OakWood Construction, a Mike Holmes endorsed company

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jun 17
[A version of this article first appeared in Ottawa Business Journal, http://www.obj.ca/bruce-firestone]

I carry around in my head an international scale of business
performance of 1 to 10, with 10 representing a terrifically well-managed
enterprise and 1 obviously not. My informal scale measures things like quality,
price, terms, customer-centric, supplier sensitive and a few other immeasurable
things like “heart,” culture, soul, passion, openness, experimentation, ability
to change…

I also measure “speed” with 100 kilometres an hour
reflecting a city in which business tends to act quickly—that is, it’s a place
where responsiveness is a priority not just in terms of reacting to client
questions and needs, but also to supplier issues and where problems are not
ignored… they’re fixed, not repeated, and the enterprise learns from mistakes.

When I was with the Ottawa Senators, I wanted that
organization to try to get to where I believed one of our NHL partners was—the
Disney Company. Disney was admitted into the league the year after the Sens
started play, and I served on the NHL’s expansion committee that year so I got
to see both the company and its chief executive officer (then Michael Eisner)
in action, close-up. It was impressive. I gave them a Prof Bruce score of 9.6.

In a small market like Ottawa,
it’s almost impossible to achieve that type of score—the resources just aren’t
there, and the talent pool is much smaller. Still I’ll give the Sens a 7.5 out
of 10. Not bad.

But most of the organizations I deal with in Ottawa are far below this,
especially in the industry in which I have the most experience—the real estate
biz. A few years ago, a large Ottawa
real estate firm announced a major new housing project in the south end of the
city, which had some interesting aspects to it, so I called them the following
day.

When I asked their receptionist about it, she responded with
a puzzled, “Huh?”

I refer to a company’s receptionist as their “CIO”—chief
information officer because s/he is often the very first point of contact for
nearly everyone. It’s unimaginable that you would launch a major initiative in
any organization without first briefing your own staff but apparently that’s
what they did.

I’ve said it before, “If the tech industry was like the real
estate business, every time you got in your car with your smart phone, you’d
have three semitrailers full of knobs and tubes following you to make the darn
thing work.”

If Hong Kong is 100 on my unofficial speed scale and New York 70, then Toronto
is a 3 and Ottawa
a 1. On the qualitative scale, if Disney is a 9.6 and the Sens are a 7.5, then
the average Ottawa
business is around a 0.1.

I’m exaggerating to make a point—we have a long way to go to
make our business community and, for that matter, our various bureaucracies
perform better.

So imagine my surprise when I walk into OakWood founder John
Liptak’s gigantic design centre in east end Ottawa to learn that his $10
million building is Canada’s highest LEED-certified structure stuffed with more
than 7,500 high-end products—everything from fantabulous kitchens and bathrooms
to safe rooms hidden behind false walls.

In addition to their in-house inventory, John and his
daughter Patricia tell me they have another 150,000 products accessible via QR
codes, which are everywhere.

It’s a family-run business with his wife, Debbie, and two
daughters, Patricia Liptak-Satov and Angela Liptak, active in the organization.

It is also the largest home renovation business in Ottawa with the company doing
485 jobs last year ranging from in size from $20,000 to $6 million. John tells
me they are ten times the size of their next biggest competitor.

Here is a series of questions and answers between Mr. Liptak
and me:

How many employees do you currently have and how many do you think you will have by the end of 2017?

We currently have 59 in our main construction company not including all
the other areas. We also work with over 650 Trade Partners and Suppliers. We
expect to have around 27%-controlled growth in 2017.

How is it possible that you are ten times the size of your next biggest
    competitor?

We do Client Profiles as well as Company Profiles on our competitors.
This is information that we gathered from Trade Partners and Suppliers who all
like to talk.

What’s the fastest growing part of your business and why?

Our new HandyManPRO service which was launched in February 2016 is
technically the fastest growing division of OakWood but the fastest growing
division financially is our Investment Property division.

 How difficult is it to transition to the next generation?   

For me it is truly easy. When you run a construction company, business
is personal and personal life is mixed in with business so our children were
always immersed in the business world. Both Patricia and Angela have been
working with my wife Debbie and me since they played with their dolls and teddy
bears. During university, we encouraged both girls to experience other work—always
trusting our instincts that someday they would return with new added
experiences. That is exactly what happened. We are truly blessed that we all
get along so well and have a common vision.

 What role does Angela play?

Angela is the CFO who guides our finances within our group of companies
and divisions. Being a CMA, she has professional insight and knowledge that
makes our family businesses even stronger. Angela oversees all accounting and
manages our finances.

Same question for Debbie…

It started out with Debbie doing all accounting and then transitioned
into Debbie helping with the accounting to now Debbie providing childcare for
our four wonderful grandchildren and also helping with the accounting. Debbie
is my soul mate, and she is the primary reason that I am not living in a tent
because I would not even know what size clothes I wear. She is the quiet person
in the background that always takes care of business.

 How hard is it to train your subs, bring them up to your standard?   

Employee and Trade Partner training are a large part of what we spend a
huge amount of company resources on. First of all, interviewing and finding the
best employees and Trade Partners is enormously time consuming to do properly.
We want the best trades and employees that we can find. Truly talented trades
are very hard to find and we are hopeful that the next generation coming out of
our colleges will be better trained. We are also hopeful that the age of
“entitled to their entitlements” is over and the next generation will once
again be a hard working one. We weight ethics and attitude almost 50% in
interviews. When a trade has a great attitude then we have very little issue
establishing higher expectations and asking them to improve their skill set. We
lead the way. There are many other ways to entice a trade to meet your
expectations and one method is to reward trades that work well with more work
and early payment. OakWood has a Trade Partner rating system where we rate
different aspects of each trade Partner, which places them higher on the rating
scale and being in first place, gives first dibs on the next project.

Is the Ottawa  market sufficiently quality conscious or is everyone just looking for the lowest price?

This is difficult to answer, as it is yet to be determined. We
definitely are increasing our market share but do not yet know where it will
top out. Canada and
specifically Ottawa have nowhere near the level
of quality consciousness of Europe or specifically Germany where supply and service is
much more of a priority in terms of quality and longevity. For example, in Germany
families invest and make decisions about their homes for generations and expect
to pass the family home down to their children and grandchildren.

How has Google or Facebook changed OakWood?

OakWood changed the way we market ourselves in the late 90’s and much
more dramatically in the last 5 years. Google and Facebook are very important
to OakWood but, having said this, there is still a big demand in our
marketplace to actually touch and feel the products. Since we opened our new by-appointment-only
Design Centre, our success rate (closing rate, ed.) has gone way up—from 1 out
of every 6 proposals to 1 out of every 2.5. People are still very visual for
the most part, and that is also why we are investing heavily in new hologram
technologies.

John is very proud of his German heritage—he feels that
attention to detail is one of the fundamental reasons why the firm has achieved
success. That and creating a top rated brand are the two “secrets” that Mr.
Liptak credits for the growth of the business.

He also mentions that his firm is the only one hard charging
Mike Holmes has endorsed in Ottawa;
he goes out of his way to show me Mike’s spacious and well appointed office
that is exclusively reserved for the media sensation when he visits OakWood
monthly.

Mr. Liptak also mentions that they are very picky when it comes
to HR—they accept just 1 out of every 111 applicants who apply.

They expect head office headcount to reach 75 employees this
year with room in the building for 45 more. The total number of contracts
they’ll put through the company this year will top 500 in what John says will
be more “controlled growth.”

Control is very important to Mr. Liptak lest anything
tarnish their brand.

Bruce
M Firestone, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Century 21 Explorer Realty broker,
Real Estate Investor and Business coach. Follow him on twitter @ProfBruce or
email him bruce.firestone@century21.ca

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