By Tracy Hanes

There was a whole lot of ‘Minto magic’ at work in 2014. “We have a saying at the office that we’re making Minto magic, and it has really become a battle cry for us,” says Amanda Wilson Watkins, vice-president of marketing and sales. She says the term refers to what the company can do to keep at the forefront of the market and how it can best serve its customers.

Minto had a record-breaking year, capped off with being named Builder of the Year by the Ontario Home Builders’ Association for the second time since 2012. The prestigious industry award emphasizes outstanding professionalism and integrity within the business, industry and community and is the culmination of an incredible run of success for Minto, a family-run business started in 1955 by Ottawa brothers Louis, Gilbert, Irving and Lorry Greenberg.

Since then, it has grown into an integrated real estate development, construction and management company, with operations in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Florida. It has built more than 70,000 new homes, has more than 17,000 residential rental homes and apartments to manage, and has a commercial portfolio of more than 3 million square feet of office, retail and industrial space.

Minto won the OHBA Green Builder of the Year award in 2008, 2010 and 2011 for consistently delivering environmentally friendly building designs, leading-edge waste management strategies, a strong internal culture and support of the sustainable building industry.

“We are really happy to have won the Builder of the Year two out of three years.  It’s amazing and we are really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” says Daniel Belanger, senior VP, GTA. “We never accept the status quo. A lot of our ideas come from our customers and we listen to them. We do a lot of focus groups to make sure we’re providing the homes and features they are looking for. We focus on innovation and the projects we create really focus on livability, sustainability and design.”

Validation of that philosophy comes in the form of multiple successes for Minto in 2014. Its Minto Longbranch project along Toronto’s Lakeshore West marked the most successful launch in the company’s history, with more than 350 sales and 8,000 registrants in less than a year. It was a resounding endorsement for Minto’s decision to reintroduce affordability to that neighbourhood.

Another brisk-selling development, Minto Kingmeadow in North Oshawa, was honoured as the Community of the Year by the Durham Region Home Builders Association, and new releases were ramped up to keep up with demand. Minto Orchard Park was another success, selling 262 homes in less than one year.

“From a sales and marketing perspective, it’s been the best year Minto’s ever had,” says Watkins Wilson. “We’ve sold out several communities twice as quickly as some competitors. We are definitely providing value to the customers and we’ve gained a reputation for customer service innovation.

“It starts with keeping your promises and customers are really savvy to that. Our projects have consistently outperformed the market because Minto has a reputation for a strong commitment to innovation and design, best-in-class building practices and customer service.”

Three years ago, Minto combined its high-rise, mid-rise and low-rise divisions into one, and that’s been a key competitive advantage, says Watkins Wilson. “We are able to draw things that work well across the business. We are seeing many things from all segments, not only construction, but customer service, sales and marketing practices that are not unique to one type of product. To me, it makes a lot of sense. You figure out what you’re doing best and replicate it across the organization.”

The builder’s achievements in 2014 went beyond sales. Minto775 was the first building to achieve Toronto Green Standards Tier 2, a voluntary certification that accounts for reducing light pollution and the urban heat island effect present in artificial landscapes. (The heat island effect occurs when urban areas with impermeable surfaces become warmer than surrounding areas, forming an ‘island’ of higher temperatures.)

Minto’s 180 Kent was the first building of its size to achieve LEED Platinum certification, while also securing the most LEED certifications of any building in Canada. Its record for sustainable building is the reason Minto was chosen to build five zero energy homes as part of Natural Resource Canada’s ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative (ecoEII).

“We love being involved in these types of innovations,” says Belanger, as it helps the company gain the knowledge and access to sustainable products that it can help bring to the mass market and add to its own homes in the future.

“Sustainability is part of Minto’s DNA,” continues Belanger, whose company does extensive testing and research to ensure it is offering features buyers will want. While ‘green’ features used to be a bit of a difficult sell, “it’s incredible how much customers have changed,” Belanger says. “They are a lot more educated when it comes to the environment and it’s something that really resonates with them.”

Watkins Wilson says Minto considers how it’s going to explain various sustainable features to a buyer. “You have to be able to explain it in a practical way that will help them understand what their return on investment will be. We try to put things in lay terms and recently put together a really fantastic video on green building practices.”

Belanger says Minto believes a community is more than bricks and mortar, and when it plans a site, it considers how the roads and homes are oriented, what the natural features are, and if there is convenient access to parks, transportation and shopping. It also includes a mix of product types in many of its projects that appeal to a diverse group of buyers. Many purchasers have been multi-generational, such as older parents who purchased in the same community as their grown children.

Minto’s notion of ‘community’ extends to supporting charitable causes, adds Belanger. “Our employees’ values are very much aligned with that of the owners and the leadership at Minto. We give to more than 200 charities and the employees are proud of that. They get days off to volunteer for charity. We are actively involved in the UNICEF campaign and our employees are really engaged and provide most of the great ideas.”

Minto corporate citizenship is based on five key pillars: children, education, health, the arts and the environment. Even CEO Michael Waters is involved—he raised $63,000 for cancer research in the Ride the Rideau 100-km cycle last year.