SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE • JULY 2017
When Dan Monk, the founder and owner of Monk Renovations in Halifax, Nova Scotia, spoke with Spotlight on Business over the phone in mid-July, he was actually on the jobsite. “I’m just going on lunch, Dave, so that’s why I wanted to chat now” Dan told me as I could hear him open a truck door and start-up a V6 engine. He apologized for a brief delay as he switched- on his Bluetooth. “We’re in the middle of a renovation right now, close to the alumni building at St. Mary’s University on Robie Street. This home here is unique,” he explained. “It has a real art-deco look, big overhangs, a flat roof – it’s definitely 1960s. This was a very chic look when it was new and I know it’s going to be beautiful inside when we’re finished.” That sentiment, I discovered, is really at the heart of what Dan and his team do. Dan recognizes that homeowners are sentimental about even the most in-need fixer-uppers and it’s that understanding, that human touch – along with his team’s award-winning work – that’s brought Monk Renovations to the top of its industry in just nine years.
By David MacDonald T here are not many of us, in the trades or otherwise, who would be confident enough to handover to new clients or even current business contacts a two-page list of 40 references. Dan Monk is. “It includes references to jobs with everything from windows and doors, decks, siding, bathrooms, kitchens, additions – you name it, there’s somebody on my list who we’ve done that for,” he explained. “It’s meant to shock and awe. People auto- matically think ‘this guy isn’t afraid of his references, so it has to be too good to be true.’ But I don’t have any broth- er-in- laws, or uncles, or questionable references onthere – there’s too much of that out there,” he laughed as if to suggest that he has stories. Dan is the co- chair of the Ren- ovators Council, he sits on the board of the Nova Scotia Home Builders Association, and his company, Monk Reno- vations, was recognized by the Association as Renovator of the Year in 2016 – so you could say that he’s privy to more than just the scuttlebutt. “It’s all really a labour of love; it’s a labour of passion. I love building my company and I love building business relationships – and I love seeing where it’s going.” Dan, a professional engineer from East Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia who attended both St. Francis Xavier University and then Dalhousie’s engineering arm, DalTech, has a reputa- tion in the home building industry as sturdy as the bridges he helped build as a post-grad. As a young civil engineer, Dan also led his own division of Atlantic Industries in Alberta where he oversaw road, culvert, and pipe-building projects. After his time “out West,” Dan came back to Nova Scotia and took a position
JULY 2017 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
clients, a lot of great referrals. What’s developed, or changed, for us is that we are doing larger and larger projects. We’ve been doing more whole home renovations, more additions. We’re still doing the bathrooms, kitchens, and basements but we’re seeing more and more referrals for bigger jobs from people we’ve done those smaller jobs for.” “We work really hard every month of the year to provide estimates and build relationships with our clients so we can schedule work every month of the year.” “The job we’re doing now in the South End, for instance,” Dan continued, “is a kitchen renovation but it happens to encompass the entire bottom floor of the house. We’re doing all the plumbing and electrical, opening-up the walls, redoing all the floors – obviously the kitchen – and opening-up the mudroom. We’re also putting in an en-suite bathroom and replacing all the windows and doors. They wanted the entire main floor to have a new open look and they’ll get everything they hoped for – these kinds of jobs are quite exciting.” And those kinds of jobs are happening more and more for Dan and his team. We briefly chatted about the so-called “housing boom” in Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto – and Halifax. “If there’s been any kind of uptick in the world of real estate it’s been in renovations, not new home construction,” Dan said. “There are some areas in the new build market that are doing well, but that’s not at all the whole picture. Res- idential construction has been better to renovators than anyone else in the industry over the last few years.”
in environmental remediation with Dexter Construction – a position he enjoyed for eight years.
“I just decided I needed a change; I was ready. I used to work 12-hour days. Now, a 12-hour day is a short day. And I’d never want anyone to think I’m complaining. It’s all really a labour of love; it’s a labour of passion. I love building my company and I love building business relationships – and I love seeing where it’s going. Coming into an older home, a tired, neglected home – or just a place where it’s time for a refresh – and leaving it when it’s all done is always a memo- rable experience and a ‘wow’ moment where you say, ‘Look what we’ve done. We’ve converted something that was old into something that’s new again – and the client loves it.’ That’s one of the best feelings you can have – and it keeps you going.” “Being a professional engineer and a Red Seal carpen- ter is a rare combination in the renovation business,” Dan explained. “For some people, seeing those credentials means a lot – and when they see that I’m also genuinely interested in building a professional relationship with them, it often seals the deal.” Dan was humbly hesitant when I asked him whether he believes that Monk Renovation’s 2016 Renovator of the Year award has had an impact on business in 2017. “It’s been a very busy year – and that’s just part of how we operate the business. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of repeat
That being said, it’s not Dan’s style to sit back and let the chips fall where they may.
“We work really hard every month of the year to provide estimates and build relationships with our clients so we can schedule work every month of the year,” he explained. “That might be in early January when everyone else is slowing
down. And sure, we can be a little slow at that time of year, but if you’ve scheduled beforehand, you’ve guaranteed at least something. August is also a slow month. People are at the cottage, decisions about renovations typically aren’t being made, but again, if you’ve booked that job for August back in early June, you’re busy. I’ve had lots of people call me a year or more after the initial quote to schedule a job. People need to budget, they need to know what the costs will be and we’re always happy to fit those clients in. So it’s a scheduling thing, but it’s also about being consistent in building relationships with clients. I firmly believe that if we’re always providing quotes and estimates – and we are, we never slow down on that end of things – that we’ll stay busy. That’s one of the keys.” The other key is Monk Renovation’s referral network, which Dan explained is multi-layered. “First and foremost, and I always express this to my guys, getting the first job isn’t as hard you think; it’s getting the referral that’s the chal- lenge. It’s no small feat and I never treat it like it is. You have to make your client so happy that they choose to tell their family and friends that they should be hiring you. We strive to build that kind of relationship with every client – and it’s not lost on me that people like to know somebody; they like to have ‘a guy.’ They want to tell people about their plumber, their electrician – well, people like to know a ren- ovation contractor too. That’s our referral-base. We also have our suppliers, who are invaluable partners.”
Facebook.com/monkreno and MonkReno.com.
The reviews and testimonials are often heartfelt and always positive.
While Dan sees the unfiltered mediums as a great window shopping tool for his prospective clients, he likes to “take it a step further when people are considering hiring us,” he told me with purpose in his voice. “The industry standard is to provide prospective clients with three references; I give them two pages of 40 references.” As Dan explained his shock and awe approach, I wrote a note on my open Word document: “Wonder if he holds employees to that?” When I jokingly asked him, he laughed and said, “close to it.” “We’ve worked hard to find the crew we have today and I have nothing but praise for the guys. I can be as demanding as any boss and push time frames to please the client and things like that. We have a core of seven carpenters. Each one of those guys has a skill that you could call his special- ty, but every one of them can do every part of renovation individually. From the hard-core foundation, framing and roofing, to finished stairs and cabinets, I’ve got guys on my team who cover it all. If there’s anything they can’t do, I have amazing subs lined up for those jobs. There are certain kitchen jobs, for example, that we use sub-contractors. We also use a plumbing contractor and an electrical contrac- tor. And when I call, they come. They’re so committed to their service that my clients don’t have to wait. We’ve been
For a sample of the word on the street, as it were, go to
working with these experts for years because they have the same work ethic that we do and they also believe in giving the client the best. It all works when you build those kinds of relationships with like-minded people.” Dan frankly explained that being a Jack of all trades in the residential construction industry means “having a deep resource of contractors and suppliers who you can rely on. Every job is different,” he continued, “regardless of simi- larities; jobs vary, at least a little bit. Halifax Heating does our Heating and Ventilation, Evergreen Electrical does our electrical work, B’s Plumbing does all our plumbing, I use Ocean Contractors for all our foundations, Ocean- front Excavating do all of our excavations, I use McCarthy’s Roofing or Classic Roofing for all our roofing, and I’ve got a great relationship with Kent Building Supplies and Payzant Home Hardware as suppliers. It’s taken me nine years to get to the point where I have these relationships, these built-up referrals, but it’s still growing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great now, but there’s always room for more growth in this industry and in a market like this.” If you’re currently working with Monk Renovations and per chance found your business on Dan’s impromptu list, you’re in good company. Dan doesn’t compromise on certifica- tion, registration – or taxes. “When I started the business, the first thing I did was to register my business with the Registry of Joint Stock Companies and get my tax number. Yes, I am a tax collector: I run my business professional-
ly, I charge taxes, I give receipts. I know there are a lot of tradesmen who run one-man shops and will work under the table: my thinking is, these guys have just told you they are okay cheating the government. “They’re bringing in some of the best to live and work here and more business owners have to recognize that.” Don’t be surprised if they end up cheating you.” Dan emphasized that, “It’s not just that, taxes pay for medical, roads and schools. No one wants to pay too much tax. It’s the fact that we warranty our work. We are a stable, professional business, committed to our customers and our community.” Commitment, for Dan, goes beyond what the customer can see. “I worked for other people for a long time and I have to say, there’s a whole different level of commitment when it’s yours. You’ve got to write the cheques on Friday. You’ve got to look the client in the eye and tell them exactly what’s going on – and they have to trust you. And trust is a huge thing in this business. I’ve always been of the mindset that my word is my bond, but it means something more, at least for me, when it’s your name on the business card.”
The fact that this son of a heavy equipment operator from a small fishing village on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore chris- tened his business with his family name says a lot. Dan is legacy-minded and that means continuing a tradition of upholding small-town values in a changing world. “A number of years back when the Syrian refugee crisis was identified and the government started to respond, I thought it would be great if we could help out. One day during a particular busy period, I got an email from a former client who we had done a bathroom addition for a while back who was asking about trade certifications and things like that – and when I responded to her and answered her questions, I asked why she wanted to know that informa- tion. She told me that her family had sponsored a Syrian family and one of the members of the family was an accom- plished painter and drywaller. It just so happened that I was looking for a painter and drywaller. She got me in touch with ISANS [Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia]. They were great to work with. They connected me with the young man, Ahmad, and I hired him on the spot. He’s cur- rently working hard at making his English stronger and his quality of painting and drywalling is great. Ahmad wanted an opportunity to really become a member of our commu- nity here in Halifax and steady work is helping him do that – he’s fitting in and growing into his new home. Ahmad really filled a need here at Monk Renovations and it makes me feel good that he recognizes that – he feels valued.”
“There’s a huge talent pool amongst every immigrant community here in Nova Scotia – in the trades and in other fields,” he continued. “I hope more business owners engages ISANS and step-up to bring-in more talented workers who are new to Nova Scotia, who plan to make lives for themselves and their families here. Even when the language barrier is there, the payoff is good, it’s undeniable. Ahmad is dedicated, loyal – and he’s happy to be here. It’s a hiring experience I recommend to all my counterparts.” Dan believes that ISANS “really holds the key” to Nova Scotia growing its population and strengthening its work- force. “They’re bringing in some of the best to live and work here and more business owners have to recognize that.” “This is our ninth construction season,” he explained. “I’ve been in the construction longer, but it’s nine years since I startedmy own company. It’s the big anniversary next year, but I’ve got to say, even before then, that the renovation industry has been good to us over the last nine years. We have amazing clients, great staff, we’re continuing to grow – and we continue to enjoy building relationships, whatever those may be. Our volumes are steady, but the people that make up the Monk team are solid. I can foresee us doing this for a long time.” Dan’s passion for his industry and belief in his community are and will continue to be the foundation of Monk Renovations.
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