Where his heart is

By Francie Healy

You can feel the energy the moment you meet Lindsay Nicol. He speaks quickly. He’s enthusiastic. He’s busy. He’s proud of his work, his family, his staff; and he enjoys talking about them.

First-class renovator and custom builder, owner of Crossford Construction, Lindsay admits to being a “control freak”, but that might give the wrong impression.

You can see he’s in control, that he wants everything to be just so. Not surprisingly: It’s apparent in the work his company does.

But Lindsay is also a nice guy who cares about his “people”: his clients, colleagues, trades-people and competitors.

Lindsay is not a boastful man. In fact, he strikes you as being gentle and humble. But he tells it like it is, too. He has no qualms about stating, simply, “We’re as good as it gets in this city.”

Lindsay Nicol

His heart is in this business. It has been since he was a kid and went to job sites with his father, a prominent Ottawa home builder. When he was a teenager, Lindsay worked on those job sites as a labourer and learned, from the ground up, the meaning of quality workmanship.

Actually, construction ran in the family before Lindsay was born. His great-grandfather was involved in the construction of the historic Langevin Block in Ottawa.

Lindsay started Crossford Construction about 20 years ago after 10 years of construction experience, naming it after the town in Scotland where his grandfather, Morris Nicol, originated. It has grown into a company that gets rave reviews from its customers in the form of the letters they send when a project is completed.

 

“Who would ever say a major renovation is fun?” wrote Jennifer Radley and Neil Stout. “We would!” They go on to remark on Crossford’s “outstanding workmanship… utmost respect and kindness…” and said: “…we were partners in the process… a great experience from start to finish.” They added: “We were actually sad to see them go!”

Crossford Construction, in conjunction with Chuck Mills Residential Design, was the first-place winner of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association’s 2012 award for House Renovation in the $350,000 to $499,000 category. And, with Irene Langlois Interiors, it was a finalist for Renovations and Additions in the $60,000 − $99,000 category.

Crossford takes on medium and large-scale renovations. Lindsay describes it as a “niche” company but with a large staff. They do upscale, high-end, high-quality renos with, as Lindsay puts it, “the ‘wow’ factor”. But he adds this doesn’t necessarily mean extravagant. It just means excellent.

The company is “Green” in all its practices, and a member of the Canada Green Building Council.

Clients tend to be educated, well-informed home owners who know what they want and expect to get it. So the company must be transparent and up-front about budgeting and costing. “We’re an open book,” says Lindsay. “People appreciate that, and they tend to tell others.” And that’s a good thing: “Ottawa can be a small town.”Schwartz res 008

Another aspect of the company that seems to work well is the “collaborative approach”, Lindsay explains. When a client comes to them for a renovation, the teamwork begins. Crossford has in-house design capabilities, but Lindsay suggests “outside” designers, too. The collaboration goes beyond the immediate trio of client, designer and company and reaches out into the industry as well.

He tells clients to begin with simple, preliminary drawings, and he supplies names of good people who will provide them. Next is budget. What do they want to spend? What will it cost? Once that’s established, he tells clients they need the actual working drawings. These can be done by Crossford designers or suggested designers outside the company.

He also provides them with a list of decisions they will need to make in order of priority. He reminds them they should be prepared to invest a good deal of their own time and energy into the process. The decisions they make now will be long-lasting.

“Everything has to be the right fit,” says Lindsay. “We have a team development approach.” All aspects of the project are put into place first. “Then we’re ready to hit the ground running,” he says. When the project is ready to go, it goes. That takes careful pre-planning, intricate teamwork.

Crossford staff consists of carpenters, apprentices, labourers; others outside the company are chosen not only for skill but for personality, attitude and pride in workmanship.

“They don’t just fall off the tree,” he says. “And they’re our biggest asset.”

This is where “control” comes in, too. With great staff and hand-picked sub-contractors, Lindsay can control quality, timing and personnel. It has a bonus: well-appreciated people are happy, loyal workers. “There’s a team and family feeling around here,”  he says. Crossford trains its carpenters and puts several carpentry apprentices through the carpentry program at Algonquin.

This impacts directly on the client. When Crossford people arrive at the door, clients can expect clean-cut, polite, respectful workers who show up when they’re supposed to, who communicate well, do the job perfectly; who keep their the site – and their language − clean.

Crossford also works with, and for, engineers, architects, city officials and building inspectors who consistently give the company a “thumbs up”.

Lindsay is grateful for the people who walk beside him: George Brancato, his trusted friend and controller/accountant, for instance. George is often Lindsay’s sounding board and anchor. Then there’s Project Manager Doug McCausland. He’s a friendly guy but also “a pro-active man of action”, as Lindsay describes him. Clients love him, and have written letters to praise him. There’s Bruce Ralph, purchasing agent, with a ready smile and good eye for quality. He provides further wise counsel.

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There are his sons, Mac and Brock, who, at 19 and 22, are busy forging their own lives. But they participate in the company part-time, too.

And best of all is Anne, his wife, who does design and marketing. She also makes beautiful baskets of gourmet food items, small gifts and flowers for Lindsay’s clients.

She and Lindsay were high school sweethearts. She was a cheerleader and he was a football player at Fisher Park High. Lindsay smiles when he talks about her.

“She’s beautiful, vivacious, dynamic; everyone knows her,” he says. “I’m known as Anne’s husband.”

After many years of Crossford renovations for everyone else, Anne, a “foodie”, finally enjoyed a great renovation of their “modest house in a nice neighbourhood”. The best part for her, of course, was a fabulous new kitchen.

“We kept the same footprint,” Lindsay says. “But we re-did the whole house. It was about time. Anne was working in a really crappy little kitchen.”

It’s a busy life, a busy, demanding business, and it’s a good thing Lindsay’s energy is so high. He says he’ll never retire, although those days are a long way off yet.

How does he keep the momentum going? How does he look after himself so his energy doesn’t flag?

He relies on family and friends. Anne’s great cooking feeds him well. He’s crazy about sports of all kinds; he golfs in summer and goes skiing in winter.

And he retreats to the cottage for extended weekends when he can, even though the summer season is often his busiest.

He knows he and his company are highly regarded, they’re doing superb work, and clients are happy.

“I can sleep at night,” he says. And then he adds as an afterthought: “I do keep a notebook by my bed… but then I close it, forget about it, and sleep well.”