Com­pet­i­tive Spirit Com­mit­ted to Cus­tomer Sat­is­fac­tion

Asian Journal - - Front Page -

Sur­rey: Bruce Kehler is the Pres­i­dent of Canex Build­ing Sup­plies Ltd., a long es­tab­lished busi­ness based in Chilli­wack, do­ing busi­ness, pri­mar­ily with the pro­fes­sional builders and de­vel­op­ers through­out the Fraser Val­ley and Lower Main­land, and be­yond, in­clud­ing Whistler, Pow­ell River and Prince Ge­orge. From it’s found­ing in 1983, by Chilli­wack brothers Bert and Gerry Van den Brink, the com­pany fo­cused on both the retail and con­trac­tor mar­kets and has ac­tively pur­sued and built its clien­tele pri­mar­ily for the pro­fes­sional builders, con­trac­tors and de­vel­op­ers in the res­i­den­tial, com­mer­cial and agri­cul­tural sec­tors. When Kehler bought the busi­ness from the Ven den Brink brothers in Jan­uary of 1994, it was do­ing $12 to $15 mil­lion per year, with fewer than 20 em­ploy­ees. When he fin­ished this past year, the com­pany had grown to just over $60 mil­lion in sales with 80 to 100 em­ploy­ees. The growth is no sur­prise given the his­tory of its pres­i­dent, sup­ported by his strong part­ners, his man­age­ment team who are the neph­ews of the founders. “I am the guy at the front end,” says Kehler, “but I can’t do it with­out my part­ners, the Bruce van den Brink, Brian Wierks and orig­i­nally Barry van den Brink, who sadly has passed away. Brian DeVisser, also a fam­ily mem­ber has now come aboard.

They have the strong fam­ily and lo­cal con­nec­tions, and long ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing grown up in the busi­ness.”

Busi­ness­man at Seven!

If any­one had a des­tiny in busi­ness, it was Bruce Kehler who started seed­ing his ca­reer earn­ing his own money at the age of seven in Camp­bell River. “I re­mem­ber an ad in the Win­nipeg Free Press Weekly mag­a­zine, where you could buy pack­ages of gar­den seeds, veg­etable seeds and flow­ers, for maybe $20, which rep­re­sented $50 worth of prod­uct if you sold it all. I bor­rowed the money from my mother, and when the pack­age ar­rived, I went around the neigh­bour­hood sell­ing my car­rot seeds, cu­cum­ber seeds and so on un­til I’d re­cov­ered enough money to pay my mother off. The re­main­ing seeds were the least de­sir­able but that’s where all my profit was. So I had to fig­ure out how to turn the bal­ance of the in­ven­tory, into cash. So that’s where I started buy­ing and sell­ing.” The old­est of four chil­dren he was al­ways work­ing for the neigh­bours, weed­ing their gar­dens, cut­ting their grass and look­ing to pro­vide what­ever ser­vices he could. By age thir­teen, he was walk­ing up and down the roads with a gun­ny­sack pick­ing up pop and beer bot­tles. “At fif­teen I got an af­ter school and Satur­day job at a build­ing sup­ply dealer in Camp­bell River,” said Kehler, “I kept the store clean, kept the mould­ing bins or­ga­nized and took out the garbage.” But not know­ing any ex­pec­ta­tions or lim­its, Bruce would hus­tle through ev­ery­thing in an hour, out of a two-hour shift. He’d then be ask­ing the man­ager for more work. “When he re­al­ized I could han­dle more,” said Kehler, “he gave me the op­por­tu­nity to price the in-com­ing freight, which had to be done man­u­ally in­clud­ing cal­cu­lat­ing all the mark-ups and mar­gins, adding price la­bels and cost codes. Pretty soon I was pric­ing and putting all of the in­com­ing prod­uct on the shelves and ul­ti­mately, order­ing. Lum­ber yards in those days were pretty ba­sic and I re­mem­ber one man­ager who wanted to ex­pand his prod­uct lines. Paint was first. There was a com­pany in Vic­to­ria called Em­press Paints, and the store man­ager told me to take a cor­ner of the store and make a paint depart­ment out of it.” With­out the lux­ury of the in­ter­net, this is the late six­ties, Kehler learned what he could and set up the paint depart­ment. Must have worked be­cause the next re­quest was to set up a plumb­ing depart­ment, then elec­tri­cal, then light­ing fix­tures. “I didn’t know what to do,” he said, “so I made friends with the trades peo­ple, and asked them to show me how the pieces worked, then ad­vise me on their needs and what prod­ucts I should sell, how they worked, and how to in­stall them. I was then able to be a re­source to my cus­tomers.” By grade eleven, Kehler was able to com­press his school day into the morn­ing, and still go to work full time. When he grad­u­ated, he was of­fered the as­sis­tant man­ager’s job, and, as he puts it, some­how mud­dled through. But feel­ing the need to stretch him­self, he looked at other op­por­tu­ni­ties, away. He took a job at the Over­waitea in Squamish in 1972, but af­ter nine months in, he re­al­ized it wasn’t for him and went to work at the pull mill in Wood­fi­bre. Dur­ing his off­shift time he started work­ing for a shift-mate build­ing houses in Lions Bay and Squamish, and ul­ti­mately found him­self jug­gling five part time jobs in­clud­ing work­ing as a sheet metal in­staller and run­ning a jan­i­to­rial ser­vice on the side. “I fi­nally fig­ur­ing out that I could make as much at Garibaldi Build­ing Sup­plies as I could work­ing my five part time jobs,” said Kehler, “so in 1974 I’m back in the build­ing sup­ply busi­ness, mov­ing up the lad­der, was do­ing well when four years later, the owner died. I told his part­ner I wanted the job of man­ag­ing the com­pany, and he took a chance and gave me the job.” By 1980 Kehler was Ju­nior Part­ner, by 1985 he owned half of the com­pany, set up a group of build­ing sup­ply com­pa­nies in Lil­looet and Prince Ge­orge and at 38 years old owned half of four stores in Squamish, Whistler, Lil­looet and Prince Ge­orge, a car­pet store in PG called the Rug Bug, two sawmills AJ For­est Prod­ucts and Beck Sawmills in Squamish, had a mo­tor car­rier li­cense and was run­ning three su­per trains. “I had 250 em­ploy­ees, owned half the com­pa­nies, and I’d started with noth­ing. It was at that point, my part­ners bought me out and I re­tired at 38. In Squamish, I was a part­ner in de­vel­op­ing Garibaldi High­lands and Glacierview Es­tates. Peo­ple ask how I say that I’m too dumb to know that I can’t. If I found some­thing I truly be­lieved in I was al­ways able to find the money. If I had a good idea I could find money. In 1990, I did $24 mil­lion in sales in all the busi­ness in­ter­ests I held, had 150 em­ploy­ees, Fast for­ward to 2015, the to­tal sales of all com­pa­nies I’m in­volved in is over $250 mil­lion, with over 300 em­ploy­ees. You’re al­ways run­ning on adrenalin and fear. I’ve been through three or four ma­jor down­turns in the econ­omy, there were times that I owed more than my liq­uid­ity, quit­ting wasn’t an op­tion.”

Canex Build­ing Sup­plies to­day

Kehlor says the agri­cul­ture com­mu­nity is a big sup­porter of Canex, and Chilli­wack is grow­ing, “and we’re grow­ing our busi­ness into the whole val­ley and be­yond, with par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the var­i­ous eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties who are strongly in to de­vel­op­ment and con­struc­tion.” “Our stores are de­signed for the builder, from foun­da­tion to fin­ish,” he says. “If you speak to some­one about a pro­ject in the morn­ing, later in the day you can talk with the same per­son, who will have the knowl­edge of the ear­lier con­sul­ta­tion. We have con­ti­nu­ity in the staff that will serve the builder.” Kehlor de­scribes the western part of the val­ley as lim­it­ing in its growth be­cause of the moun­tains, the ocean and the US bor­der. “The only growth di­rec­tion is east, with the free­way and Port Mann bridge it’s eas­ier to com­mute into the city from here. We are chang­ing as our mar­ket is chang­ing.” “My style and think­ing is that I see no gen­der and I see no colour. Twenty years ago, Canex was serv­ing the pri­mar­ily Dutch com­mu­nity. Now we’ve got many dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties on staff, and at least one-third of my work­force is fe­male. Chang­ing that bal­ance was some­thing I em­barked on twenty years ago. My main mis­sion now is to spread our name in the western part of the val­ley. The In­dian, Chi­nese, Korean and Pak­istani com­mu­ni­ties in­clude many of the re­gion’s big­gest de­vel­op­ers, con­trac­tors and trades peo­ple. My time is now ded­i­cated to de­vel­op­ing con­tacts build­ing those con­tacts in th­ese com­mu­ni­ties.

Pho­tos: Ray Hud­son

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