October 18, 2005
Passion, innovation lead to business success
by Jacqueline Louie
for the Calgary Herald
The only thing growing as fast as Spindle, Stairs & Railings is the mythology surrounding owner Kevin Halliday.
The story has been retold in Alberta Venture, Calgary Inc., Business in Calgary, and the Calgary Herald, among others: how Halliday left the family business in 1999 and, with no capital or inventory, began his business by visiting home construction sites, taking measurements and calling the new home-owners from the site on his cell phone with quotes for their staircases,
Six years later the company has about 50 employees on its payroll, including contractors and sub-contractors, and is planning to expand into the U.S market.
“Basically, six years ago I started from nothing,” Halliday says. "Percentage-wise we're growing by leaps and bounds.
In June, Profit Magazine, which listed Spindle, Stairs & Railings among Canada's 100 fastest growing companies, put the company's revenue growth between 1999 and 2004 at 727 percent. Last year Alberta Venture rated the company in Alberta and reported an average revenue increase of about 80 percent each year, while holding down operating costs.
Recognized by a number of organizations for his success – one of three finalists last year for the Chamber of Commerce small business of the year award and one of Calgary Inc.’s top 40 under 40 – Halliday demonstrates textbook characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. He subscribes to the “hire people smarter than you” philosophy and then lets them do their jobs, inspires them with his own passion for the business, fosters innovation and plans ahead to manage growth.
As an example, Halliday bought a building in the Foothills Industrial Park a year in advance on the calculation that the company would need to expand just about the time the space became available. He hit the bull’s eye with his timeline, he said. In June, just when the company needed more space it moved all its departments, from manufacturing to showroom, into a 25,000-sq.-ft. space – a far cry from sorting spindles in his dining room during the early days.
In just the same way, he’s now planning to lead the company into the U.S.
“In one year,” he says decisively. “By (next) July.”
By that time, he’ll have new product lines “in the stair end” and his management team will be ready for the move, he says.
“We’ll do it one step at a time – it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be good.”
Careful human-resource planning is one of his strengths. He’s known for hiring people for positions before they exist “knowing that eventually we will have that position,” and is now looking ahead to the next generation of employees.
“The baby-boomers are getting older and we’re so specialized,” he says. An initial plan to provide a training program with SAIT fell through, so “I’ve done the training in –house”, from an estimating and manufacturing to installation.
He’s unconcerned that some of the trainees may leave to work elsewhere when they’re finished the program; company turnover, he says, is low.
“I’ve got great people. My management team (of six) is incredible. If we weren’t making this product, I’d still want the same people.
“I’m a visionary…I’ve never made a circular staircase in my life.”
He lays out his vision for his team and encourages them to be innovative in their areas if expertise.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t think like the competition, think of something we’ve never done’”, Halliday says, and goes on to repeat a joke he’d heard that still impresses him: “They guy who invented the wheel was an idiot; the guy who invented the other three was a genius.”
His approach has paid off. A new way of designing and installing circular staircases won him a SAM award in 2003 for best new idea, not to mention lower costs and higher sales. Marketing approaches such as an interactive website in which people can choose their spindles, and construction refinements, such as a mortising system with square holes and a new process for installers, are other examples.
Most important, though, is a passion for success, he says.
“I tell future entrepreneurs… don’t give yourself a way out. Remember you’re writing this book for yourself. You have to be 100 percent focused (so) that nothing can stop you.”
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.