West Coast contractor lays out 45 years of growth
RWC Systems works on some of the largest, most complex projects in all of Canada.
RWC workers pose for a team photo. – RWC Systems
When it was started by drywall taper Garth Robertson in a B.C. shed, Robertson Wall & Ceilings did one residential job at a time.
45 years later it has grown into so much more.
The contracting company has gone on to work on some of the largest, most complex projects in the country: Mills Memorial Hospital, Royal Columbian Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital, The Stack in Vancouver, Amazon’s Vancouver headquarters, LNG Canada, Oakridge Centre and the list goes on.
Garth’s sons, Rod and Larry, joined the wall and ceiling business in the early 2000s and have had a front row seat to the company’s growth. When the two came on board, Rod was an apprentice framer and Larry was an apprentice taper and finisher.
“We did the hard yards and whatever we had to do to make the company run,” said Larry.
When the olympics were announced for Vancouver, the Robertsons saw a major opportunity to go for the gold.
“We decided, all three of us, that we were going to do as much as we can and take on as much Olympic work as we could,” said Rod. “We got a lot of random requests and we didn’t say ‘no’ to any of them.”
This strategy brought in large projects, and the size and scope of the work the company could take on grew.
“It’s been perseverance, hard work, but also not saying ‘no’ to opportunities,” said Larry. “To this day, if a customer has an out-of-the-box request, we look at it, analyze it, and if it makes sense, we do it.”
Rod explained that the company has kept the same attitude and continues to push for work outside what they are used to.
“We had some opportunities come up in Kitimat, big opportunities, and we looked at it, weighed the risk, analyzed it and went for it. Now we’ve opened up a whole new revenue stream outside of Metro Vancouver. It’s pushing the comfort zone,” he said.
During the past 45 years, construction itself has changed. Projects have increased in complexity and digital tools are required by sophisticated general contractors. Rather than resist, the company has risen to the challenge. In 2015 a general contractor on Nordstrom’s Vancouver location pushed the company to use tablets.
“Nordstroms was a complex project, and what really impressed us was how they forced tech on us but we’ve never looked back,” said Larry.
Rod explained that the company now employs full-time BIM experts, has gone paperless for many of their processes, prefabricates difficult gypsum work and even uses GPS-assisted digital tools for layout.
“Vancouver has become a real world class city in the past 15 years and the things designers are making are quite unique,” said Larry. “Sometimes they don’t make sense and it adds a layer of complexity that we have embraced as a company. Somebody has to build these buildings and customers are expecting you to step up to the plate.”
The brothers noted that the company has grown from a small family business into a large modern contractor with an experienced team. To represent this shift, the company recently launched a new name and new brand: RWC Systems.
“The company is a lot bigger than it used to be,” said Larry. “The Robertson name helped propel us to where we are but the company, but there are a lot of names in the business that aren’t Robertson. It brings fresh energy into the business and it’s a great, modern logo that represents quality and strength.”
Rod emphasized the immense value of RWC’s team. The company is careful about who they pick to join, are willing to promote from within and have no problem hiring from outside RWC’s niche of walls and ceilings. He noted that one foreman has been with the company for 17 years and now his two children also work for the company – one in the office as a coordinator and one in the field as a lead hand foreman.
“When it comes to our longevity, a huge part of it is our staff,” said Rod. “Some of them have been with us for 25 years. “We do a lot of promoting from within. We train people up, promote them, and they often stay with us. This has helped us build a formidable force in the industry.”
The pair believe in their team so much that the eventual plan for RWC will be to transfer the reins over to them. But in the meantime, RWC is full speed ahead building.
“Looking ahead, we really want to be even more of a leader in the market we serve,” said Larry. “And also, potentially spreading to other parts of B.C. and Western Canada.”