Fair Trades – Working for Equality

Riverside Millwork Group
Written by Allison Dempsey

If you’re looking for expertly designed and crafted carpentry guaranteed to elevate the look and feel of your home, Riverside Millwork Group provides beautiful, custom products coupled with skilled installation—whether it’s trim and moulding, a variety of doors, or an array of storage solutions.

From its inception in 2005 as Riverside Door & Trim in Kitchener, Ontario, the company has grown dramatically through the years, not only welcoming various vendors and partners, including Alexandria Moulding, County Heritage, and London Trim & Door, but also a skilled roster of experienced and knowledgeable employees.

In 2015, with two warehouses, two showrooms, and two sets of offices, Riverside Millwork Group was established and today maintains locations in Waterloo, London, and Stoney Creek, Ontario.

“The company got its start when the brothers who own the company, Mario and Stelios Gianniotis, saw some opportunities in the marketplace where they were installing trim indoor for a number of builders and general contractors,” says Marketing Manager Zoey Taylor. “They saw a lot of people in the market not doing both supply and install, and when the supply and install was coming from [the same company], the process was just a lot easier for the builder.”

Younger brother Mario ended up leaving university to start the company, embracing the entrepreneurship modeled by father George, who ran a general contracting business. The brothers grew the business thanks to their sales and service expertise, and with numerous connections in the community around the Kitchener-Waterloo area, they started growing and sourcing from different vendors.

“Within a very short period of time, the company really started taking off,” says Taylor. “When you talk to the brothers, they’ll always say that’s a testament to the team they hired who helped them grow the business.”

From working on standard indoor trim to doing more custom work in the Waterloo area, including stairs and closets, the company started opening up and doing more custom doors and trim.

“Their expertise really expanded the suite of products we would offer, and that opened up who we could service because there were more high-end custom home builders or more high-end general contractors who were looking for a range of products,” says Taylor. “Sometimes they would order the standard door and trim, but on other projects, it was really important that they have custom trim and custom doors created, making sure they executed on the vision the customer had in mind.”

That attention to client needs has helped shape the company and brought it the success it experiences today.

“Fast forward a few years, and we’ve definitely expanded the product service offerings,” says Taylor. The building of more high-rises led to an opportunity to provide millwork across entire units. “We started to go down the rabbit hole of what we could do to produce fire-rated doors out of our London facility, and if we could quote that for builders.”

Along with expanding to offering all of its closet solutions, Riverside also offers kitchen cabinetry options. “We’re really trying to be that one-stop shop for builders who are building high-rises to get everything when it comes to trim, doors, closets, kitchen cabinets—all from Riverside,” says Taylor.

“One-stop” doesn’t mean sacrificing quality, however. Taylor stresses the importance of not “dipping into” too many areas and spreading themselves too thin. “We want to make sure we’re constantly improving in areas,” she says. That’s why, for example, a number of years ago Riverside shut down its flooring division. “We’re still focused on what it is that we do best and making sure that we take focus there.”

Aside from the great work Riverside does in the industry, the company also strives to create an inclusive workspace, particularly for women, a fact that Taylor can attest to personally.

“It’s just so inspiring how Riverside has changed so much in the couple of years I’ve been here, and how they made a focus on adding more frontline managers to their team,” she says. “And in that adjustment, they added many more women to the frontline management group.”

COVID, of course, has loomed large in day-to-day business around the globe, particularly impacting staff retention, but Riverside has made its employees a priority. The company clearly defines roles and performance standards to better support employees’ advancement, and provides them with opportunities for growth.

“The biggest benefit for us is just that we keep growing,” says Taylor. “There are always opportunities for team members who want to advance. I joined Riverside as the marketing manager, and even before the first year was up, we were talking about additional responsibilities and roles that I could take on. And now I’m the regional sales manager for the south region, which is the Niagara, Stoney Creek, Halton area. So I’ve experienced advancement in a very short period of time, because the opportunity presented itself and I was given these resources.”

The company has also invested in opportunities for growth and mentorship by sending all managers to applied management training for 12 weeks in total, spending half-days in a course together. “Just making that financial investment to train your managers so they achieve their career goals and what they want to accomplish I think is super powerful,” says Taylor.

In short, Riverside Millwork Group values its employees highly and does whatever is necessary to help them grow. “They’re actually making the investment in them,” says Taylor. “I think a lot of companies are nervous to make the investment for fear that people are going to leave. I just don’t think that’s a good way to operate, because you run the risk of good people leaving because they don’t feel like they’re being invested in or getting to advance.”

Investment and advancement at Riverside means equality as well in an industry that can sometimes be seen as male-dominant.

“I know a lot of women are worried about getting paid fairly and equally,” Taylor says, adding there are probably “a lot of women” who were told they should perhaps enter more traditional roles. “It’s the same issue [women have been] experiencing in STEM, where they weren’t pushed toward these careers that really utilize their skill set. And I know there are a lot of people who will say they’ve worked with women who are on the tools when it comes to carpentry, and they see how women can do the role so well because of their attention to detail.”

Unfortunately, the trades are not often suggested to girls in high school or to women looking to either change or enter new career paths.

“We still have a long way to go, but I have to say from my experience going on site, whether it’s to meet with site supers or with project managers, or to go and get marketing content, I do see it improving,” says Taylor. “You see more women on site. But it’s important to note that we still have a long way to go.”

The trades are stable and can provide a good living, which means supporting yourself, a crucial benefit for many people right now, including young women. “You’re making money even when you’re in an apprenticeship, so you don’t have to make as big of an investment in post-secondary education,” says Taylor. “It’s a smaller investment to learn some of those skills and be paid along the way.”

The trades also provide significant opportunities across the board, particularly in the home-building industry, to name just one.

“It’s not just specific to the trades,” adds Taylor. “There are so many businesses connected, and so many types of roles connected to the residential construction industry. If you don’t think you’re good on the tools, or that’s not something you want to do, there are opportunities in, for example, the warehouse and managing if you’re really good at leading people and managing people.”

Taylor mentions Lisa, a “total powerhouse,” who returned to the company following maternity leave. She was welcomed into a management role Riverside knew would provide a good opportunity for her to take with her new family. There’s also Debbie, who has held several different roles with Riverside while continually growing her career, and is currently the project manager in the London area, and with plenty of hands-on experience and knowledge, she’s balancing work with family life as well.

This commitment to inclusion and diversity isn’t the only thing that sets Riverside apart from other businesses in the industry. “It’s not only the investment in the people, but also investment into technology,” Taylor says. “It’s continuous improvement and continuous excellence. Although we’re in this growing industry, and we have the opportunity to keep things the same, our ownership loves to see things continuously improving and always evolving and growing.”

That drive has also proven to be a good recruitment strategy. “We don’t like keeping things the same way they’ve always been done,” says Taylor. “I think that’s really attractive [to prospective employees]. You’re really attracting somebody who’s interested in a higher quality of work.”

Recruiting women into the industry remains a top priority for Taylor, who, when taking over the marketing manager role, endeavoured to ensure female team members were featured in online social content, including ads where women could see themselves reflected.

There’s still plenty of work to be done of course, whether that’s making sites harassment-free or more accommodating for women, with additional porta-potties or other resources—but it’s all vital to keep growing the industry. “It’s no surprise that we’re in a short supply of quality tradespeople,” Taylor says. “If we look at where there’s an opportunity to grow, it would be to increase the number of women joining the trades.”

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