When father/son duo Brian and Justin Johnston started tackling outdoor renovation projects, their vision was to create beautiful outdoor living spaces with quality craftsmanship and customer service, making them the No. 1 choice in outdoor renovations.
They were successful in this goal, with the newly formed All-Craft Decks and Sunrooms quickly becoming a well-known name in the region for outdoor living spaces. From the initial design phase through to final construction, their dedication from start to finish and attention to detail earned them a loyal customer base and positive reputation.
There was just one problem: their customers wanted them to take on even more.
“We see a lot of repeat business because customers see the quality of our work outside, and then they want us for work inside their home, too,” says Brian. “Once you’ve found professionals you trust, that’s who you’re going to want for future projects.”
Due to this demand, just shortly after launching the initial business, they decided to form a second division to focus specifically on interior renovations. This is where All-Craft Renovations made its debut. Although operated with the same business philosophy and focus to detail, both divisions are kept separate by the management team, ensuring they have the best crews specializing in their respective fields.
The decision to expand was obviously a good one and continues to be validated. All-Craft recently won the coveted 2017 Renovator of the Year award from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Nova Scotia at their annual Peter Kohler Peak Awards ceremony. Justin says it’s an honour to have All-Craft recognized for the team’s passion for the renovation industry and commitment to giving back to their community.
It’s actually their seventh Peter Kohler Peak Award to date, after previous wins like the Special Project Award, Most Outstanding Member of the Year Award, Membership Recruitment Award, and Most Outstanding Residential Renovation Addition Awards for both interior and exterior work.
All-Craft was also awarded Houzz’s Best of Customer Service award last year, as chosen by the site’s 35 million users. Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing for Houzz, says it was a pleasure to bestow the honour on a firm based more than 6,000 km from Houzz’s headquarters in Palo Alto, CA.
“Customer Service honours are based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2015,” says Hausman. “We’re so pleased to recognize All-Craft Decks and Sunrooms, voted one of our ‘Best Of Houzz’ professionals by our enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodelling and decorating their homes.”
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION COMES FIRST
“Nobody’s perfect, and anybody who thinks they are is probably not trustworthy. There’s always the chance of a surprise or a hiccup in a renovation,” says Brian. “If there is a problem, it’s how you address an issue and rectify it, that demonstrates what kind of person – or business – you truly are.”
Although this province has a great base of reputable homebuilders and renovators, there are still examples of companies who downplay or even deny problems or issues with their work. This is understandably frustrating to homeowners who paid to have a job done properly.
“We don’t walk away from anything, and as a result, we have plenty of repeat clients and referrals,” says Brian. “People tell us we’re the only ones they’ll call, for any project, because they know they’re going to get excellent customer service.”
Justin says All-Craft customers are so appreciative that they’re never left hanging, even if they have questions or issues years after a job is complete.
“We’ll go back, regardless of warranty, to fix something that wasn’t the homeowner’s fault – even if it’s years later,” says Justin. “It’s not like they make their last payment and we forget about them. We’re not going to abandon them. We’re always going to help them out in some way.”
Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Nova Scotia CEO Sherry Donovan praises Brian and Justin for taking an active role in the industry to ensure it’s thriving, and continually educating homeowners on the importance of hiring professionals.
“With All-Craft, it’s not just getting the job,’” says Donovan. “They really take an interest in educating the public.”
Brian says homeowners are becoming more and more educated about the industry, and why they should hire a viable contractor who abides by the building codes and has all the necessary insurance, warranties and certifications. “That’s why it’s disappointing to hear of a homeowner running into trouble when they hire a company that falls short – whether it’s because they didn’t do their homework or they took a chance hoping to save some money.”
“These lessons are hard to learn,” adds Brian. “You get into something thinking you’re going to be frugal and save a bit of money, but in the end it can cost you much, much more.”
Because it might cost more to hire a reputable company that abides by regulations and code, Brian says sometimes a cheaper offer is tempting for homeowners – despite the risks.
“Sometimes people get a quote that’s half the price they got from a reputable contractor, and they go with the cheaper option,” says Brian. “But hopefully we’re moving towards a day when we can get rid of the underground economy of contractors who are not qualified to do the job they’ve been hired to do.”
CURRENT PROJECTS: INSIDE AND OUTSIDE
At the moment, many of All-Craft’s current projects are in the booming Bedford area. Justin says that’s because many of the homes are hitting the 15-year mark. They are no longer new – especially compared to the new developments popping up around them – and things are starting to look dated.
“For a lot of the homeowners, their kids have moved out and they’re wondering how they can make their space more functional or aesthetically pleasing – like maybe adding master ensuite,” says Justin. “Others are wanting to update their home for resale, so they’re usually looking at redoing their kitchen or bathrooms.”
Not surprising, since freshened-up kitchens and bathrooms are two of the top three ways to get a good return on a renovation. (The third, of course, is by improving your home’s curb appeal with hardscaping, decks or patios.)
They’ve noticed an increased demand for sunrooms and screened-in porches over the last three or four years, which may correlate to the steady increase of retiring Baby Boomers.
“People are wanting a bright, sunny place to spend time drinking their coffee in the morning and having their dinner at night – something that’s separate from the house,” says Justin. “They want lots of light and lots of windows to appreciate their view, and it’s almost always a sitting room.”
More homeowners are also opting for full backyard packages that include everything from decks, retaining walls, stone patios, sunrooms and pergolas. Justin actually credits Pinterest and home renovation shows for inspiring a lot of people to pick up the phone and call them.
“There’s so much access to amazing makeovers, online and on TV, that homeowners are seeing spaces that go way beyond a basic square deck,” says Justin. “They’re seeing that you can get a beautiful, functional backyard – even in the city, with a smaller footprint – and it’s opening their minds to what’s possible.”
Justin and Brian agree they’ve seen an increasing number of homeowners opting for maintenance-free outdoor building materials like aluminum railings and composite decking.
“There are a lot of homeowners who don’t want to have to strip or stain their deck every year,” says Brian. “They want something that looks good all year long, and will still look good 10 or even 20 years down the road.”
Moving inside the home, Justin says more homeowners are interested in maximizing every bit of space with renovations that improve a room’s functionality.
“People want a lot more out of what they have, especially as the average home gets smaller and you have less room to work with,” says Justin. “Instead of a standard tub that won’t get used much, more homeowners are replacing it with really sleek-looking showers and adding unique options like multiple showerheads or accessibility features like grab bars – upgrades that will get daily use and look great.”
With the growing trend of many seniors preferring to stay in their own homes, it’s important to have the right professionals available to modify their spaces to help ensure their safety. All-Craft recognized this need and took steps to secure their CAPS Certification (Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist) through the National Association of Home Builders.
“Improving a room’s functionality often goes hand in hand with making it more accessible,” Justin says. “Adding drop-downs for your upper cabinets means you can use every inch of storage space, and it’s also easier for people to access.” He adds, “In the past, there is a chance you wouldn’t look in those really high cabinets unless you were moving. Now people want all of their space to be usable.”
ALL-CRAFT, ALL FAMILY
Despite running two companies together, the father-and-son team don’t work alongside each other most days. While one’s in the office, the other’s usually on site. But it’s through a shared vision and teamwork that they’ve made All-Craft into the success it is today.
“We have very similar mindsets, but different strengths,” explains Justin, who graduated with a business degree from St. F.X. University in 2008. “We complement each other well.”
Even their respective backgrounds mesh perfectly. Justin brought six years of project management and accounting experience to the business, while Brian had two decades of customer service experience with a large international firm.
In the early days of All-Craft, they didn’t even share an office. Justin and Brian worked out of their own homes, with just a single truck and trailer to clean up job sites. They contracted out a lot of their work, and it took time to build up their brand.
“Things were a lot different then. Now we have 10 employees plus a family of subcontractors, allowing us to support employment in different trades as well as the carpentry trade,” says Justin. “At All-Craft, we are a family – not just co-workers. We’re a team and we put a lot of effort into staying connected.” Justin says they take pride in being a close-knit group that enjoy working together for a common goal.
“Everyone that works here is happy to come to work,” says Justin. “We do a lot of team events that promote that positive atmosphere, and you can feel it in our work and how we interact with our customers.”
In 2017, the All-Craft crew was excited to move into their stunning new home at 302 Bluewater Road in Bedford. As a team, they all worked hard to complete the interior of the building, showing off outdoor spaces and interior trends.
Donovan says it’s nice to see a family-run business where a father and son are working so closely together, but points out that All-Craft is about more than just being blood relatives.
“They consider their full team to be the All-Craft family. They’re all so supportive of each other and of the industry as a whole,” says Donovan. “They’re enthusiastic and they take pride not only in the work they do, but in the industry we represent.”
COMMITTED TO GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
In order to win the prestigious Renovator of the Year award, Donovan says a company needs to make a positive impact not only on their own customers, but for the renovation industry and the communities they serve.
All-Craft employees volunteer their time for Habitat for Humanity builds across HRM, and make monetary contributions to the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
They’ve also participated in Bedford’s Relay for Life – raising more than $5,600 for the Canadian Cancer Society. Melanie Matheson, district coordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society, praised the All-Craft team for being “the epitome of what a Relay For Life team should be,” adding that they spent months working together to raise such a large sum.
When the 16-year-old granddaughter of All-Craft employee Murray Conrod was in need of a wheelchair-accessible van, the All-Craft team set a financial goal. Over the past two years, they’ve been working toward achieving that goal by donating a portion of its revenue from each project, hoping to take a vision and make it reality.
With the help of the community and President’s Choice, All-Craft was excited to announce that Danna received her van on December 24, 2017.
Brian told CBC at the time that he considered Murry to be “a tremendous individual and a huge asset” to the company, and the donation was a way to give back to him and his family.
Donovan says it’s impressive to see a firm go to such lengths to care for each and every customer and work to move the industry forward, while also giving back to their community in such meaningful ways.
“You have to be willing to go above and beyond, and that’s not always an easy task,” says Donovan. “All-Craft really stood out head and shoulders above what they were doing to show the judges why they deserved to win.”