The NSHBA’s 2012 Renovator of the Year
Peter Briand spent years working for different construction companies, and finally he decided he didn’t like what he was seeing.
“I got tired of how some people didn’t treat their employees properly, or provide safe working conditions. So I said ‘There’s a better way to do it,’ and I went out on my own,” recalls Briand.
Backing a start-up construction company is a risk most banks aren’t willing to take, so Briand took equity out of his home and started Econo Renovations in 2002. He focused on getting the right people on his team, and making sure each and every customer got what they wanted.
“We’re only as good as our last customer, so we’re always looking for ways to up the ante and stay on top,” says Briand.
Econo Renovations has grown from just two employees to 18 and counting, and they’re in such high demand that they’re booking jobs four months out.
They won Renovator of the Year at the 2012 Nova Scotia Home Builders’Association Peak Awards. It’s Econo Renovations’ fourth time winning Renovator of the Year – in just 10 years of business – and Briand says he was a bit taken aback by it.
“We’re very proud of what we’re able to do, and we’re glad to help out in any way we can,” says Briand. “We certainly don’t look for the win or the accolade, but it’s very appreciated because it helps to set us apart from everybody else. We look at it as a way to raise the bar for renovators, which benefits everyone.”
He says he owes everything to his staff, and that they don’t work for him – they “work together as a team.”
“If it wasn’t for their commitment and dedication through the good times and the bad, we wouldn’t be able to focus on our community involvement.”
Paul Pettipas, ceo of the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association, says Briand is “a very active renovator” who knows how to market himself.
“He’s good with people, which is a tremendous skill that not all renovators have,” says Pettipas. “He’s a strong communicator and he comes across as an honest individual, and that’s partly why he’s so successful.”
Pettipas says Briand won not only because of his work, but because of how he supports technological advancement in the industry, and how much he volunteers on community projects.
Through his involvement with the Homebuilders’ Care program, Briand helps to organize annual fundraisers that raise between $60,000 and $80,000. Suppliers donate products and services, and everyone works together to help different not-for-profit organizations throughout the community. This year, they’ll pass the $1-million mark in donations over their seven-year history.
Currently, Econo Renovations is taking part of the $100,000 renovation on the Brunswick Street Mission.
“We’re going to be putting new siding on the building, redoing the plumbing to reduce their water costs, and replacing the windows with energy-efficient ones,” says Pettipas. “It’s a major job, but the Mission is helping people in need, and doing very positive work in the community – those are the groups we like to work with.”
“The only way the Homebuilders’ Care program works is when people like Peter donate their time to do these projects.”
Last year, Briand and his crew participated when the Homebuilders’ Care program renovated the home of Wendy Horton in Carrolls Corner. Horton had been battling cancer for two years, and she and her husband had five children (aged 4, 7, 9, 14, and 15).
“We weren’t quite finished when she passed away, so she didn’t get to see the finished product. But her family still lives there, and now all five of her children have their own bedrooms,” says Briand. “It meant a lot to us, to be involved. We were glad to help.”
Briand says it’s important that Econo Renovations gets involved with programs like Homebuilders’ Care. Over the years the program has built a new building for Halifax Regional Ground Search & Rescue, built a kitchen for a daycare centre and constructed two Habitat for Humanity homes.
Every summer, Briand holds a fundraiser in his backyard complete with live entertainment and inflatable bouncy houses for the kids. He chooses a different cause each time, and previous recipients have been Big Brothers Big Sisters, the SPCA, and Bide-Awhile Animal Shelter. Last summer, the fundraiser was for his brother, who was battling prostate cancer.
With a passion for bringing a voice to renovators across the country, Briand is the Chair of the Renovators Council for the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association, Chair of the Canadian Renovators’ Council, is heavily involved with the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association, and he sits on the board of the Nova Scotia Construction Safety Association.
He says his volunteer commitments contribute to the success of Econo Renovations.
“Because I’m part of the Canadian Homebuilders’ Association, I know about new products and code changes right away, which means we know about them before everyone else,” says Briand. “We always deliver top-quality results, we make sure the level of expertise is here, and we do everything safely.”
Lately, he and his team have been busy with a lot of kitchen and bathroom renovations – the two spots in the home with the higher return on investment.
“Everyone’s tired of their old kitchens. They want new cabinets, counters, and organization systems so everything’s not falling out when they open their cupboards,” says Briand. “A lot of people are also taking down walls to make their kitchen and dining room more open-concept, and putting additions on the back of their house to open up their kitchen.”
He’s currently doing that to his own home, but – just as the cobbler’s children go barefoot – it appears the renovator’s house is the last be tackled!
Briand says the industry has changed a lot since he’s been part of it because of the renovation boom that’s taken place in the last 5-10 years.
“People want to stay in their home. They like the area they’re in, but they want to make some changes to their home, so it’s a huge business right now,” says Briand.
But the trouble is that most people get their renovation dreams from watching TLC and HGTV shows about dramatic home makeovers – and Briand says that sometimes causes confusion about how things happen in real life.
“The shows have made homeowners more aware of what’s possible in renovations, but they’ve also made them think a bathroom or a kitchen can be completely renovated in a couple of days,” says Briand.
He respects the work of Mike Holmes – and knows him personally – and says he does a good job of showing things the way they should be done. But Holmes also has an enormous crew and a limitless budget, which means his projects can be done much more quickly – without showing any of the mess to their viewing audience.
“Someone like Mike Holmes has resources that most homeowners don’t have – they just have what’s in their bank account,” says Briand. “We try to work with everybody’s budgets, and make sure everything meets code, so it’s important for them to remember that it can’t happen overnight.”
Because the renovation industry has grown so much, fly-by-night businesses pop up to take advantage of the hot market – and Briand says homeowners need to be extra-careful about hiring a reputable company.
“Right now I’m working with a client who lost $87,000 through another renovator,” says Briand. “Those people make the rest of us look bad, and sometimes it’s because they didn’t have enough business savvy to run their business, and they didn’t bid on the job properly.”
In order to prevent more people from being ripped off, Briand strongly believes the industry should implement a licensing system.
“If you want to cut hair, you have to go to school and get certified. But we’re one of the only provinces where you don’t have to be certified to build or renovate somebody’s house,” says Briand. “There are people out there working without liability or Workers’ Compensation, and that’s putting the homeowner at risk.”
Two years ago, he worked closely with the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association to design a voluntary program called the Certified Residential Renovator. Companies sign up, and then spend 2-3 years completing a series of training programs – on everything from handling hazardous materials to R2000 technology. After they complete the courses, they can proudly call themselves Certified Residential Renovators.
“It puts the onus on the renovator to keep up with what’s happening in the industry, because there’s an educational component,” says Briand. “Running a business takes a lot of time, because you have to look after your customers and promote yourself. But it’s important to stay involved with training and education.”
Once a business is a Certified Residential Renovator, they can apply for RenoMark – a symbol that identifies them as a professional, ethical business that provides warranties, understands the value of customer service during and after projects, and keeps up on current trends, materials, and regulations.
“RenoMark is a national marketing tool that helps raise the bar for renovation, and it’s a positive change right across Canada,” says Briand. “It’s a mark of excellence, which means you can move across the country and use it to be able to pick a safe, reliable construction company.”
Briand says he’s happy with the state of Econo Renovations today, and he hopes they can keep doing what they love for a long time.
“We’re focused on training and education, and increasing our project management team so we’re more readily available for our customers,” says Briand. “Luckily, the industry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down!”