We live in an age of specialization. From the restaurants we dine at, to the clothes we buy, to the websites we visit online – they are driven by personal preference.
Commercial construction has experienced its own wave of innovations. Green building, new space age materials making their way into everyday construction, with architects and engineers pushing the envelope on design…
The problem is, most contractors are generalists. Most construction companies claim to do everything and, in some cases, are too afraid to tell clients what they are qualified to do and what they are not the best at.
To complicate things, the business of building restaurants is known to many insiders and outsiders as a very tight margin business, with many contractors ‘buying’ jobs and hoping to make money on the change orders. Timelines are tight; changing building code and coordinating the various trades and consultants can be daunting for anyone entering this industry. Owners can’t afford to have delays of even one week.
There is a new generation of general contractors who specialize in specific areas of construction – where, after completing more than 67 restaurants in three years, you become the go-to contractor for building out restaurants.
Enter DBD Construction.
Noah Whyte started out playing professional hockey before a freak injury ended his dreams of playing in the NHL. Without dwelling on his new unfortunate reality, Noah took the lessons learned playing an elite level of hockey and transitioned into the construction sector. Fast forward to 2017, he is running DBD Group, a $20 million a year company that has become the premier contractor for restaurant tenant improvements and base building, employing a team of forty individuals in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
A strong believer in teamwork, Noah founded DBD group in 2011 in Calgary. DBD Construction performed general contracting in commercial construction with an emphasis on restaurant owners and architects. “Some of our first projects were specific to the restaurants with the MTY group,” says Shane Melanson, DBD Group’s director of business development.
“We focus on areas of construction that are very specialized, where we have in-depth experience – specifically in restaurants and building envelope. While we offer a spectrum of services, we don’t spread ourselves too thin,” explains Melanson. “In construction, you need to have guys on the ground to make real-time decisions for every job. Our supervisors live close by, which is a critical factor in getting the job done on time and on budget. Anyone can hire trades, but to know which trades are actually going to show up, do the work, and probably most importantly, care about the job they are doing – you just need an experienced site supervisor there managing on a daily basis.
“What differentiates us from the competition is we focus on jobs that we have experience doing and we leverage technology. We use software that tracks the critical path – monitoring trades, billing, invoices and communications.” Emphasis on the critical path means we map out every project in its entirety at the outset, helping it to see not only the big picture, but the fine details. DBD holds weekly meetings to discuss each project. “If you have twenty projects at various stages, it’s imperative to get the key players together to plan the work. Plus, if you have people on your team with twenty or thirty years’ experience, they bring a unique perspective on challenging situations and because they can draw on their experiences, come up with solutions one person would not have been able to.”
In only six years, DBD has built an impressive portfolio of substantial and challenging projects, such as the recently completed $4.5 million West Henday daycare centre for BrightPath in Edmonton. “We plan on focusing on several key projects each year, so we give our clients attention to deal and make sure our jobs are executed in a timely fashion,” shares Melanson.
Another recent project of the team’s, Von Der Fels wine bar, is a new take on the theme that synthesizes old and new design. DBD also just finished a very trendy juice bar and gym on 17th Ave in Calgary. Retail and franchise restaurant chains like MTY Group and its subsidiaries – Mucho Burrito, Thai Express, Jugo Juice, 98 Foodco, Chachi’s, and Dirtbelly – are collaborating with the company on a series of upcoming projects.
Instead of simply conducting business transactions, DBD builds relationships with all its partners, employees, subcontractors, and customers. The DBD team regards its suppliers and sub-trades as friends, and returns to this trusted short list for quality, reasonably priced, timely services.
It is this focus on relationships that sets DBD apart, and is the foundation of its success. “We make sure that all lines of communication are crystal clear,” says Melanson.
DBD’s mission is to stay abreast of the latest developments in the industry. “We are out in the market, talking with architects and suppliers, learning about any new green and sustainable construction alternatives that our clients may be interested in.” There is a healthy balance when using LEED and green building, while staying on budget. “We come up with creative solutions,” says Melanson. “We like to be more involved with the design of the building at the start, to give best construction practices. Working with the architects who have incredible visions at the beginning of a project makes it easier to translate those plans into functional construction. We want visually appealing and green… always keeping the focus on the customer, to make sure the client gets what they want.”
Even as the oil patch struggles, DBD is thriving, because of its offices in other provinces. “With job losses in Alberta, it’s understandable that capital flowing into new developments has slowed.” However, DBD has kept its portfolio strong and diversified by working on restaurant retail tenant improvements, which have stayed in demand even as other areas of the economy have constricted. “Retail real estate has been consistent, and rental rates haven’t dropped too much, so there’s a high demand for retail space,” shares Melanson.
DBD facilitates trust with its clients by being open about costs. “We’re very transparent – not trying to hit home runs, just singles – and we offer consistent performance all the way through. DBD Construction is going to be in the business for another twenty or thirty years, and we are not interested in making a quick buck. We want our partners and clients to work with us throughout the lifetimes of their businesses.”
Shane Melanson predicts that the future of construction will involve the increased use of modular or pre-fabricated units manufactured in a controlled environment. “There has been a lot of resistance to the idea from some of the sub-trades, but modular construction is happening more and more.” With the increased emphasis on cost- and energy-efficient sustainable construction, modular offers many advantages and economies of scale. “Construction is a slow-moving industry, but as the next generation wave enters the workforce, they may be more open to new ways to construct buildings start to take over the industry, making change inevitable.”
No doubt, DBD is up and coming in a competitive industry that demands the best of its players and the teams it creates. Functionality, aesthetics, and sustainability are what the company’s reputation is built on. “We focus on service, and that’s reflected in our number of repeat customers,” says Melanson. “We want people who work because they love to. We’re also transparent – totally open book.”
With specialization in restaurant design, leading-edge software, and a crystal clear communication process, DBD is well positioned for the coming decades.