From Mowing Lawns to Full-Service Construction

Homestar Inc.

Homestar Inc., a full-service construction company based in Quispamsis, New Brunswick, continues to push itself to “make it happen for our customers,” says owner and CEO Mark Hatfield.

Although Homestar Inc. was founded in 2002, the company’s roots go back to the mid-90s, when then teenaged Mark Hatfield got a summer job working an eight-hour day installing drywall for $6/hour. “But,” he says, “I’d go home and mow two lawns in two hours and make fifty dollars. I talked to my dad about quitting my job and he agreed that once I had ten lawns, I would be earning more than I was doing drywall and could give my notice. So, I hustled the neighbourhood, got ten lawns, put in my notice—and that was just one day’s work.”

That was only the beginning of Hatfield’s entrepreneurial adventure, as he developed relationships with customers who requested more work around their homes: weeding, taking out trash, cleaning out garages and barns.

“So I diversified, continued my lawn care business, which I named University Venture, got my first truck while I was still in high school, and when I went to Mount Allison University (two hours away in Sackville, NB), I had people at home running my business and I would come on weekends to work.”

In his third year at university, he took an opportunity to sell the business, so when he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2001, he was debt-free and ready to take on the corporate world. Or so he thought.

Making it happen
Hatfield soon realized that working for a large corporation wasn’t for him, and in 2002 his entrepreneurial spirit drew him to back his roots when he founded Homestar Inc. in the Town of Quispamsis. The company is ideally placed to serve the Greater Saint John area, which, in addition to Quispamsis, includes the City of Saint John and 16 municipalities, including the towns of Rothesay, Hampton, and Norton, and the Kennebecasis River Valley area, with a population of over 126,000.

By 2023 Homestar Inc. had grown to include five divisions. There’s the custom-built home division, and Propertystar, a holding company which owns and manages 50 residential and commercial properties, including apartment buildings and shopping malls. Within the last five years, Huff & Puff, (insulation installation); Homestar Building Supplies, (a Castle Building Supplies dealership); Allstar Heating & Cooling; Outlaw Trucking, (with a fleet of 130 vehicles); and Maverick Electrical have all been added, bringing to fruition Hatfield’s vision of a “one-stop shop”.

In addition, Homestar’s reach has extended to New Brunswick’s two other main cities, Fredericton and Moncton, and across the provincial border to the Town of Amherst, Nova Scotia, with a staff of 135 which includes eight project managers.

But none of this happened overnight. Hatfield slowly and patiently grew the company, surrounding himself with good people, while reinvesting profits to offer more services and remain competitive. As the boss, he says he was always the last to get paid, sometimes going for months without pay.

Johnny-on-the-spot
“I started in 2002 as a niche market, taking care of homes whose owners went south for the winter, and I marketed myself through real estate agencies. On closing day, new owners sometimes couldn’t move in because snow was piled up or there was garbage in the driveway, and I told them, ‘I’m Johnny-on-the-spot’ and I’ll be there in one day and have it ready for the movers, he shares.

“That helped me get established and as time went on, I started buying properties and renovating them. In two months I hired my first employee, Geoff Bryson, who is still with me, and we continued to grow the business, doing more renovations and more landscaping.”

Having Bryson, someone Hatfield could trust, as Project Manager, gave him the freedom to explore other avenues and develop his idea of what a one-stop construction business could look like.

“I had talked to people getting renovations done on their homes and according to them, it was a nightmare. The carpenter would blame delays on the electrician, and the electrician would blame it on the plumber, and if the plumber got delayed, it was the crack-filler’s fault. I saw an opportunity to mitigate that and make the work all flow in a logical manner.”

Having assembled a team that could execute renovations smoothly, Hatfield was ready to begin custom home building, which he says was a juggling act if it meant depending on multiple subcontractors.

“Now when we build a home, the only thing we sub-out is the well and kitchen cabinetry. Everything else is in-house: we excavate the property, put in the ICF (insulated concrete form) foundations, and backfill. We frame and sheathe it, put in the roof, windows and doors, siding, decking, and fencing. We have our own electrical division, plumbing division, drywallers, interior finishers; everything is done in-house, including the interior design.”

David MacMorrough, Project Manager for Homestar’s custom homes (with interiors designed by Sarah Dorcas), notes that they’re built to R2000 standards, come with a 10-year Atlantic Home Warranty, and for two consecutive years have received the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association New Brunswick’s “Best New Home Award”, based on quality, design, and uniqueness.

Hatfield describes MacMorrough as “one of our safety gurus. We had a culture change about eight years ago where we got into being safety focused and worked with keen individuals from WorkSafeNB who came into our shop and helped educate our team. We look at them as an asset. We call them with questions or concerns and they appreciate us doing that because they say we’re the only company that does.”

Next-level safety
MacMorrough, who took on the responsibility of getting COR Certification, says he knew how important it was to the continued success of the company. “I always value safety and I want to see every person go home with their lives and all their digits. I don’t ever want to be the person to make a call to a loved one to say a worker was hurt, hospitalized, or worse.

“The commitment to getting certification was a big step for us, and took me a year, as it was extensive, considering the amount of documentation and training through the NB Construction Association to become the COR Prime.

Once I completed that I revised the safety manuals to ensure all our safe work priorities and job procedures were covered. It was quite a workload, in addition to being the full-time project manager, but I was glad to be able to pull it off.”

Very few workers were at all resistant when the new safety protocols were introduced. “I understand that because I’ve been in this industry since 1992 as a carpenter, and we were walking on 12-foot walls without safety harnesses, wearing shorts and no shirts, and it was a free-for-all.

“But I got with the times because as you get older your perspective changes. Now they understand I want them to go home at the end of the day, and that I’m not doing this to be a nag. A life-changing accident can happen in a split-second, and I want them all to be safe.”

Giving back
Hatfield says community service and giving back to the community is important, and that “we’re always looking for good causes to work together as a team.”

The company provides maintenance services to Hestia House in Saint John, a shelter for women fleeing abusive relationships; maintains two dog parks which it built in Quispamsis and Hampton; works with the Canadian Peace Keepers’ Association to provide storage space at no cost for their equipment—beds, canes, walkers; sponsors baseball and hockey teams; and raises funds for the Saint John Food Bank. Every few weeks the Homestar team gets together and makes over 300 sandwiches, with the food supplied by the company.

One thing which concerns Hatfield about the future of the construction industry (something that company owners across the continent have spoken of to this publication) is an education system that devalues trades, resulting not only in a workforce shortage for companies but often wrong life choices and missed choices for everyone.

“I wouldn’t have thought it possible if someone had told me years ago that there would be a lack of talented, skilled trades along with increasing demands in the industry. But now we’re seeing it,” he says.

“I grew up in an era when going to a trade school was not seriously considered, and you were frowned upon if you didn’t go to university. I look back on it now and I wish I had gone to a trade school. University did prepare me for certain things, but a trade school would have been better. What parents and academic educators don’t understand is that tradespeople can make a very good income—between $80,000 to $100,000, plus they get paid while they’re apprenticing.”

“Better than me”
“I was always mechanically inclined,” Hatfield says, “but from the start, I looked to hire people who could do it better than me and I think that’s where my success comes from. I surround myself with great people, people I trust and rely on, and they give me the freedom to look for new ideas and opportunities and take care of everything behind me while I’m looking ahead.”

Another secret of Homestar’s success is the partnerships he’s formed with companies such as Castle Building Supplies which offers superior products nationally, and the architectural firm Polyline Designs based in Sussex.

“We want to partner with companies that stand behind their products and stand the test of time,” he says, “just as we stand behind our company. Homestar is still a young company and I’m only 44 years old. I still have another 25 years of growing the company and I want those people and companies with me.”

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