflo Construction, their past and present projects, and to get in touch with Cary and his team, visit https://www.oceanicflo.com/