‘Doing it Right’ for Windows, Doors, and Roofs in Ontario Since 1956
AM Group of Companies
The AM Group of Companies, proud member of the Ontario Home Builders Association, provides solutions for windows and doors, for residential and commercial roofing, for eavestroughs, soffit, fascia, and siding, and for insulation. The company proves that when you do a good job, success follows. We spoke with President and CEO Roger Haviland, to learn how the company has grown while preserving the spirit and ethics of his grandfather, Harold Pearce, who founded the company.
“I remember him well,” says Haviland. “He was probably the most influential guy in my life and one of the most brilliant-minded men I have ever met. He had great values and a strong work ethic. If I didn’t do my job properly, he let me know and everyone else who worked for him – know that you don’t cut corners. Either you do it right or you don’t do it at all.”
Pearce was a Scottish-born World War II veteran and aerospace engineer who, Haviland says, “was commissioned, along with three dozen of the best from Britain” to come to Canada in 1953 to design the AVRO Arrow, an airplane light-years ahead of its time, but which was later scrapped by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. “My grandfather was a brilliant man, but overqualified. Imagine, at that time, being an aerospace engineer applying for jobs in Canada. The jobs just weren’t there.”
Ever practical, as well as brilliant, Pearce followed the adage “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade” – the lemonade in this case being the AM Group, a contracting company he began 63 years ago. It specialized in the external components of home-building – such as the roof, eavestroughs, soffits and fascia.
Early bird business
At one time, the whole family worked together, including Pearce’s son Gordon, son-in-law Brian Haviland, and his grandson Roger Haviland, now company President, who began at the age of 12 during summer break. Roger recalls how it was a case of ‘Come on, it’s 6 a.m. and you’re going to work! So that is how I got my work ethic. When the other kids were playing street hockey I was working and getting a paycheque.”
Fittingly, the company name Pearce chose, AM, is a reference to his belief in the extra productivity of early morning hours, and Haviland turned that belief into a tradition. “You get up, grab a coffee, get on the job, and by nine a.m. you’ve got a lot done. All my guys are ready to work at seven a.m., tools out of the truck, ladders up, and ready to roll.”
After Harold Pearce retired, his son and son-in-law ran the company together for a time, then Brian Haviland left, and Gordon Pearce took over as president. “But unfortunately, in the mid-90s my Uncle Gord fell off a roof and passed away, while I was working on it with him. I was a young man in my mid-20s and the company had 10 employees, but we had to go on. My wife, Melanie, a brilliant girl, was in university studying business and accounting, but when my uncle passed away, I said to her, somehow the company has to go on. We took it over in 1995 with Melanie as CFO, and we grew it from where it was to where it is today.”
Today the AM Group of Companies maintains five office locations in Guelph, Owen Sound, Collingwood, Gravenhurst and London; employs over 200; and has over 350,000 happy customers, maintaining meticulous records, dating back to 1995, of the work done for each one of them. The company is a member in good standing of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, which is the provincial regulatory board, and maintains membership in the chambers of commerce of each of the communities where it has an office.
AM has its own proprietary private-label line of doors and windows, which are “the best energy-efficient windows on the market. They are triple pane and the fibre glass on them is 25 percent thicker than other brands,” says Haviland.
“We are also the only Canadian Platinum Preferred Contractor with Owens Corning Roofing and insulation products. It’s a pretty amazing gift for us and an honour and it’s something we worked hard for, not something we asked for. There are about 100 companies in the U.S. that are Platinum preferred contractors, but there’s never been one in Canada until they asked us two years ago after choosing us from over a thousand companies they investigated in Canada,” he says.
“I think it was based on our longevity, and our reputation for doing things right that came from my grandfather. I have actually walked away from customers who wanted us to cut corners, and I’ve said, you know what, we’re not the right contractor for you. We may not be the cheapest company, but we do aim to be the best.”
Doing it right
“Last year,” he continues, “we did a project for a gentleman who hired us to do his house and his boathouse, on an island on Lake Muskoka, a region where many successful executives maintain four- to five-million-dollar homes and fly in from Toronto or New York on private planes. It’s the Canadian version of the Hamptons,” he says.
“So, our guys showed up early in the morning with our barge to start re-roofing the boathouse and he came across the lake on a float plane and watched them work. They did a really nice job and he came to the dock, introduced himself, and said ‘I’d like to meet your company owner.’ My guys were worried and asked, ‘is everything okay?’ and he said, ‘absolutely.’ He made them hamburgers and thanked them for an amazing job and for cleaning up and leaving his property immaculate,” he shares.
“Then he called me and said, ‘I want to meet you.’ So I went up, thinking there really must be something wrong, but instead he shook my hand and said, ‘I just wanted to meet the man who runs this company. Everyone talks a good game, but you are everything you said you would be. I own a major corporation and I have thousands of employees and I want to let you know that everyone I know would be happy to have you work for them,’” says Haviland.
“Then he said, ‘Hop in my boat. There’s something I want to show you.’ So we went around the island and there was what was probably another five-million-dollar home and a million-and-a -half boathouse, and floating on the water were the shingles that had been pulled off the boathouse roof belonging to that property owner, all left behind by another contractor.”
‘This,’ his client told Haviland, ‘was done by one of your competitors who wouldn’t come back and clean up after he was paid, and now the lake, which is a fish habitat, and where my grandchildren swim, is filled with asphalt shingles.’ Dropping asphalt shingles into a lake and leaving them is a huge environmental problem, says Haviland, and it becomes the property owner’s responsibility to hire a dive team to clean it up.
In contrast, AM roofers work from a 34-foot barge which they can pull right up to the boat house and all the materials stay on the barge, not on the lawn, while the shingles coming off the roof go directly onto the barge and are taken to be recycled as asphalt paving.
“So the homeowner around the other side of the island hired on price alone and got what he paid for. I will never be the cheapest because we give customers a full warranty. I pay my guys well, I train them properly and I give them benefits.” The company’s employees are covered by the Worker’s Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) and the firm maintains liability insurance which protects the customer.
“If you get a quote that is half the price of one from a legitimate contractor, you know there has to be something wrong. They are cutting corners, or they are not paying their WSIB or liability insurance.”
Good corporate citizens
In 2011, Haviland’s son Hunter, then age six, and who has type 1 juvenile diabetes, fell sick on a boat trip with an e-coli infection. “Out of the 50 people, the one who could afford to get an e-coli infection was not Hunter,” his father says, recalling how they rushed him from the Wiarton Hospital to Owen Sound, where the doctors said ‘it didn’t look good’ and from there by ambulance in the middle of the night to the London Children’s Hospital. He spent a couple of months in the hospital and I slept by his bed. And every morning there was a team of doctors coming in to see him. We prayed a lot and cried a lot because we didn’t know if he would make it.”
When Hunter was finally released, Haviland, filled with gratitude, determined to do something to assist the hospital, which treats seriously ill children from all across Canada. “We didn’t have a London office then, but we decided to open a branch there in 2012, and my GM in Guelph moved there to run it. I decided we would give the hospital $1000 a month for life and once we really got going, I would give one percent of my net from the company as my way of saying thank you,” he says.
“It’s a well-known business fact that in the first two or three years, new businesses or new locations don’t do well and many don’t survive. By the fourth year the London office still wasn’t doing well “and they said to me, ‘Listen Rog, it’s tough, we’re going into winter and we’re not making a whole lot of money. Do we still have to pay the hospital?’ And I said Absolutely! I made that commitment and if I have to do it personally it will be paid.”
But then business at the London office finally turned the corner and in 2018, the London Children’s Hospital received over $100,000 from the AM Group. In addition, support was provided to the Ronald McDonald House, a place where parents can stay while their children are hospitalized.
“I take from the community and that is why I have to give back,” he says. Haviland goes on to talk about the Salmon Spectacular in Owen Sound, the largest salmon derby in North America, run by volunteers, including his own family and 40 employees, who last year cooked for 5,000, mainly elderly people. “I get choked up when I look at photos of my family and employees cooking at it,” he shares.
“I think if you are ethical, do things right, tell the truth, are straight with people and run a honest business, you will do well in life and that is what I teach my children (teenagers Hunter, Sean and Rebecca, and daughter Shannon, now in her 20s, who is a nurse). I am blessed, I have a great family, and a great family company. I walk in the office and I hug everyone, and I tell them ‘I love you guys. Thanks for supporting me because without you we wouldn’t have a company.’”