SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2016
According to IBISWorld, “Canada’s richest source of business and industry information,” their 2016 market research report on millwork in Canada comes to one inescapable conclusion: “As the domestic housing market slows down, industry revenue will decline.” For many owners of the 1,634 millwork businesses registered in Canada, it’s time to reluctantly clear their throats and practice their “Bah! Humbug!” to keep at bay wanting workers during what IBISWorld says will be a slow five-year climb back to profitably. But Greg Boutilier, founder and owner of GB Millwork in Windsor Junction, Nova Scotia, doesn’t find himself begrudgingly tightening his purse strings before his employees’ eyes. In fact, Boutilier and his team just completed what was their largest project, financially, to date. By David MacDonald W hat gives GB Millwork immunity from the growing housing bubble in Canada is all in the business strategy. “Our vision of millwork is commercial cabinetry, wall panelling, wood door frames, trim work, solid surface manufacturing – it’s an abundance of things,” Boutilier explained. “It’s basically anything wood in a commer- cial building.” That’s not to say that GB Millwork isn’t a residential competitor. There is a Residential tab in the Projects menu at gbmillwork.ca that features photographs of kitchen cabinets and countertops of varying complexity and design. “We take-on residential projects – mostly kitchens. We never turn these jobs away, but it’s not our focus.” Boutilier is a man who knows a thing or two about focus. Before the advent of GB Millwork in 2005, Boutilier had been sweeping floors for a construction company. “I got laid off and went to work for a local millwork company and really started to enjoy the industry,” he said.
The path became clear for Boutilier.
“I attended the Atlantic Woodworking Centre of Excellence in Campbellton, New Brunswick from 2002 to 2004. I didn’t know anybody in Campbellton, but I booked a boarding house and bought a train ticket.” At the time, Boutilier
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS • SEPTEMBER 2016
SEPTEMBER 2016 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS
Boutilier decided he wanted more. He wanted, as he emphasized to me, “One hundred percent.”
recalled, there was little in the way of Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and Computer numerical control (CNC) software training in Halifax. “Around here, there was a great cabinet-making course that focused more on hand tools and table saws but not necessarily current industry practices.” “Our vision of millwork is commercial cabinetry, wall panelling, wood door frames, trim work, solid surface manufacturing – it’s an abundance of things. It’s basically anything wood in a commercial building.”
Since becoming an independent millwork manufactur- er, GB Millwork has made a name for itself as a kind of one-stop shop. Ninety percent of Boutilier’s 13-man team’s work is done in-house at their 10,000 square feet facility. Design, construction, and fabrication are spearheaded by Shop Foreman, Tim Page, Designer and CNC Software Specialist, Larry Redden, Site Supervisor, Chris Martingell, and Boutilier, the General Manager and Estimator. “My team is one that I’ve developed,” Boutilier said. “They’re all my peers and good men that I’ve worked with in the industry here in Halifax. Our turnover rate is very low; with the exception of the occasional labourer. Our skilled labourers – both our in-house guys and our guys doing installations – have almost all been with us from the start and plan to stay on board. Our draftsman and lead designer, Larry Redden, his experience is second to none. We work very well together; we put in a lot of extra hours to accomplish what we do with these high-end projects.” When Boutilier says high-end, he’s not being hyperbolic. GB Millwork has worked on the college campuses, hotels, and piers that make-up the historic fabric of Halifax, a city
The CNC process, according to Boutilier, has many advan- tages including speed, accuracy, and waste reduction.
After he gained his CAM and CNC software certification, Boutilier “came right home and went to work.”
GB Millwork started as a subcontract company for a local millwork manufacturer in Halifax County. After six years,
founded by the British in 1749.
installed in a commercial building. This responsible point- to-point system gives the end user what’s called ‘LEED Credits’ towards a green building.” “I didn’t know anybody in Campbellton, but I booked a boarding house and bought a train ticket.” According to the Canada Green Building Council, LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, “certifi- cation provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, mate- rials selection and indoor environmental quality.” Halifax, the capital of Canada’s Ocean Playground, was once named the nation’s “ultimate college town” by The Globe and Mail and for good reason: It’s home to six uni- versities and dozens of colleges. Dalhousie University, with the largest campus enrollment in the city at more than 18,000 students, has been like a second home to GB Millwork and Boutilier thinks his company’s FSC certifica- tion has something to do with it.
But it wasn’t all ballrooms and dining halls at the begin- ning. Boutilier detailed an extended period of relying on the low bid tactic just to get the GB Millwork name out in the business community. His persistence led to some- thing invaluable. “We’ve done many jobs for the Nova Scotia Liquor Com- mission, the NSLC,” Boutilier explained. (One of GB Mill- work’s more quirky projects for the NSLC involved working with reclaimed wood from apple boxes and ladders.) “A few years back we were bidding on a job at their Port of Wines location on Larry Uteck Boulevard and quickly came to realize that it was only open to FSC [Forest Stew- ardship Council]registered companies. We were the low bid and took advantage of the year-long construction of the building to obtain our FSC certification. There’s a lot to learn about the Chain of Custody – that’s what the actual tracking of the product is called.”
FSC affiliation has been a boon to Boutilier ever since.
The FSC is committed to sustainable forestry practices, “Including,” Boutilier detailed, “tracking materials from the time they’re harvested in the forest then turned into a manufactured filler-free product like hardwood and then
“It’s helpful when it comes to bidding on jobs for institutions of higher learning. We’ve done a lot of work for Dalhou- sie University and it’s great to go home and realize you’re doing something for people who are forward thinking.” GB Millwork recently completed a two-year contract that saw them take part in the renovation of the Dalhousie Student Union Building on the corner of University Avenue and Seymour Street. “We just turned over the Grawood Bar to the owner in early September. It was probably the largest project, financially, that GB Millwork has ever been involved in.” “We were also involved in a year-long project at the Col- laborative Health Education building on Dalhousie Uni- versity campus and wouldn’t have been eligible to work on that building if we weren’t FSC certified. We did the full five floor set-up, millwork wise. It’s open now and it’s a state of the art facility. Future nurses and doctors will see our work every day.” As a member of the Architectural Woodwork Manufac- turers Association of Canada (AWMAC), GB Millworks adheres not only to moral standards, but to quality control as well. “AWMAC and the Construction Association are very important. AWMAC is actually a group of millwork com- panies across Canada – it sets our standards. AWS [Archi- tectural Woodwork Standards] is the American equiva- lent. There’s a manual that we all follow and are tested on periodically. There are three different grades: Custom, Premium, and Standard. These are the three different grades that architects consider when they look at specs. They’re more than just plans because they detail and describe the materials as well as the work. They say a lot about a company. Being an AWMAC registered company means you are allowed to bid on certain jobs. This ensures that the end user is getting what they should be getting: A qualified millwork manufacturer, rather than a random backyard company.”
Award, or GIS (Guarantee and Inspection Service) Award, for their work at Howe Hall, a well-known Dalhousie Univer- sity residence on Coburg Road. These peer-voted awards are not only prestigious amongst those in the architectural woodwork world, they are also hard-earned promotional tools – and companies and institutions know it. In what can only be described as a poetic twist, GB Millwork was since part of the team that renovated the Chrysler Canada Pavilion at historic Pier 21, Canada’s Ellis Island, where the AWMAC Atlantic Awards are handed out every two years. “The HFX Sports Bar & Grill was one of my favourites. It was the kind of job that comes around once in a lifetime. To me, it’s one of the best decors in a sports bar that you’ll ever see – it’s by far the best on the Atlantic Canadian coast.” GB Millwork is currently working on a job that Boutili- er describes as “The next big thing I wanted.” It’s the redbrick landmark built in 1928 on South Park Street over- looking the Public Gardens. “The Lord Nelson project is on-going. We’ve actually invested in a lot of new equipment just to take this one on. We’re actually manufacturing, in-house, all the doors that separate the ballrooms throughout the hotel; so we’re manufacturing 5-panelled, 12-feet high doors that are actually, when broken down, about 30 pieces in total. I knew with the right equipment, we could handle it. We reached out to our machine supplier, CNC Auto- mation, and they were more than happy to help us take on such a beast.” “The bulk of our success can be attributed to the hard work that has built great relationships with general con- tractors and notable business owners in the Halifax Regional Municipality.” “We’re very fortunate to be involved in so many high-end projects,” he explained.
In 2014, GB Millwork won the AWMAC Atlantic Gold
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