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Many changes, but same focus

A general rule of thumb for any business is that the customer is always right – but that’s one rule Bert Frey has never subscribed to in 40 years in the trade.

“Our staff has far more experience than the customer, and although we respect what the customers expect, we will always stand by what our employees think,” he said, noting it’s the company’s job to get things right.

From a small basement-run operation started in 1970, brothers Bert (left) and Mahlon Frey have turned Frey Building Contractors into a business on a much wider scale. They're celebrating the company's 40th anniversary this week.

Frey Building Contractors has designed everything from hog farms to custom homes all around the world. On Friday, the firm officially celebrated its 40th year in the community with an open house and BBQ at the Hawkesville Community Centre.

With his brother Mahlon and brother-in-law, the late Orlan Cauman, Bert started the company on Mar. 31, 1970. In the four decades since, they’ve come a long way.

They began as sub-contractors for the now-defunct Beaver Lumber Co. in the basement of Bert’s Hawkesville home.

“By the end of the first year, I think we had five employees,” he recalled, laughing.

The company has grown to include 51 employees who work out in the field, and 12 full-time office staff. The basement has been replaced by 14,000 square feet of office and shop space, as well as a one-acre storage yard for trucks and heavy equipment.

Many entrepreneurs start their own business because they like the idea of setting their own hours, and that’s exactly what drew Frey to the idea.

“Back around 1970, the government passed a law stating that any time over 45 hours had to pay time-and-a-half,” he explained. But when his employer said the new law as impractical and unaffordable, and wouldn’t allow anyone to work overtime, Frey set out on his own.

“I was just married, I had a family, and felt that I could not support my family on just a 45-hour week – I was used to working 60 hours plus, and so that’s really why we started. I knew as a sub-contractor I could set my own hours.”

He never finished public school, but went back to night school and took classes in accounting and drafting. The three men built their company through trial-and-error, and by learning from their mistakes along the way.

“Oh, good heavens, I could write a book! I made all the mistakes there are to make. I really didn’t have any formal training on business, I went to college and got my carpenter’s papers, but that’s really the extent of my formal education.”

About 90 per cent of their work still occurs within an hour’s drive of their office, but the award-winning company has also done construction work as far away as California, Jamaica and the Bahamas. Their reputation is one of reliability, courtesy and professionalism.

Frey said that one of the biggest reasons for their continued success is that the company remains involved in a project every step of the way, from the initial design and excavation, to the final finishing touches. This approach allows the company to maintain efficiency, and to produce a better product in the end.

“When the project is complete the superintendant can say with pride, ‘I did that whole project’ as opposed to having multiple people coming in, each one sort of doing their own thing and then moving on,” he said.

With so much success in the past 40 years, what does the future hold for Frey Building Contractors?

“We’ve done a lot of development in the last five to seven years to create a company that could run indefinitely into the future. I wanted to create opportunities to continue, and so in the last five years we’ve worked hard on reorganizing the company. The company is now governed by a board of directors, and opened up for all employees to buy shares.”

Bert has removed himself from the daily operations of the business, saying that he was there in name only: “I’m pretty much out of the game.”

But others aren’t so quick to dismiss his role within the company.

“Bert has taken more of an advisory role within the management team,” explained Ryan Martin, operations manager at Frey. “Not necessarily involved day-to-day, but … we try to meet a couple times a year.”

To celebrate 40 years in the community, the company has decided to forgo their annual company golf tournament and instead donate to a very worthy cause.

“We’ve asked our suppliers to consider donating with us in the Homes for Haiti project,” said Martin.

It’s just another way in which Frey Building Contractors continues to build on its 40-year legacy in the community.

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