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They’re hard-working, keen, and devoted to the business

By Vivian Astroff

From their humble beginnings in the family’s garage, to the multi-million dollar production plants now run by the second and third generations, some of the most successful family-run firms in this region are in the renovations industry.  Here we look at three of them.

“A product to suit every request and budget is our mandate,” declares Laurysen Kitchen’s web site, offering “over 918 combinations of cabinet door styles, colours and textures.”

The company can do this, says sales manager Giuseppe Castrucci, because of its investment in leading-edge technology, from office to factory floor. This year, they spent $1 million on a water-based wood finishing spray system, tracking software and an automated “nesting” machine. The latter will accept a 25-sheet mixed bundle of cabinet material that will drill and cut to a specified pattern, and produce designed-to-order cabinets.

 

“We can now offer affordable ‘green’ kitchens with solvent-free paints and finishes and particle board melamine that has no added formaldehyde emissions,” Giuseppe comments.

Laurysen Kitchens was founded in 1970 by John Laurysen and his wife, Adri. It was originally located in a 1,200-foot garage where half-dozen employees built kitchen cabinets for new homes in Ottawa. The company grew as Ottawa prospered. When the recession of the early 1990s knocked the housing industry into a slump and pushed many of the region’s builders into bankruptcy, the Laurysens expanded their business with sales growth in the retail and renovation market and created a commercial millwork division.

Following John’s death in 1994, the new management team that took over the helm was made up of his son Bill Laurysen, daughter Caroline Castrucci, and her husband, Giuseppe Castrucci. With Bill’s son, Michael, now involved as well, there are two generations in the business.

Bill is general manager and vice president of operations; Caroline is vice president of administration, and Giuseppe is vice president of sales and marketing.  Michael, a wood panel processing engineer recently graduated from the University of British Columbia, is starting his career with a stint in the company’s manufacturing plant.  His older brother, Corey, has just completed his MBA and is looking forward to joining Laurysen as well.

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A far cry from the early days, the 55,000-square-foot showroom and manufacturing plant houses over 100 employees.  Today Laurysen designs and manufactures custom, semi-custom and production kitchens and bathrooms, as well as custom fireplace mantles, made-to-order wall units, bookcases and closet units. The company also supplies more than 30 dealerships across Ontario with Laurysen product lines and exports to the United States and overseas.

Reflecting on changes over the years, Caroline Castrucci recalls with amusement, “Thirty years ago my dad had a breast-pocket filing system, taking notes and putting them in his pocket.”

Now computerized specifications have replaced hand-written notes at every step of the designing, ordering and manufacturing process.

For example, a kitchen order will specify how the supplier should bundle the materials, and the factory’s automated systems will both sort and manufacture the cabinet components according to the particular specs, she explains.  There are no “10-inch mistakes” from miscalculations or design flaws because of human error. “We can create a cabinet with design software and see in real time if there is a design flaw.”

She recalls that 30 years ago, they would need to order a refrigerator or stove and actually open the box to get the specifications sheet. Now with the Internet, they can retrieve appliance details almost instantly.

The results of this pervasive technology are quicker turnaround time, consistently good quality and more customization at an affordable price.

Although technology has changed all aspects of their company, what has not changed is the attention to customer service, notes Giuseppe.  The family still maintains a direct customer relationship with clients who can easily reach any one of them.  “We don’t have a bureaucracy here. Our biggest tradition is saying ‘we’re only a phone call away’.”

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Brent Young, a second-generation renovator, has been in the business for 14 years. He co-owns the CKC Group Ltd. (including Hometown Renovations and Carleton Kitchen & Bath) with brother Mark, who joined him in 2007. They took over from their mother, June Young and her business partner, who incorporated Carleton Kitchen Creations in 1986. Though now “semi-retired,” June still participates in sales and design, and remains part of CKC’s team, Brent says.  As well, Brent’s eldest daughter, Jocelyn, will join them this fall as a design assistant.

CKC Group Ltd. has 14 employees and two separate showrooms totaling 5,500 square feet in Carleton Place, Ontario, drawing clientele from Lanark County and the Greater Ottawa region.

The biggest change from their early years is the extent of their involvement in individual jobs, as well as their size and scope, Brent notes.  While 15 years ago many clients would do the “prep” work for a kitchen or bathroom installation, now fewer people have the time and inclination to rip out old cabinets, vanities, fixtures and wallpaper and want the work to be professionally done from beginning to end.

CKC has the in-house expertise to do cost estimates, provide design services, order custom cabinetry and hardware, and do all the installations. The company has become a “one stop shop” and now also does home additions and major main floor renovations in the $150,000 plus price range, Brent says.

Like others in the business, Brent says the advent of electronic communications has transformed how they manage a project.  “It’s a really big benefit in our industry to be able to work online, especially on major projects, so that everyone who is involved can enter the details. It really makes for smooth project management.”

Adapting to their markets, the Young family has re-organized the parent firm known as the CKC Group Ltd. into two separate companies, one that caters primarily to clients looking for high-end, turn-key design/build services, and the other serving a more budget-minded clientele.

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OakWood Design & Build is another multi-generational family enterprise that has grown and prospered.  Representing the third generation to run OakWood, John Liptak took over from his dad in 1982 after his premature death at 56.

His father, also named John, founded the company in the mid-1950s. The founder was a skilled German furniture maker who branched out into construction and established the company ethic of attention to detail, John says, a value transmitted to each generation over more than 50 years.

“We have a family raised in a different environment, where perfection was expected. My father, who was a contemporary of (developers) Campeau and Steenbakkers, expected me to know every trade involved in construction.”

While his father’s focus was new homebuilding, home renovation is the “bread and butter” of OakWood today. The company now does some 200 renovation projects a year and has grown 26 to 30 per cent annually over the past four years, John says.

In his 28 years as CEO, John has built an in-house expertise in new building materials and new technology “that changes every day”, he says.  In the past three to five years he’s hired five certified architectural technologists and interior designers, one of them an expert in “green” design.

Thanks to innovative software, OakWood clients can see a three-dimensional concept of their project overlaid on the existing design before the renovation begins. Computer software has become such an integral part of the business that John established a separate company to develop and sell new applications.

At 52, John Liptak gives the clear impression that “freedom 55” is not on his agenda. He’s getting ready for a trip to Germany to visit family. While there, he will tour construction sites and manufacturing plants, tracking down new industry trends — like environmentally sound products and technologies — that he can use in his own business

In January 2010, John passed the day-to-day managing of OakWood to his daughter, Patricia. He recalls that she said, “Now you can take Fridays off, Dad.”  Soon his other daughter, Angela, a Certified Management Accountant, will manage the company’s finances after honing her skills with an Alberta construction firm.

Both still in their 20s, Patricia and Angela Liptak spent summers working at OakWood as students and “that helped them get a good knowledge base,” says their dad. Before joining OakWood, Patricia worked in retail sales and management “to know for sure” if she wanted to work full time in the family firm, she recounts.

“Although it’s tough for any parent to let go, I looked at handing down the company as a privilege. I work with Patricia as a young educated lady, a professional, an equal,” he says.

In a male-dominated field, Patricia says she had to earn the respect and trust of employees and colleagues as part of the job and did so by showing she knows her business. “Dad made sure I learnt every little thing and I always did things myself before asking anyone else,” she explains.

So how is it working out now that Patricia is OakWood’s general manager and her dad is still on deck?  “It’s really nice to work with him every day. We come up with really good ideas collaborating with each other.” And he is starting to take week-long vacations, she adds.