Design-build part of Orion’s ‘secret sauce’ for success

The company has experienced massive growth in just a few short years.

Orion Construction is growing – a lot. 

In the past three years they have seen revenue growth of more than 12,000 per cent. This earned the full-service contractor for light industrial and commercial developments the number one spot on the Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies list in 2022.

What’s in the secret sauce? Orion says a lot of its success has to do with mastering the design-build model. They explained that the model is an efficient in-house system where all team members collaboratively work together to design and build the project. This helps to manage cost uncertainty and provide efficient delivery to clients.

Laying the foundation

“Design-build has been the foundation of Orion,” said Cameron Archer, Orion’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s where we started and the model we felt would be most supportive to the industry. There are a lot of things that it provides that more traditional models don’t.”

Archer explained that the model removes much of the conflict that can arise between parties in more traditional models where owners, managers, consultants and contractors are separated. 

“What design-build does is it brings a single source of accountability to a complex process. With that single source of accountability, it becomes incredibly collaborative and offers a very team-based approach,” said Archer. “It puts everyone on the same page to get a desired result.”

He noted that this team-based approach means faster designs and higher quality drawings. This all leads to fewer change orders.  

Orion says building a collaborative team is key to making design-build work. – Orion

Early engagement 

Archer explained that another huge advantage of design-build is the inclusion of construction and development experts from the very beginning. This is particularly important to succeed in the highly complex and competitive Lower Mainland industrial market. 

“We are in a situation where the land product available is becoming increasingly more complex to navigate,” he said, noting that this includes sites with waterways, wetlands, difficult topography and environmental concerns. 

He explained that having the whole team on board from the beginning allows good data to be gathered and more informed decisions to be made on what solution to implement for a site. 

“We are really having to think outside the box for solutions that better support projects,” said Archer. 

One of the early conversations that happens is around a risk matrix that can be forecasted for a project. For Orion and its market, the risk matrix often includes long lead times on materials due to supply chain constraints. Mitigating that means working closely with clients so there is a high level of trust. 

“When they are seeing it work right in front of them, it allows us to push the envelope even further,” he said.

This trust means Orion has been able to purchase materials earlier than usual to ensure the overall health of a project.

Putting the pieces together

The design-build approach paid off in spades during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Orion was working at the Pacific Corporate centre, a large format project that anchors the north east corner of the Campbell Heights business park in Surrey. 

With intense pressure on supply chains, the design-build approach enabled the team to purchase steel, roofing materials, drywall and mechanical units in advance to store near the site. 

“That gave us the opportunity to ensure that our schedule and budgets were going to be met in such an uncertain time,” said Archer. 

In September of last year, years of effort was put into perspective when the company found out they had topped the Globe and Mail’s list of fastest growing companies for 2022. 

“It was an amazing feeling being recognized for a tremendous amount of work that had been put in four years prior,” said Archer. “We worked diligently and stayed focused through COVID – the most uncertain of times. The foundation of Orion is staying focused and accountable to what we say and what we can deliver and I believe those are the two main reasons for that success.”

Pacific Corporate Centre
Trust helped Orion built successful projects like Pacific Corporate Centre during the height of COVID-19. – Orion

Assembling a successful team

Archer said these values have been adopted by Orion’s staff. He noted that this is critical for a successful design-build approach. 

“There must be a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration to be successful in a design-build process,” he said. “Because collaboration is so important, all team members must work together to reach a collective project goal. Everyone has to have the ability to do their best work without relying on gatekeepers for information and pool expertise instead. This allows us to priortize meeting those project goals.”

Archer explained that putting together the right team has been important from the beginning of Orion and few have left the company. 

“We have incredible employee retention,” he said. “In five years we haven’t been faced with the loss of a project manager mid-stream on a project which can be so detrimental. You have to have a team of experts who enjoy what they do and that’s what we facilitate here.”

A backhoe operator works at an Orion jobsite. – Orion


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