Three Way Builders
If you want to be a successful construction company in rural Manitoba—Steinbach, to be exact—you had better be able to provide a range of services. You will be asked to do everything from industrial to residential to agricultural projects. At least that’s what Len Neufeld, President and CEO of Three Way Builders, says.
He explains that Manitoba is not generally a boom and bust province. “If we want to grow our business here, we can’t focus on a niche service or project type, like contractors do in more populated provinces. We have to offer a variety of projects.”
Neufeld began in carpentry with a job as a framing subcontractor. At age 20, he started his own labour subcontracting business. After buying out his partner in 1987, the company expanded from a labour subcontractor to a general contractor, design-build and project management business. For 22 years, Neufeld and his wife have owned the company together.
In those early days, Three Way Builders was working mainly in remote First Nations communities of northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “That was where we cut our teeth on general contracting and project management,” explains Neufeld. “Over time, we started expanding and getting bigger projects. So we kept plugging away, learning new things and getting a variety of projects. Eventually, we were able to expand our work area to southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.” Now with 20 employees including an in-house design team, Three Way Builders is well-equipped to participate in all types of jobs. Projects have included everything from schools, to commercial strip malls, to multi-family condo units, to offices and industrial work. “There is a lot of variety,” Neufeld laughs.
A community project
With so much project diversity, Three Way Builders has had great opportunities to get involved with some interesting projects.
“One of our favourites was a school project here in Steinbach, for a post-secondary institution,” beams Neufeld. This project was particularly exciting because the town (population: 11,000) is trying to bring more post-secondary institutions into the region. Here, Three Way acted as construction managers.
“The facility is called the Eastman Education Centre,” explains Neufeld. “It includes 10 classrooms for Red River College and has some administration offices for the Hanover school division. There are plans to bring in university courses at some point. It’s a first -class building with a distinctive design for our city. It was a great project not only for the architectural-construction aspect, but for what it signifies for the community. We were proud to be a part of it.”
Over the last 22 years, Neufeld has noticed some big changes in the industry.
“It’s the project delivery methods that have changed the most,” he says. “It seems the industry is moving away from the traditional tendering and bidding, to construction management or integrated design.”
Traditionally, it’s the architect that designs the building and puts it out to tender at which point the project is priced by selected contractors. But when design and pricing are worked out separately, the project is often designed well over budget, thus causing the architect to redesign or the owner to acquire additional funds.
Because contractors consistently deal with pricing, they are always up to date with the current construction and labour costs, so when owner, architect and contractor work together, there is a new level of efficiency brought to the project.
“Within the last five years, the model has evolved where the owners are hiring the architect and the construction manager—before the project is even designed,” says Neufeld. “They’ve found that when they bring a contractor in at the beginning, they are working with pricing on real time. Construction managers bring value-added engineering to the design process, being able to advise when budgets are challenged and offer alternatives. If you have a good team where the owner, architect and construction manager are working together, it makes the project much better.”
Neufeld says that Three Way has seen far more of these integrated design projects coming through than tendered work, but this way of doing things isn’t at all new for the company. “We were probably doing integrated design when 80 per cent of the industry didn’t know about it,” he states. “We’re just seeing it more now.”
Along with integrated design, Three Way Builders has also adopted other industry changes. Neufeld has certainly felt the push to get certified on the safety side of things, which he believes is positive. “We are COR-certified, which is a recognized safety program in the industry,” he says. “The program is good because it outlines ways in which we can work safely and it provides the means to track our progress. It’s easy to say ‘we want to work safe,’ but when you’re part of a program, it makes you think about it all the time.”
The golden rule
Moving forward, Neufeld says he doesn’t focus necessarily on the growth of his company as much as he does its core values.
“Three Way Builders has a company philosophy that quality, service and our attitudes are all investments into our future,” says Neufeld. “We have a golden rule that we want to build for others as we would have something built for us. So, the growth here has come as a by-product of a job well done.”
“In moving forward, the success of our company is really the success of the people in the company,” he adds. “Achievement really goes back to how good your people are, and my employees have proved themselves to follow that golden rule. That is why we’ve done well, and that’s how we’ll continue to do well.”