Which is better: quality or quantity? Every company is forced to address this question when forming its business plan and long-term strategy.
With a business model focusing on client interaction rather than the mass acquisition of contracts, Arguson Projects Inc. is rapidly building a reputation as a ‘one-stop shop’ for design, construction, renovation, and contracting. The company has expanded from a single Toronto office with minimal staff to having satellite offices across North America.
Arguson has developed a reputation for professionalism and close cooperation with its clients. This has allowed the company to expand greatly beyond its home city to set up satellite offices across Canada and the United States. While this was not the focus when the company was founded, Vice President of Operations Paul Clarkson says this expansion was a natural progression due to Arguson’s client-focused business model.
“We go where our clients go,” he explains simply. “If our core clients purchase properties in other regions, they generally want us to go with them to provide the same services that we provide in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area].”
As its clients purchase buildings or land in other cities, Arguson follows to perform building inspection and other pre-construction work. Throughout the process, it is on hand to provide advice, budgeting and coordination with the asset managers to ensure the best interests of the buildings, while providing quality design and construction. “It’s really a full-service package that we provide,” Clarkson says, “and generally the clients want to replicate what we do in the GTA across all their portfolios and locations.”
This has allowed the contractor to enjoy a meteoric rise over its eleven years in business. It had fewer than ten employees when it was founded by two entrepreneurs Dan Boucher and Rich Newman in Toronto in 2008. The company now has over one hundred staff distributed between its Toronto headquarters as well as field offices in Calgary, Saint John’s, and Halifax. Arguson has also expanded into the United States recently, setting up new field offices in Chicago, New Jersey, and is also managing some projects in Florida.
Internally, the company has undergone significant restructuring in the past year to add more specialists, project management staff and an additional layer of management. The goal is better structure, more streamlined processes, to make the company more efficient and responsive to the client and, longer term, to increase work-life balance for employees.
“A lot of contractors today are hard-bidding projects and looking for the next project from anyone they can get them from,” Dan Boucher, company CEO states, noting that, as a result, many contractors think more of short-term financial gain. Arguson instead seeks to build longer-term relationships with its clients and establish itself as their preferred contractor. “I like to think that we’re more than just a general contractor for our clients and we really aim to integrate ourselves within those businesses.”
To do this, Arguson handles as many aspects of a project as possible, including interior design, budgeting, value engineering, and planning, from pre-construction through to completion, and it works to build its reputation by staying within project budgets. “It’s building that relationship and having that strength with the people that you’re working for,” Boucher explains, elaborating that the company preaches this model when developing new relationships with new clients.
Unlike many of its competitors, the company does not actively pursue hard bid contracts. “Our focus is primarily [construction management] with an emphasis on design-build mandates, which helps our clients out a lot and gives them an advantage in the marketplace.” Arguson assists not merely on large construction projects but smaller renovations and facilities management work, from a $500 toilet replacement to projects with price tags of up to $40 million. Though other contractors might dismiss the smaller jobs, Clarkson says the company views this policy as crucial to integrating itself with its clients’ businesses.
Its facilities management and value add services might involve improving energy efficiency, including lighting retrofits, consulting work, building automation LEED and mechanical upgrades to promote building efficiency. The goal of this diversification, Clarkson says, is to establish Arguson as a place that can do it all. If the company can provide all the services a client might need – construction, facility management, design, maintenance, and utilities – it can ensure a reliable client base for years to come. While the company does not employ engineers or architects on staff, Clarkson says that “It’s something we may do in the future.”
Arguson has numerous successful commercial projects across Canada, and currently in Calgary, it is renovating the three storey building podium at Stephen Avenue Place, a 620,000-square-foot property offering shopping and dining. Arguson will update the podium and façade of the building and redevelop the interior space to create new retail, common area, food hall and amenity space, turning it into a downtown landmark and destination. The company will also be undertaking substantial renovations at Halifax’s Maritime Centre to create a building addition to the existing podium to provide retail, restaurants and new common area space. This will also modernize a building that has been a long-term Halifax landmark.
Closer to home, Arguson has been renovating the streetscape over recent years in the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood in Toronto, bringing this busy intersection up to date. Current projects include the redevelopment of 2-24 St. Clair Ave. West and 1 St. Clair Ave. East, adding to multiple other projects in that area. The company has also engaged in smaller projects in towns across Ontario, including Barrie, Bracebridge, and Baysville.
As a full-service contractor, it currently focuses more on renovation over new build construction, as that is primarily its clients’ focus. The company’s versatility shows in the variety of its renovations, including interior offices, washrooms, common area upgrades and lobby renovations, through to larger building renovations and repositions. Project budgets typically range from $100,000 to $40 million.
Clarkson remarks that renovation is often easier for the client but more difficult for Arguson. “With renovation, there’s a lot of unknowns. There’s always, ‘What’s going to happen if you open up this piece of wall?’” He admits that new construction is easier, “whereas, once you start demolition in an existing building, you can often find hidden surprises behind a wall which could lead to additional costs.”
Despite the added challenges of renovation, the lower cost and availability of existing buildings far outweigh the risks and challenges. Many of Arguson’s previous projects were in buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, and many other structures in Calgary and Toronto are currently in need of renovation to keep them functional. “The construction in those wasn’t exactly the best, so it’s really coming in and fixing the issues of the past,” Clarkson says.
With this new expansion, Arguson relies on its Toronto-based headquarters to provide a top-down leadership approach. All the company’s East Coast offices are managed by employees trained at the Toronto headquarters. In addition, combined with video conferencing, this approach eliminates the disconnect common between headquarters and field offices.
“We try to keep everyone connected. It’s just not always possible for everyone to be one hundred percent beating the same drum,” Boucher explains, noting how the policy allows for better communication and coordination. “Everyone in the company has access to the leadership team.”
However, Arguson’s growth has not come without setbacks along the way. “Eight years ago, we were a lot smaller company. “We had a niche in the market and we were doing the same kind of thing,” Clarkson reminisces, but the company had trouble finding employees capable of working to its standards. To solve this issue, it has become much more active in recruiting directly, has hired a human resources team and expanded its network of external recruitment resources. The company is also further developing its internship program to cultivate talented young students ready to join the workforce.
At Clarkson’s first job, he switched departments periodically to get a firm overview of his chosen field and believes this experience will help develop Arguson’s internship program, to recruit employees suited to its business model. “It’s hard to bring in people who understand, that can hit the ground running right away, and can understand the processes that we do, so that’s what we’re hoping for,” he says.
Another unavoidable challenge is rising material and labour costs. Unfortunately, little can be done about the former, but Arguson has conducted extensive salary surveys to ensure it is paying competitive wages to its staff. While this is not, as Clarkson describes, an “exact science,” it has helped the company remain competitive and has also helped with employee retention. “We also have a core group of subtrades who understand what we do, and they understand the amount of work that’s available, and they understand there’s a client to support,” Clarkson reports proudly.
While Arguson has experienced amazing growth, Boucher hopes the company will further strengthen its presence within its established markets. “We’ve grown so much over the years that, in some respects, it would be good to consolidate somewhat at this level,” he explains, “and ensure that the business is correctly structured and updated procedures are in place.” The company is poised to continue this positive growth, and recent changes will further enhance the company’s growth. “Once these are in place, I think we’ll be ready to continue moving to the next level.”