Stairway To Heaven
"Former radio DJ finds success with stair business."
by Marty Hope, Calgary Herald - March 21, 2009
"Never worked the tools," says Kevin Halliday. "Nope, never built a stair in my life."
Yet Halliday, the effervescent president of Spindle, Stairs and Railings (SSR), continues to march along to his own drummer, doing things his way and making a success of his business.
In another life, he used to be a radio DJ before moving into selling airtime. He loves to talk, has a way with people and is not the least bit shy about what he has accomplished -- and what he still wants to accomplish.
The 10-year-old Calgary company is getting serious about its expansion plans.
Already in Saskatoon, SSR will also have locations in Edmonton and Winnipeg in the next few months, with a long-term vision to be coast to coast within three to five years.
"Along the way, there will be some mergers and acquisitions, no doubt," says Halliday, who has nothing more than a high school diploma but has plenty of business acumen.
Oh sure, the stair-building business is in his blood. His family operates Spindle Factory in Edmonton, but Halliday never got involved in the day-to-day stuff.
Halliday is a salesman, the idea guy. He knew he wasn't going to actually build things -- that wasn't him -- so he "hired the right people to do it."
His business card gives a pretty good indication of his off -the-wall personality. Where most people have a corporate title below their name, Halliday has "just a nice guy."
His e-mail address is www.stairwaytokevin.ca.He doesn't even look like a young entrepreneur. No suit for this long-haired, 40-year-old husband and father of two.
He's more likely to show up in a Hawaiian-style flowered shirt, jeans and loafers.
But don't let all of this fool you.
The DJ persona shares space with a serious business operator who is going all out to become a dominant player in manufacturing not only spindles, stairs and railings, but also flooring, mouldings, baseboards, casings, doors and some furniture.
And not only manufacturing, but painting, lacquering, and installation. Oh yeah, and there is the company lumber mill in eastern Ontario that supplies the raw product.
It's all what he calls "the process."
From the day he made is first sale out of his half-ton in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in 1999, the process has been cooking.
Now 10 years later, it's still forefront in Halliday's business mind.
"It's all about the process -- the fewer touch points, the less expensive products will be," he explains during a tour of plant in southeast Calgary. "We want to be a one-stop shop."
From timber stands in the United States and Eastern Canada, the lumber -- including walnut, cherry and white maple -- is moved to the Ontario mill, where it is cut into workable-sized boards.
It is shipped in containers to the Quonset huts in the SSR yard, where it is stored until needed to manufacture whatever is required.
Inside the plant, laser readers assist workers in further trimming, planing, laminating, turning and sanding the lumber in the most efficient manner possible to reduce waste to almost nil.
In another area of the plant, curved stairway stringers are being curved around a wall of studs to get the desire twist, and across the way is what Halliday calls the R and D area.
"Everything is about people," he says. "If you have to right people and the right process, you can do anything -- and if you control the labour, you control the market."
One of his builder customers designs locker-style storage for the mudrooms in his homes.
The SSR team is currently working on a model that would see them design the same system, but in a way that will save the builder money -- and make it all look good.
"What we are doing is standardizing customization," says Halliday. "Take out the middleman; save money."
The still evolving process introduced by SSR to the woodworking industry is just one of more than a dozen new ideas, products and concepts a team of judges from the Canadian Home Builders' Association-Calgary Region had to consider in determining which would win a SAM (Sales and Marketing) Award for best in class at the annual awards gala in April.
From that day 10 years ago when he cornered a contractor and told him he could supply what he needed at a cheaper price, Halliday has not slowed.
Ironically, within a month, SSR will be doing all the supply and install work for The Home Depot, says Halliday.
Just recently, Spindle, Stairs and Railings won the Alberta Marketing Award of Distinction presented by the Alberta Chamber of Commerce at its annual Alberta Business Awards of Distinction event.
The award was for the company's Build-A-Stair application on the www.greatstairs.com website. This tool allows customers to make their selections for their staircase on-line and get a quote within 24 hours. "This changed the way customers interacted with their builder and with us, saving them hours of time," says Halliday.
But the bread-and-butter for SSR is the housebuilding industry.
Halliday's team has attracted a stable of recognized builders that includes Morrison Homes, Jayman MasterBuilt, Stepper Homes, Trico Homes, Lifestyle Homes, Albi Homes, Landmark Homes, Maillot Homes, and the newest player on the block -- Torontobased Mattamy Homes.
What the slowdown in construction has done is allow Halliday the opportunity to bring his builder clients up to speed with his process.
He estimates he can save his clients money by providing all the necessary services, thereby eliminating other sub-contractors.
"When things were really hopping, builders were too busy to listen," he says.
"But now with the slower market, I can get my point across about the process. I can save them money and when you're a large builder in this kind of market, you want to save money."
Speaking of money, Halliday continues to put money back into the business, which will be used in SSR expansion plans and to continue to fine-tune the process.
While his business grows, Halliday knows the "nice guy" tag is probably not shared by those whose business levels are being affected by him.
"If they don't like me, I'm doing something right," he says.
Spindle, Stairs & Railings is the largest stair manufacturer that produces and supplies its own wood in addition to custom milling, manufacturing and installing. Spindle, Stairs & Railings owns it's own tree farm and trains installers through its inhouse school.