Making diversity a competitive edge
Headquartered in Richmond, British Columbia, Seacliff Construction Corp. owns two distinct and independently operated business units in Western Canada. The first side is Dominion Construction, a company that provides general contracting, pre-construction planning and project management services. Dominion started in 1911 and has established a strong reputation for building large, complex projects while adhering to strict quality control measures.
The other side of Seacliff is Canem Systems, one of Western Canada’s foremost providers of electrical contracting and data communication services. Since 1960, Canem has been designing, building and maintaining electrical systems for a broad range of customers.
While Seacliff Construction ensures corporate governance and offers strategic direction, both Dominion and Canem are empowered to operate independently under their respective management teams. “It’s worth noting the distinct separation between these units,” says Bill Crarer, CEO of Seacliff, “because their mutual independence enables us to maximize opportunities and revenues by allowing each unit to partner with competing contractors, rather than keeping it in-house. It’s unique, but it’s worked very well.”
Seacliff Construction is one of the largest construction companies in Western Canada, completing 7,800 to 8,000 projects per year between both units. In 2008, their revenues reached $504 million. It helps the company so is diverse and is able to work in a variety of locations. “We’re geographically diversified,” explains Crarer, “with 16 offices across five provinces. If you look at it from a revenue perspective, we do 35 per cent of our business in Alberta and 28 per cent in Saskatchewan, 15 per cent in Manitoba, and 21 per cent in British Columbia. Diversity is definitely one of our principle strengths.”
“If you see an economic down cycle in B.C., for example, you’ll usually see an upswing in Alberta,” Crarer continues. “So it helps to be everywhere. A lot of construction companies are regional and are more or less limited to their surroundings. Most of Canem’s competitors are local with only one office in their city. We have the opportunity to be known across provinces, which strengthens the brand and enables us to partner with clients on a regional and national basis.”
Seacliff is also diversified by market sector, as both business units have work in commercial, institutional, light industrial and multi-family residential areas. The majority of their revenue is from the commercial and institutional sector; however, the company is seeing a growing revenue stream from their special project and retrofit work. Crarer notes that depending on the economic conditions, business can vary in terms of how much work comes from each sector. Last year, institutional work made up about 50 per cent and today it’s up to 75 per cent. Commercial projects made up 30 per cent in 2008, but it has slipped to 15 per cent this year. “It all has to do with the economic downturn,” he says. “Private companies are putting plans on hold while the government is spending on schools and hospitals.”
Speaking of the recession, Seacliff isn’t worried for two reasons. First, they have been through a few of these economic cycles and know how to deal with them—it’s what comes with years of experience. Second, their diversity allows them to thrive in one sector when another is failing.
Years’ worth of performance
Seacliff Construction has a long history. Crarer himself has been with the company for 40 years and he knows that history quite well. He says the company has made some great decisions and continues to reap the rewards for it.
“One of the things the company has always done is pride ourselves on our long-term relationships,” he reasons. “In fact, 75 per cent of our work is repeat business. Coupled with a long history comes a good reputation—you don’t last that long without having delivered quality and service. That stands us in good stead.”
It’s not just the clients; even Seacliff’s employees have stayed around. With approximately 1,200 employees, many of them have been there for years, building depth in experience and industry knowledge.
Years of history means years of projects under their belts. Seacliff has certainly has some noteworthy projects in their portfolio. Some of them include the Vancouver Library; the Bentall Centre towers—all four of them; the original phase of the Calgary airport; the bobsled and luge run for the 1988 Calgary Olympics; and the recent Richmond Olympic Oval for speed skating for 2010. This is only a short list, naming a few of many significant buildings.
What’s next? Seacliff has a lot coming down the pipe. “We have been fortunate,” Crarer smiles. “If you look at our recent achievements in the last two quarters, we have picked up several new contracts. We have a $50-million contract at the Management and Engineering Building at UBC Okanagan. We also got the $25-million contract for the RCMP facility in Prince George; a $19-million recreation centre in Cloverdale; and a $10.4-million electrical contract for the digital library at the University of Calgary. In spite of a tight market, things are going reasonably well.”
“We have a lot on the go, but we have the people, expertise and systems to take on projects that are large and complex,” says Crarer. “It’s a lot of coordination, but we’ve been around for a long time so we know what we’re doing.”
Well-positioned for the future
When you look at the infrastructure deficit that will drive institutional demand, it’s clear the Seacliff Construction is well-positioned for the future. The federal and provincial stimulus package also bodes well for the company as a lot of it will be spent in the four western provinces.
“It’s a significant opportunity,” Crarer states. “We made a decision three years ago to increase our focus on the institutional side of construction and it has worked well. Seacliff has enjoyed considerable growth over the past year, which has continued into this year. It’s indicative of our position and how we’ve strategized to take advantage of the work that is out there.”
Looking forward, Seacliff Construction’s strategy is to drive organic growth, especially in their service and special projects sectors. “We also plan to strengthen both Dominion Construction and Canem Systems’ positions in our existing markets, as well as pursue more P3 projects on both sides,” says Crarer.
The company is also looking into more acquisition opportunities. “The gap between private sector expectations and market sector realities have closed with the downturn,” explains Crarer. “And that presents opportunities for acquisition.” With a proven a management team, a broad customer base, a strong balance sheet no debt, it seems Seacliff Construction can do anything they want and expect success.