Is bigger necessarily better? While a relatively new and smaller company, Toronto-based ProPhase Ltd. has established a strong track record of providing the kind of quality electrical work seen from larger firms, minus the overhead and red tape. Through its professionalism and regard for safety, the company is now working to build energy independence in the Toronto area.
Founder and CEO Bill Alexopoulos started the company in 2010, as a way to – as he describes – “supplement my income.” Electrical work ran in the family; his father and two brothers are all electricians, so he decided to join the family trade. “It was just a humble beginning, mostly working in the residential sector until we landed our first large contract,” he recalls.
This small-scale work changed in 2012 when the company received a major contract to wire Starbucks coffee shops across Canada. The fledgling company took the job without guaranteeing it could complete it, but by using several service vans in a ‘grand tour’ of several western provinces, ProPhase completed the task. With workers often wiring ten to fifteen stores daily, the company set a new benchmark in completing contracts efficiently and safely.
“We took on the job without the means or the resources, and we made it happen,” Alexopoulos recalls. “That was challenging, and the fact that we exceeded everyone’s expectations was really rewarding.”
This project led to a focus on larger-scale projects, and ProPhase has not looked back. It has completed electrical wiring projects for various banks, Toronto’s Union Station, and a data centre. Recently, the company has entered into a close partnership with OOM Energy, a private utility that offers clients another option to the traditional electricity grid.
“They’ve been successful in transitioning clients through their Dedicated Energy System,” Alexopoulos states, predicting growth in the private utility market as municipal utility costs rise. “By being isolated from the grid through OOM’s Dedicated Energy System, clients experience full redundancy and far greater power reliability.”
This relationship is taking ProPhase to new heights; the company and OOM provided energy independence to a public hockey arena in Burlington, Ontario, the first building of such size to be off the grid. “It’s just always nice to be the first to accomplish something,” Alexopoulos remarks.
ProPhase is now working on another project with OOM, giving energy independence to a global manufacturing facility. The company is adding two 5,000-ampere feeders into the building with the customer experiencing only three hours of downtime, “which I think is exceptional for the amount of work it requires.”
This low downtime is a byproduct of the company’s relationship with OOM. “By working closely with them, we’ve had to develop innovative ways to tie in our new services to their existing services while minimizing customer power outages,” Alexopoulos says. With the two systems closer together, ProPhase and OOM can now collaborate more closely to manufacture custom-made components and “come up with very clever, innovative ways to tie into that with minimum downtime.”
In addition to this work on making buildings energy independent, ProPhase is also moving into working with building automation systems. By automating power for uses like lighting and heating, these systems can help businesses use energy more efficiently, and save money by regulating power usage to match employee attendance. Although Alexopoulos admits the company is only beginning to work in this new sector, he is optimistic about a growing need for automation in twenty-first-century businesses.
Above all, ProPhase places a heavy emphasis on worksite safety. The company is now in the process of obtaining a Certificate of Recognition (COR) from Ontario’s Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA). Alexopoulos says that ProPhase’s foremen constantly look for ways to augment safety procedures beyond requirements stipulated by the Ministry of Labour. “We always have their backs and will fully support them, whatever the costs are, and we always utilize the best products on the market in terms of safety equipment and tools,” Alexopoulos says. “We believe in a proactive approach, and we fully promote it in our company culture.”
The company has also benefitted from its membership in the Toronto Construction Association (TCA), of which it has been a proud member since June 2014. “Some of the relationships we’ve formed are because of the networking that the TCA offers.”
ProPhase’s exceptional work ethic belies its small size, and the company’s size has led to camaraderie among its employees. “We’re just a small, highly-driven team, but we still try to give our customers the personal attention and customer service that they deserve and expect from a smaller company,” Alexopoulos says proudly. “All of our employees come from larger firms, and we have a tremendous amount of experience and know-how.”
He believes many employees seek the more collaborative working environment at ProPhase. “Everyone is honest and listens to one another,” he says, elaborating that employees can point out risks or flaws that, in a larger company, “may backfire and get you laid off, as it may be interpreted as a threat or someone who starts trouble.”
In his view, this collaborative culture is changing the construction industry, albeit slowly. “I find that the traditional construction firms are really lagging in the changing culture that one sees in newer companies.” But at ProPhase, he recognizes the need for working together as a team and the benefits of collaboration. He also believes it encourages employee retention. “As the company succeeds and benefits the workers, we do give ourselves bonuses, based on our profits for the year, so there is incentive for everyone to pull their own weight.”
Thanks to this experience and close-knit working environment, the company can focus on larger contracts, offering deep and sophisticated industry knowledge and ensuring quality work on time and within budget. While he admits this may place ProPhase into a niche market, Alexopoulos views it as a personal goal. “I was given the opportunity to work on some of the largest projects in the city, and because of that exposure, I just really enjoy the satisfaction of completing large, complex projects.”
But despite the company’s past performance, it has experienced growing pains. It suffered a brief slowdown in 2014 when some of the few contractors with which it worked at the time also slowed. But by diversifying its workload and taking on smaller jobs, ProPhase was able to retain employees and stay afloat. More importantly, it began branching out into new sectors and developing relationships with new clients, ensuring future immunity from such slowdowns. “So far, it’s been working out well for us,” Alexopoulos concludes.
More recently, however, the company has been facing a scarcity of building materials and components, as well as longer lead times. To combat this, it has been working more closely with engineers during the design process to anticipate what materials may be needed. While Alexopoulos does not personally prefer this due to the number of changeable variables during the design process, he says it does indicate the trust between ProPhase and its engineering contractors. “You really have to do your research and really make sure that the design is bulletproof before you proceed.”
ProPhase has also been affected by the chronic shortage of skilled labour. Its small size, unfortunately, requires great experience, skill, and versatility from its employees. But thanks to its developing industry contacts through the TCA and organizations such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Joint Apprenticeship Council (JAC), the company is now working on picking the very best applicants for its new hires.
Alexopoulos says the company’s goal is to obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, as well as expanding its operations in clean energy and building automation while staying true to its core beliefs. “Work hard, and never give up,” he advises, “and eventually, with a little bit of luck, you will succeed.”