The road to growth: a civil contractor’s journey
How does one start and grow a civil contracting business? Metric shares their insight.
It started out as a team of two holding meetings in coffee shops.
Ten years later, Metric has grown into a civil contractor with multiple offices that performs work across B.C. and beyond.
The company founders, Marlon Hall and Chris Veenstra attribute Metric’s success to the strength of its team and its use of technology. While success doesn’t happen in a day, Metric began sowing the seeds early on.
“When we started, it was just Marlon and I,” said Veenstra. “There was no equipment, no projects on the books, no employees. We really just hit the ground to market Metric, ourselves and the services we could offer.”
As the first few projects came in, Metric purchased its first excavator and hired a handful of workers. Hall spent much of his time supervising sites while Veenstra did estimating and project management.
“Within the first two years, we grew to the point where we had three to four crews doing bigger jobs,” said Veenstra. “We grew organically by completing projects, getting repeat clients and consistently doing quality work right the first time.”
Doing it right the first time
Metric’s first project came in January 2013 from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Hall, Veenstra and one labourer worked to complete a fuel storage upgrade for the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.
“Over the next few months, we were awarded other civil projects working for general contractors that helped cement our reputation and capabilities. As we continued to execute and complete each new project, it gave us the confidence to bid on larger projects with varied scopes similar to what Marlon and I had executed at previous civil companies,” said Veenstra.
Another significant for Metric was c̓əsqənelə Elementary School in Maple Ridge. The $8 million civil scope for the new school project had extremely tight timelines that required calculated coordination. Work included large cut-and-fills, retaining walls, utilities, roadworks, a municipal sanitary pump station and more.
“It was a big team effort,” said Veenstra. “For significant portions of the project, we had up to three separate crews working in different areas to complete it on time to meet the required school opening date.”
Metric also was part of the massive effort to repair and clear roads on Highway 1 following historic rainfall and landslides in 2021.
“That was a lot of teamwork as logistics were changing by the hour for us and our partners, but we helped get it done safely and efficiently,” said Veenstra.
Cultivating a high quality team
Building a quality team and supporting them has been instrumental in Metric’s success and part of its values since the beginning.
“We treat our employees the way that we would want to be treated,” Veenstra said. “Marlon and I were both employees of civil companies before Metric, so we understand what it takes to keep employees happy. If employees are happy, they will reflect that in the work they do, and with the clients, which will foster an environment where we can all grow together, as a company but as individuals as well.”
Metric’s multi-faceted workforce comes from a variety of backgrounds and they are encouraged to advance their careers at the company.
“We have been successful at retaining employees by the work that we do, having a robust safety program, providing competitive compensation and benefits, creating an atmosphere of teamwork and offering opportunities to grow,” said Veenstra.
Metric has had employees advance from labourer to pipelayer, foreman and supervisor roles. Others have shifted from field work into the office. Retaining employees that are motivated, understand Metric’s systems and who can implement the company’s systems and strategies has been critical. Hall and Veenstra recognize that employee development will remain a vital component of their growth into the future with today’s labour shortage within the industry.
“The reason we can do what we do is because of the quality of our people,” said Veenstra. “We hire and retain great employees and then allow them to thrive and grow.”
Technology has also helped the company’s streamlined team get work across the finish line. From day one, Metric was set up so technology could support its growth. The company started by purchasing the critical tools needed for success; 3D cut and fill software for estimating, as well as GPS rovers so it could conduct its own layout and grade control rather than relying on surveyors. This allowed their team to be more efficient and have a high degree of quality control. Metric has since added 3D GPS units to its equipment in the field. They continue to utilize 3D cut-and-fill takeoff software to ensure accurate take-offs, estimates and construction in the field.
Metric has digitized as much of its business as possible. Cloud-based systems are used for accounting and payroll which allows information and decisions to be made from anywhere. The company’s COR-certified health and safety system also utilizes the cloud to go above and beyond what is required.
“We have always wanted to get away from paper as early as possible,” said Veenstra. “It makes us more efficient, you aren’t losing information and you can track stats to see where improvements can be made.”
Metric was also careful to choose technology that was scalable from the start, so as the company grew, the team wouldn’t have to constantly be switching over to different systems.
Known in the industry and community
In addition to their success as a company, Metric’s founders have received dual and individual recognition for their achievements. In 2019, Hall and Veenstra were awarded Young Entrepreneur(s) of the year by the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce. In 2021, Veenstra was recognized as one of the Top 40 under 40 In Construction by On-Site Magazine / Site Partners. In 2022, Hall was honoured as one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs by being selected as a Quantum Shift Alumni at the Ivey Academy. This prestigious program recognizes up to 50 of the country’s top leaders who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and innovation in their respective fields.
Part of Metric’s core values are giving back to the communities that they work in, both in time and in a financial capacity. Hall is currently a VP of the Board at the Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce and Veenstra is currently the VP of Chilliwack Community Services, one of Chilliwack’s oldest and largest non-profits, as well as VP of Chilliwack Bowl’s Hope, which focuses on feeding approximately 900 children in 24 schools every day.
Expanding beyond the coast
Metric conducted light civil work in the Fraser Valley and the Metro Vancouver area for most of its first two and a half years. But in 2015, they began to widen their net by taking on a project in Saskatchewan and a two-year project on Vancouver Island.
Now, Metric not only has offices in Chilliwack and Kelowna, but it has formed a variety of partnerships to carry out work in B.C.’s north, particularly with First Nations groups.
For its next ten years, Metric will continue with civil works in the lower mainland, but they are focusing on significant growth executing both light and heavy civil projects in the Western Canadian region.
“In the first year of Metric, if you told us that after 10 years, we would be the size we are with the number of employees we have executing work in all these areas, I would not have expected that,” said Veenstra. “But now that we are here and we have strong team members around us, we are poised for growth as we move forward.”
Veenstra encouraged anyone interested in working with Metric to visit their website.
–Sponsored by Metric Civil