Written By: Lisa Bell | Photography: Cory Bruyea
This year marks the 28th anniversary of Orangeville Building Supply, one of the few family owned businesses remaining in the Orangeville area. Local owners, the Niezen family could not be prouder. The family is quick to credit their devoted customers and dedicated staff for their continued success. Crucial to the business’s longevity is also the top-notch customer service that cannot be matched by big box competitors. A trip to the store will confirm that customer loyalty likely stems from long-time, knowledgeable, friendly staff that prioritizes superior customer service. I suspect that credit must also be shared with owner Bert’s passion for the industry and love for his customers. The Niezen’s pride themselves on looking after the customer, which often means going above and beyond expectations to fulfill customer needs.
Bert’s business partner and son, Chris adds that the business is based on follow-through; doing what you say you will do in the timeframe you promised the customer. This is what propels repeat business. The model seems to be working, despite relying primarily on word of mouth for business; the store has expanded into the Guelph market and remains a destination for area contractors and homeowners.
The senior Niezen was not always an industry expert; his career began as a result of dissatisfaction while working on his family’s farm, prompting him to seek employment at a local lumber yard. Bert Niezen was a hard worker and a quick learner, earning a mere dollar twenty-five per hour to support his young bride and the couple’s plans for a family. When he discovered that the lumber yard where he worked was closing as a result of pending bankruptcy, he decided to buy the business despite his wife’s initial reservations.
It was somewhat of a rocky start; several suppliers were hesitant to extend credit to the young entrepreneur, and others felt that he was obliged to pay his successor’s debts. Bert worked hard to establish new relationships with suppliers and to reassure previous suppliers that he was not affiliated with the old company. Three months later with a new business name and model under his belt, he began to win the respect of industry reps and started to build a customer base.
Longevity often coincides with an ability to adapt to market trends, in this case the growth of the Orangeville area. Despite a population surge, the Niezen’s are quick to point out that expansion into town homes has not meant a surge of business. They explain that homeowners with smaller yards often do not undertake expansive yard or renovation projects that fuel this industry.
Growth for the company may be attributed partially to Niezen’s son joining him in the business. Chris Niezen not only oversees operations but has been largely responsible for implementing technological advances that not only sped up day to day operations, but allows customers to access supplier catalogues and pricing directly from the company’s website.
Perhaps the largest benefit of a smaller business model, explains Chris, is the lack of red tape and often lengthy approval process within larger companies that delay product arrivals. Smaller companies have fewer processing steps and often enjoy direct relationships with suppliers; this is translated into a quicker turnaround time for the client.
Customer demographics are changing as well; television networks such as HGTV have resulted in a DIY movement, causing homeowners to forego contractors and undertake renovation projects on their own. This is where the expertise of the Niezen family’s staff is edging out the competition. Not only will they source hard to find products for customers but they pride themselves on speciality items that the customer may not even know exist.
For the Niezen’s the price is never the bottom line, they carry superior quality products from reputable suppliers, offering value to customers. An affiliation with Timbermart, a large buying group has allowed the small business to flex buying power in a market, where quantity often overrides quality and continue to generate profit.
Chris Niezen has fond memories of spending time with his brothers at the business gaining first hand industry knowledge watching his dad grow the company. The trend of family cohesiveness continues today; Chris’s teenage daughter began working part-time at the store last year. Not only is she learning about the business, but she is guiding the future of the business by generating social media content.
As Bert Niezen prepares for retirement, he brushes aside questions about leisure time. He briefly acknowledges that he has several incomplete home renovation projects that he looks forward to completing, but he is also quick to explain that he is not prepared to completely step away from the family business entirely. He sees himself in a customer service role; continuing his legacy of integrity, value and making people happy.