From Vaughan, Ontario comes Arsenal Constructors Inc. (Arsenal), a general contractor that caters to the retail and corporate sectors. This organization is an offshoot of International Fixture Installations Inc., which gives it a versatile outlook as a turnkey operator. We spoke with General Manager Steven Lanteigne about the company and some of the issues facing the construction industry.
International Fixture Installations Inc. (IFI) was founded in 1996 and has been involved in various large projects, specializing in millwork, carpentry or metal work for grocery stores, retail spaces, and corporate office clients. Over the years, this company expanded its services and capabilities in response to client demands. It became evident that client work requirements extended beyond interior fixture installations.
“When you go into a grocery store there are shelving units, décor, and signage. That is the typical scope of work for a fixturing company. As time passed, our scope of work and client base expanded to include the complete interior of a project, addressing the needs of grocery, corporate, retail and commercial. We did everything from the ground up. Eventually, we realized that it made more sense to open and legitimately create a general contracting company,” says Steven.
Arsenal was founded only two years ago as a child of the successes and strengths of IFI. The company opened with a complete interior fit-out of a turnkey operation, and this project aided in informing people of the added services. Arsenal now offers a complete interior renovation for the retail, grocery, corporate, institutional, and commercial sectors.
“IFI complements Arsenal and will take over whenever there is any work related to the disciplines it covers. It wasn’t really a giant leap for the new entity as we were doing this kind of work all along,” says Steven.
IFI has many long-term clients due to the solid relationships it has built, because both IFI and Arsenal understand clients’ needs and marketing strategies. Both companies also have much respect for the culture and protocols that help build these long-term relationships; they bring peace of mind to every project on which they work, and provide a level of personal attention that goes a long way to keep clients from merely settling for the lowest bidder.
Arsenal’s growth is being managed carefully to ensure that quality of service and value to clients is not sacrificed. The structure of the company enables it to take on sizeable projects, anywhere from $50,000 and up to $10 million.
“We reach out to corporations seeking contractors that take time to assess requirements, demands, vision, and marketing formats. We respect them and the methodologies they adhere to. At the end of the day, our clients want a general contractor that can work within their standards, and not around common market dictates,” says Steven.
Arsenal does a great deal of work for blue chip 500 companies like Target, Loblaws, and Metro. It also operates in the retail sector, serving multiple brands. Developing new clients and relationships is always challenging due to the changing competitive landscape.
“Not only do you have to beat the lowest price, but you also have to offer the unique services that each client expects. The bottom line does make a big difference, therefore making it harder to maintain a long-term relationship with a particular client,” says Steven.
When dealing with companies such as Loblaws or Metro, Arsenal still goes through the tendering process, even though it has enjoyed a long-term relationship. On most projects, even though the owners have the right not to choose the lowest bidder, that is what will typically occur as a way of being consistent if every company has the appropriate qualifications.
“Win some and lose some, but if you get the opportunity, that is when you make your mark. Become a part of an exclusive list of go-to contractors by earning their trust, understanding their product, and company protocols. Do the homework, and learn about your client,” says Steven.
Every client is different, and Target is a good example of that. It is a very particular company with a strong culture and strict protocol process. For example, Target is very particular with tracking systems for ordering, processing, and delivering parts. It is the only way for the company to manage everything in store at once. To be a right fit for Target means that contractors are scrutinized and evaluated based on stringent standards for competency, track record, as well as company financial status to sustain the kind of demands these jobs require.
Starbucks also has a defined culture and wants things being done in a certain way. The differing expectations were an obstacle for Arsenal, but dealing with situations like this is a part of the company’s forte. “Companies like Starbucks spend a lot of money in developing protocols within a construction structure in order to facilitate expansion plans. This includes marketing and real estate. It has multiple vendors that require coordination to make it all happen,” says Steven.
Companies like Starbucks spend millions of dollars to structure a format that works on a nationwide scale to maintain order. A general contractor must be able to fit into that system.
“With Starbucks we saw a completely different scenario, where their own architect controls the project. Everything is well defined on drawings and codes, which are significant and guide the project. This is where we excel,” says Steven.
In Mississauga, there is a new, state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind cardiac and radiation centre that was the brainchild of a group of doctors. It has become a one-stop-shop for all cardiac-related issues with the addition of radiation therapy. The centre was created from an existing building built in 2002. Arsenal had to demolish the interior and start from scratch.
There were many difficulties in integrating the delicate design the architect wanted with the existing structure. “There were some mechanical and obstruction issues with the current structure, and we had to come up with some innovative solutions to maintain the overall aesthetic that the architect desired. We pulled through and are very proud of the facility,” says Steven.
Arsenal was happy to be a part of something that was bigger than itself. This is a huge endeavour for the community and the province.
The average family doctor rents a space in a building, but that can be costly. To bring overhead costs down it would make more sense to have ten doctors in a facility with one central reception area. Arsenal is poised to promote itself as an organization willing to undertake these projects.
The hope for the future includes steady and controlled growth while maintaining the quality of services Arsenal offers. “If you want to be a principled business you need consistency, otherwise you can’t distinguish yourself above other contractors. It’s very important to be unique as it is a part of our identity. We can’t get lost in aggressive and uncontrolled growth, because that can weaken a company structure and identity,” says Steven.
To keep this identity, the goal is to groom as many in-house people as possible to adopt and understand the company culture and construction ideals as the company embraces growth.