19 Jan Andrew Black – Partner Spotlight – Alair Homes Forest Hill
From Failures Costing Profit to Finding Freedom and Playing Tennis at Noon.
How One Partner Learned to ‘Let Go’ and Found the Alair Homes’ Community to Success
PAINTING A DREAM
Andrew Black’s infatuation for business started at a young age. His dad was a painting contractor, and he grew up watching him work long hours in the business just to come home to continue working on the business with pricing and accounting tasks. The only real chance Andrew had to spend time with him, was to join his dad in his office and pretend he was working with him. These were the days of the past generation slugging through the daily grind without any technology, struggling through low points of the economy. “I wanted to help him, to allow him the chance to breathe and get balanced—he wouldn’t let go,” said Andrew on his efforts to support and relieve some pressure off of his dad.
It was this determination that led Andrew to blaze his own path and start his own company.
At 18-years-old, Andrew started Two Coat Paintings which later turned into Black General Contracting. It didn’t take long to take off before Andrew had to borrow his dad’s employees to assist with the steady influx of jobs. “I was asked to do home repairs, maintenance, and then full home remodels–let’s just say I was in way over my head,” said Andrew.
He called upon a childhood friend, Dave for relief, and together, secured a project in Toronto’s elite neighbourhood of Hoggs Hollow working on a 12 million dollar home’s 500 thousand addition. “There we were, just two people that had no idea what we were doing–we just had to make it work; we had no choice, but to figure it out,” said Andrew.
How could two people with no direct experience, work on constructing a 500 thousand dollar addition? Andrew shared, “We did every job ourselves, until we couldn’t–then we’d hire someone to help and, in some cases, didn’t even realize there was a trade for certain things.
“We didn’t know how much we were making, or how much was in the bank because 90 per cent was the customer money and we had difficulty differentiating what was pure revenue for our business. Although my Dad would often ask me ‘but, are you making any money?’ All I knew is we were tired.”
The partners invested in a business coach and continued on the path of learning through failure. “We would try and then we would fail, and then we would implement a process so we wouldn’t fail at the same thing twice, but all the first fails cost us profit. We knew something needed to change.”
It was the business coach that introduced Alair Homes’ concept and successful construction management platform to Andrew and Dave. They learned more about the founding team, about Alair’s mission, approach to service, and the culture. “I was intrigued, but it took about a year for me to fully be open to it,” said Andrew. “Perhaps it was my pride in us carrying my name in our brand and being stuck on that image.” It was a difficult choice for the two of them to agree on; Dave was all about the big ideas and planning, whereas Andrew was more focused on creating beautiful things. A year later Andrew said, “Yes, what can I lose?”
Andrew and Dave bought into the scalable model where they didn’t have to fail every time – through business mentorship and adopting the Alair model, they’d quickly grown their ability to educate themselves on what was needed to succeed. “Right away, we had a more professional offering and service model for our customers–we had a much better base and a formulized approach,” said Andrew. “We started to understand and see value in the processes, the need for a proper pipeline, how to manage cash flow, what ‘cash on hand’ meant, and learned about the mantra, ‘only spend profit’ which we didn’t even know how to calculate before.” The pair also found power in being held accountable. “Alair was the missing tool to safely scale our business into a profitable model with unlimited growth opportunities, and limited liability.”
They found the key without being stuck in the day-to-day weeds. “The extra time I found from leveraging the tools allowed me the opportunity to focus on the business from the outside in, and this feeling was unbelievable. I was putting in half the effort as I was in the 60-70-hour work weeks and quadrupling our profit and sales,” said Andrew.
Alair Homes Forest Hill and Markham offices have less than half of the employees that Andrew and Dave had in their former business. Alair’s Corporate Office handles administration for Partners based upon their needs and business levels. “We staff according to the leadership required on each project and by increasing our pay scale and hiring quality talent, our margins have actually increased,” said Andrew.
The benefits being a part of one of the world’s largest construction companies are endless. The team at Alair strives to find like-minded people who uphold their same values and when one Partner wins, everyone wins.
“There is so much power yet serenity that comes with having the ability to call upon any one of our Partners across North America to learn how they got through similar situations that helps us directly apply their best practices– the answer is always there. We have the support to save us time, and money from unnecessary failure. It doesn’t sound real, but it is. From $3 million to $10 million in revenue in less than five years is a fact.”
Our Partners set their own revenue goals with opportunities to expand and add more offices with limitless return.
“We lead our business, we’re not in our business. With this, we have financial freedom and earned time. This positioning allows us to build trust with staff and clients.”
The systems and processes within Alair gave Andrew and his team the support and confidence needed to go after big projects. “In our first year the average project size was about $215-thousand, and by our fifth year, the average project size was close to $1-million.” The team could produce more with less and turn a profit too.
Like many entrepreneurs often experience, Andrew shares that there were some dark moments in their growth, and the Alair team helped them find the light. “The confidence that came in knowing we could pick up the phone and ask how they’ve done this, how they got through this is priceless. We’re a shared community.”
Before Alair, Andrew shares he hit the glass ceiling. “I built the confidence to learn to let go. Today, I am not an owner/operator, I am a true business owner with an incredible Partner, Evelynn Ratcliff who joined our team in 2016, replacing Dave in our day-to-day operations.”
Andrew and Dave had known Evelynn for quite some time, and the addition of her 20-plus years of strategic marketing and growth consulting experience in the real estate development world, has been a perfect synergy. The ability to scale from one office location to two in 2020 and the outlook to open four more in the next five years has been extremely positive. “Her expertise has allowed me to focus on the production side of the business and training our Project Managers, while she focuses on the operations and building brand awareness,” said Andrew.
Before Alair, any week-long vacation since 2007 would cause major anxiety for Andrew. “Travel was almost impossible as we couldn’t leave the business without things falling apart.”
“In 2019, I took a week off each month for six months,” Andrew remembers. “I went to Mexico four times and could actually be present and connect with my family.”
“I am grateful to be part of Alair, as the trusted platform has granted me the free time to constantly improve and grow multiple equitable businesses and have balance to be there for my family and find some time for myself – I’ve started playing tennis again regularly!”