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Growth Contractor builds second business to retain talented workers

Drew Fraser is the owner of Can-Tech Construction. He built a second business to retain talented workers

THE CHALLENGE

Drew Fraser wanted the name Can-Tech Construction Ltd. to be synonymous with quality. To deliver on that promise, he had to depend on the tradespeople who were doing the work. But Mr. Fraser knew he could not afford to retain a skilled and reliable work force on a yearly payroll because of the cyclical nature of the construction business.

Not having these people on staff meant having to hire on a project-by-project basis, which would make it difficult to find top tradespeople, and therefore compromise the quality of the work. Mr. Fraser needed to come up with a strategy to retain a team of skilled labourers, allowing him to provide quality work for clients in a manner that was financially feasible.

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THE BACKGROUND

Mr. Fraser was born in Fredericton, and moved to Sackville, N.B. at an early age when his father, who was a banker, relocated to the local branch. Mr. Fraser attended Mount Allison University in 1978, in the commerce program, but he left after two years to pursue a career in aviation.

After earning his commercial pilot's licence at the Moncton Flying College, he started working there as an instructor.  In 1983, with a slowdown in the economy and in enrollment numbers for cadet pilots, Mr. Fraser saw the writing on the wall and he decided to leave the college to explore other avenues.

With an interest in building and on the advice of his sister, who was an architect, he enrolled into the engineering program at Mount Allison.  His second stint at the university lasted only a year as he found himself too eager to get hands-on experience instead of immersing himself in theory.  This led him to the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) program in civil engineering technology in Moncton, where he graduated in 1987.  While still at NBCC he founded Can-Tech Construction in 1986, and he worked a summer building a house and a cottage before graduation.

THE SOLUTION

After noticing a demand for student housing in the small university town of Sackville, Mr. Fraser came up with the idea of using his crew to build units during the lean times for a subsidiary company he set up, and rotating workers back to customer projects as they came on line.  As the units were being made for his own company, moving crews away from those sites was not an issue, since he had no rigid timelines for job completion.

The strategy allowed him to offer full-time positions to a crew of skilled and reliable tradespeople who would ensure quality work for his customers.  Over the past several years his company has constructed three housing complexes during leaner times.  Using the same approach, he identified the car-wash business as another under-serviced category in Sackville.  This led to the construction of a coin-operated car wash business, followed over the years with another one in Sussex, N.B., and one in Rothesay, N.B.

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THE RESULT

Mr. Fraser's construction work has earned him a reputation for quality workmanship and it has helped him build his business on the construction side.  The use of skilled tradespeople during lean times for the construction of student housing and car-wash businesses provided a gainful investment for his human capital, while creating a positive cash flow.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Nauman Farooqi is a professor and head of the department of commerce in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies of Mount Allison University .

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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