Axiom brothers dig deep into surface protection market
The Brierley brothers have grown Axiom Surface Protection into a Canada-wide operation.
When one of the three Brierley brothers was laid off from his job at a drywall and prefabrication contractor in Calgary, it got them all thinking about making a major career move together.
“Things slowed down and I ended up getting laid off,” said Gaius. “Did a bit of work here and there to make ends meet. I started off doing a few days selling floor protection and it wasn’t too long before we decided to do it properly full time.”
Gaius and his brothers, Sam and Shane, had moved to Canada from the UK as kids in 2003. All had found work in various parts of the construction sector. But with Gaius looking for new work, they all decided to take a stab at starting their own business.
“We knew the industry and that there was a demand for protecting surfaces,” said Sam. “When Gaius went out he just would drop in on sites in Calgary and just started talking to people, asking what they needed. When we got our first order we had to fill out the forms in Excel to invoice.”
They celebrated by going out to lunch and rushed to officially set up their company. Each had their specialty. Sam would focus on sales and marketing, Gaius would handle operations and Shane would be in charge of administration and finance.
Their background in the UK also came in handy. The brothers’ travels had exposed them to a wider range of products that were common overseas, but hardly known in Canada. Their goal was to provide the industry with new solutions.
“It was hard work,” said Sam. “We didn’t know if it would get big and or if it would be a hard slog.”
The traditional surface protection product used for most jobsites was a paper-based product called Ram Board. While the Brierleys explained that this product was perfect for some situations, it struggled in others.
For longer jobs with high traffic, the paper-based boards would break down. It also doesn’t perform well if it gets wet and tends to curl up. Axiom introduced thick fluted plastic sheets that were more suitable for these jobs. They lay flatter, absorb impact and can easily be cleaned. Rather than the one size fits all approach, Axiom has sought to provide builders with the right tool for the job.
“Instead of just floor protection, we have a complete range of options,” said Sam. “If you come to us with your needs, how long the job is, what you are protecting, what you are protecting it from, we can almost value engineer a solution.”
Their approach from the beginning was this: Save construction professionals time and money, and make them look good.
They initially tracked sales and customers in large binders full of tabs but soon they would have to get more sophisticated. In 2017 they grew by 250 per cent. The year after their size more than doubled again. It was then that they decided it was time to start making their own products.
“We figured we needed to show we could create our specs with manufacturers of products, hold that quality and create a brand people could trust,” said Gaius.
They started with their Armour Surface Protect brand and the first product was polyethylene backed and UV stabilized Armour Tape.
“From there we kept exploring different products and branding,” said Gaius. “It was a big learning curve over the years, especially dealing with manufacturers overseas. We had a lot of challenges over the years with quality assurance. You think you got something nailed and then a container comes in with stuff you didn’t expect. Everytime that has happened, we have owned it and gone on to perfect the process.”
Their specifications have become more exact and their product orders are pre-inspected before they leave the factory. This process was a major challenge initially when they had to invest a lot up front in a large product order when the sales weren’t there yet. Now their products have been used on massive projects, including the Calgary Cancer Centre, CIBC Square, Roger Centre renovations, Royal Inland Hospital and The Residences at TELUS Sky.
When it comes to working as brothers, the trio says they have been quick to find out what their individual strengths are and stay in those lanes. They also attribute their success to their team.
“We take pride in building a good team that enjoys working here everyday, and they build the company as well,” said Sam.
The past few years have seen major expansion. So far they have four distribution centres across the country and are currently eying a fifth one in Quebec. They already have a bilingual account manager on their team that is working to grow the business in that region.
And while they produce their own version of paper-based floor protection similar to Ram Board in addition to many other products, the team is continually innovating new ones.
“We have a product roadmap of innovations that comes directly from the challenges we get from clients on their sites,” said Gaius. “We flag those and if there is enough of a need, we try to figure out a solution.”
The team is even planning expansion beyond Canada.
“Looking to the future, we are eyeing up the U.S.,” said Sam. “We sell a small amount there but the focus has been on Canada. The intent in the future is to take it across North America.”
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