By Ted McIntyre

Winner :  Amsted Design-Build

Community Work key to Second Straight Reno Crown

In the competitive world of the Ontario renovation industry, it’s hard to separate yourself from the competition, but Amsted Design-Build is becoming accustomed to the distinction. The Ottawa-based firm made it back-to-back Ontario Renovator of the Year awards at this year’s OHBA Awards of Distinction—its fourth overall triumph in the category. 

Part of the honour owes to the Amsted’s business success despite trying circumstances. Amid the early throes of COVID-19, Amsted saw its business leads dwindle to between one and three a week. Six weeks later, they were averaging more than 30—an all-time high for the company.

Amsted credits that remarkable turnaround to significant investment of time and money in all social media, as well as catching people at home. Its messaging did not consist of sales pitches but rather empathetic discussions, offers of assistance, information, project profiles and staff updates. The entire company got involved in posting, from fun handwashing videos to ‘COVID-hair’ photos and home projects. 

In the year prior to the pandemic, Amsted maintained its record pace of leads, with over 700 connections in 2019. Its most effective marketing tool? Word of mouth—by far—with 86% of projects coming from referrals or past clients. 

But the company’s greatest success stories came without financial profit. With the onset of the pandemic, Amsted began to supply PPE to needy hospitals in the community from its own stock. It also emailed its past clients, offering support while they were housebound. “As an essential service, we helped many people with small repairs that made staying home more comfortable,” notes Amsted President Steve Barkhouse, who also worked with City officials and the mayor to identify safe working practices and ensure permit releases.

From the neighbourhood level to internationally-, Amsted participated in weekly zoom calls, sharing best practices and support for the renovation industry.

Within their own offices, Barkhouse and company creatively adjusted budgets to keep staff employed and supported, while maintaining its marketing investment.

“At a time when everything was falling apart, our company was strong; for its community, industry and team,” relates Barkhouse. “We tried to lead in safe site conditions for all; supporting, as an essential worker, those in need, lifting those in our network and beyond with our positive and honest messaging and working tirelessly to support our family—work/home—making sure they were financially, mentally and physically safe.”

Caring for those who live and work in the Ottawa region is old hat for Amsted. Its community outreach includes a budget of more than $40,000 annually to sponsor and support more than 35 local initiatives, including Hospice Care Ottawa, The Ottawa Hospital, the Youth Services Bureau and community neighbourhood groups. For the past 15 years, its staff and families have volunteered a weekend, providing maintenance and upgrades to Camp Smitty Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. Barkhouse also provides paid vacation days upon volunteering one of his own, and his company continues to recognize employees with 5- to 30-year milestone anniversaries—their names engraved on paver stones lining its walkway. 

As for personal contributions to the industry, Barkhouse has been an active member of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association for the past 30 years, twice serving as GOHBA president, while his company boasts 50 cumulative years of team members on the GOHBA board of directors.

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