Bringing Small Business Values to Big Construction

Pro-Can Construction Group

Pro-Can Construction Group is a lean and agile general contractor serving metro Vancouver. The company punches above its weight, bringing home substantial commercial and institutional projects in the face of major competition.

Beyond general construction, the Burnaby, B.C. company provides a range of construction management services including pre-construction budgeting and planning, administrative post-construction tasks, and building deconstruction.

Established in 1985, Pro-Can started out in the residential market doing home renovations. Founders Ben Perez and Tony Alonso quickly spotted much more opportunity in the construction market, and within a year had shifted focus to commercial projects.

Maintaining that direction, they built a portfolio and a customer base in the sector until 2007 when Pro-Can expanded its resume once again with institutional projects.

A new generation
In 2009, when the company had grown significantly in the metro Vancouver region, the company’s leadership transitioned. Ben Perez’s son, Leo Perez, and Tony Alonso’s niece, Sara Pou, became the majority partners that year on the retirement of their parents.

Under the new leadership the company has continued to grow. Today, Pro-Can employs 35 full-time people and focuses on large-scale construction, seeking projects typically in the range of five to twenty million dollars.

For projects of this scale, Pro-Can is significantly smaller than many of the companies it bids against. Still, it has been able to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace by focusing on a small-business, value-centred approach.

Three building blocks
Pro-Can is built on a foundation of three core values: sustainability, service, and quality.

Sustainability is a key component of the company’s approach to construction and the majority of its projects are certified under LEED or Passive House standards. These certifications demonstrate that a company adheres to sustainable practices, and they are relatively common in modern construction, but Pro-Can has taken its commitment to sustainability much further.

From leveraging the latest in green construction practices to driving fuel-efficient vehicles and reducing waste even on the administrative side, Pro-Can is continually working to improve the sustainability of its operation.

The second of the company’s core values is service, and Pro-Can prides itself on its ability to be a partner and a key asset to customers in this sense.

The company’s leadership believe that there are three aspects of a construction project, of which only two can be true at any one time. A project can be built well, built quickly, and built at a low cost, but not all three at once. For instance, if a customer needs a project delivered quickly, there will be a need for more workers on site which means they’ll have to compromise on cost.

And if the clients are more interested in keeping the cost down, the project might take longer. Each project comes with its own unique set of requirements, and Pro-Can is committed to understanding the budget and the schedule by working closely with the customer to be aware of their needs.

Nevertheless, in the end, the company will always provide a product that fits with the third of its core values: quality.

Since the early 2000s, Pro-Can has worked on a wide range of projects in the public sector. These projects tend to have not only extremely strict budgetary and schedule requirements, but also continual quality inspections. Pro-Can’s capacity to maintain long-standing relationships with public sector clients is a clear demonstration of its commitment to using the best quality materials and the highest standard of quality in its workmanship.

Family values hold fast
The construction industry in metro Vancouver is fast-moving and aggressively competitive. And it follows that because of the amount of work the company gets through each year, everyone has a fairly heavy workload at any given time.

Nevertheless, Pro-Can, as a company owned and operated by a family, has a strongly family-oriented culture, with the well-being of all employees a high priority. The pace can be exciting – even stressful – but Pro-Can does its best to encourage a work-life balance for its entire staff.

Quite naturally, a significant portion of the workforce is young people starting families, and the company actively encourages them to prioritize quality time at home.

This approach helps to reduce stress within the workforce and minimize the risk of burnout. The result is an energetic staff that is healthy, happy, and constantly putting out their best for the customer on every job.

Beyond work-life balance, Pro-Can also hosts fruitful team-building events every year to refresh the staff and build collaboration among all the disciplines and personalities that make for a vibrant company.

Major projects
In January of last year, the company was hired on for a major elementary school project in Surrey, British Columbia. Maddaugh Elementary is a 55,000 square-foot structure on a seven-acre property. Because of the size of the lot, Pro-Can was responsible for a large part of the preparatory administrative work in the preconstruction phase. Fortunately, preconstruction services are a key part of the Pro-Can’s expertise.

The building concept itself called for a range of construction techniques including concrete tilt-up components and glulam structures. Concrete tilt-up is where a concrete slab is formed flat and then tilted up into a vertical position, and glulam structures are made out of glued, laminated timber beams. This project is currently underway and is to be completed in the fall of 2020.

Another project, nearly at completion, is a 110,000 square-foot student union building for Simon Fraser University. With a budget of $55 million, this will be a five-storey open-concept building with a large central staircase. Social spaces exist throughout the building including lounges and study areas, with flexible seating, charging stations, and more. This project is slated to be completed in April of this year.

Quicker and better
As building innovations and new technologies percolate through the construction industry, Pro-can is quick to adapt. The company has been implementing a range of new software systems for managing administrative tasks with top efficiency.

This includes state-of-the-art software for such essentials as subcontractor invitation management, accounting, project management, and daily site reports. As the industry in general trends tentatively toward more software-based management tools, Pro-Can’s quick and efficient implementation of these technologies is setting it apart and making it more competitive.

Going big
Pro-Can is modestly sized for an industry tending to gigantism, but with its success on larger scale projects, the company often bids against much bigger contractors.

“We’re a smaller boutique firm that does larger, more interesting projects, but we live happily in that world and want to stay there for at least the next little bit. I think it sets us apart because we’re still kind of a mom-and-pop shop but we’re going up against bigger contractors that do hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of work,” says Leo Perez.

Over the last few years, the company has grown significantly, doubling in size between 2016 and 2018. Things could have been even better but for a major issue in doing business last year – labour shortages and difficulties in hiring.

This year, things seem to be looking up. In the last six months, Pro-Can has detected a measurable increase in people looking for work.

When the company bid the Maddaugh Elementary school project, it was only against two or three other companies in each division. A year later, bidding on a very similar project in the same neighbourhood, that number rose to seven bidders per division. According to Perez, this is a positive indicator for the potential of the future labour market.

Going forward, Pro-Can expects to maintain its strong current growth trajectory without any set plans for major expansions. “We’re actively looking for work and could probably take on at least two more large projects. We’re happy in our zone right now and we’re going to stay here for a couple of years at least,” says Perez.

From Here to There

Throughout history, humans have been limited by simple logistics – how to get from here to there? For thousands of years, venturing out of one’s village required braving wild and rugged terrain. Travel was inherently dangerous. Roads were rough and rudimentary, if there were any at all.

September 25, 2020, 6:29 PM EDT