It’s All in the Attitude
Gratton Construction started as a trucking company, established by Denis Gratton in 1981 in Sudbury, Ontario. With decades of knowledge and expertise, a reputation for reliability and great work ethic, the company has grown and evolved over the years to now encompass many specialized services within the construction field. Gratton Construction has always taken great pride in a job well done – no matter how the size.
Like many success stories, Gratton Construction’s has been peppered with its share of challenges along the way. “I bought my first dump truck – an old used truck – at the age of nineteen years. But, after a year and a half, I was out of business,” explains Founder and President Denis Gratton.
Then, in 1981, he bought a highway transport truck. “I primarily hauled lumber, steel, bricks. I would haul anything that fit on the flatbed truck,” he explains. That same year, however, Canada was hit by a recession and interest rates went up. “When you’re a young man with one truck and your payment becomes twenty-three percent interest on an open contract, you learn rather quickly how to pray,” says Gratton. “We only got through 1981-82 by gritting our teeth and creatively coming up with ways to make a dollar.”
By 1984, the company had doubled to two trucks. And in 1985, he took a gamble and purchased a major transport company – one that he had previously worked for. This gave him the ability to haul anything. “This major transport company of mine grew to thirty-five trailers and twenty-two trucks, but then, low and behold, deregulation came along and took away all our licenses, giving everyone the ability to do what we were doing.”
That was when he decided to revisit his construction background. “Even as a young boy, I had always been intrigued by construction: machinery, trucks, aggregate, sand, gravel, and so on. So, I started running a dual company. We were trucking, but I would personally go out in the field and take on (construction) jobs. We started with land filling, then access road building towards the forest industry, then small lagoons – any type of job that I could do, and I would run the jobs myself.”
By 1990, approximately three-quarters of the revenue was from trucking and one-quarter from construction. By 1995, it was split evenly; by 1998, revenue continued to be equally split, but Denis Gratton’s time was devoted specifically to construction. The company suffered another slow-down in the nineties. That’s when Gratton elected to shrink the trucking company, but keep the construction company going.
Having learned that the success of a business is dependent on good employees, Gratton hired key people; he also made some wise land purchases. “We secured some sand and gravel pits, and then we started to branch the company out,” explains Gratton. Completely self-taught, he found himself drawing from his past work experience as an operator for other contractors. That gave him the confidence to go out and bid on all types of jobs. “I would figure everything out on my own. No computer,” says Gratton.
The company continued to grow. In 2002, the company had approximately forty employees and was doing a significant amount of construction work, so the long-distance trucking section was officially shut down.
Gratton gives some credit for the success of his business to his wife for understanding and supporting his drive to succeed, but he also credits a great deal of his company’s success to his father. “My father gave me a good work ethic,” he explains. “He instilled in me the attitude that if you’re going to do a job, you need to do it properly. When you do a job for a customer, if you do it properly, everybody will hear about it slowly. But if you do it wrong, everyone will hear about it right away.”
In turn, Gratton has instilled that same work ethic in his own son, Clint. “It’s more important to take the time to do the job properly. Always make sure that when we leave (a work-site), the customer shakes our hand and is impressed by what we’ve done. No matter how big or small the job.” By the age of eighteen, Clint supervised his first million dollar job.
It’s that philosophy of taking pride and care in a job well-done that really makes Gratton Construction stand out. As time progressed, the company expanded into municipal and highway work, sewer and water, site development, crushing – anything at all. It bought gravel pits and opened quarries, but to this day, one thing has remained consistent. “We always make sure that at the end of the day, the customer is happy,” says Gratton.
Even though Gratton’s wife and two daughters all worked for Gratton Construction at one time or another, it is his son who stayed on. “All my children are very successful at what they do,” he says. “I believe personally that you have to love what you do. If you love what you do, you get up in the morning with a drive you cannot match. My son had a love for construction and doing it properly, so he elected to make this his career. The co-ability to reinvent ourselves in times of change and to diversify and perform any job is part of our success.”
Father and son now manage the company together. “Between both of us, we take on enough work that we eliminate about six major positions,” explains Gratton. “All business is funnelled through just the two of us. We make a great team. All our decisions are talked about beforehand and decided on together.”
Self-professed ‘old-school’, Gratton sets standards high when it comes to customer service. “If I say something, if I give my word, I would rather die than fail,” he explains. “I believe in quality of work and honesty. Even if we are low bidder and we’re doing a simple style work, we have to follow the specifications. There may be another way around those specifications, but the company policy is not to do anything but the specification or better. This sets us apart.”
Denis Gratton is rightfully proud of the business he has built. “To have lived through the downturns of the economy, to have actually started a business (not really knowing any better) in the worst recession, to have seen it through to what it is today, and to see all that has been accomplished, impresses me,” says Gratton. “Our accomplishments are more than I could have ever imagined.”
Gratton Construction’s goal is not to be the biggest, but to be the best at what it does. With the winning combination of experience and abilities, the company has evolved to perform all kinds of projects but has never wavered from its principles. “If we take on a project – regardless of what the project style is – and we (the company) decides that particular job will be done to a particular standard – no matter the size of the project – if we can do it, we will do it.” And this is what Gratton Construction customers have come to expect.
The company has built a great reputation. “When history backs up what you say, the proof is in the pudding. Anybody can promise anything at all, but if someone researches backwards and sees that the attitude of the company has remained consistent for forty years and not changed dramatically, that becomes a selling feature,” explains Gratton.
“When somebody realizes that the company will do what it says it will do and it won’t cut corners, they have a tendency to feel more comfortable dealing with it. In the private industry, a lot of our repeat business – whether it be in the mining field or the general construction field, or even working as a sub-trade – often opts to call us directly, before our competition even knows the job is available.”
Presently close to retirement, Denis Gratton looks both back with pride and forward with faith that the future will continue to shine bright for the company as his son carries on. “A hands-on person, myself, I feel confident in having someone (Clint) take over, who actually has had his boots on the ground and performed all the different tasks within the company.” This attitude and the belief that honesty and commitment are what matters most in this business, is without a doubt, Gratton Construction’s greatest strength.