Horizon Builders Ltd.: Growing Gradually in Manitoba and Loving Every Minute

Running a successful construction company didn’t come naturally to Rod Lindenberg, president and founder of Manitoba's Horizon Builders Ltd. (HBL). “My father really encouraged me to start my own company,” says Lindenberg. “So I took out a loan, my father chipped in some money, and my cousin chipped in some money, then I lost $5,000 my first year and I just about quit right there.”

While an initial loss was tough to handle, it didn’t stop Lindenberg. “It was devastating to start off that way, but it gave me some real motivation to start figuring things out. I had to learn things the hard way, learn every lesson twice, and make every mistake three times,” he laughs. “I can’t emphasize enough how lucky I have been to have had such good people help me along. I founded this company in 1979 and worked really hard, but I also had a lot of mentors, whether they knew it or not, who showed me and encouraged me to succeed. I have some guys who have been working with me for over 25 years.”

Now, in 2011, HBL is celebrating its 31st year in business and is one of the most active general contracting companies in southwestern Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan. The company has its headquarters in Brandon, augmented by a new satellite office in Dauphin.

“We started working in Dauphin because a local second-generation construction company owner decided he wanted to pursue something else. He recognized that there would be the potential for a company to come in and fill the gap he would leave and I suspect that he was instrumental in helping us get our first project in Dauphin. He was a real prince of a guy and it was incredible to have someone supporting us that way,” states Lindenberg. “Three years ago I wouldn’t have even believed we would be working in Dauphin, but, over the last couple of years we have had one of our project managers, Adam Snow, move out there with his family, so we have really committed to the area.”

With a generally proactive attitude throughout, HBL tries to inspire all those that work with the company to want them to succeed. HBL is committed to establishing long-term relationships through a customer satisfaction-based approach. Being dedicated to providing the best products and services to home or business has helped the company to thrive in many ways.
Humble and Humbling Beginnings

HBL got its start in residential building like many other general contracting companies, but was quick to move into the commercial arena. “Brandon, Manitoba, is really a small prairie town and you have to do whatever you can to keep a crew busy and make a year of business,” explains Lindenberg. “We were just in the right place at the right time and started doing some small-scale commercial projects in our second or third year of business. Though we still have a finger in the residential pie, about 90 percent or more of our business is for commercial clients.”

Ultimately, the firm’s transition into commercial work proved much smoother for Lindenberg than his own transition to a more managerial role. “It was in 1986 that our bank manager finally said, ‘Put the tools down and manage the company,’” says Lindenberg. “It was an incredibly difficult thing for me to do, because I was used to getting out there with my crew and physically building. It took about a year for me to get comfortable in the office, but I realized that our bank manager was right. There is an incredible amount of organization and management that needs to happen that is ‘non job-site.’ This is one of our continuing challenges as we grow.”

Lindenberg received help from Kelvin Orr, a project manager and journeyman carpenter by trade who joined HBL in 2000, transitioned to be an estimator for the firm and eventually bought in as co-owner. “Just having another person who is 110-percent qualified and really knows how to build a building has been immensely helpful, and in the first year Kelvin came into the office we doubled our volume,” explains Lindenberg. ”In the fiscal year of 2010 we once again doubled our volume. This was due in part to being more aggressive in our bidding, and partly just to the way some of the projects unfolded in the season. Two years ago, we added Lori Mauthe to our staff. She brought her CET and LEED experience to Kelvin and me. Once again, with qualified people, we do a better job on projects.”

After over 30 years in business, HBL is in a great position. However, Lindenberg remains cautious about becoming overly confident. “We won’t double it again next year, that’s for sure. My nephew put it best when he said, ‘Oh, you’re starting to swim with the big fish.’ He’s right on the one hand, because we have started to feel like a little bit bigger fish and we have the nerve to bid some of the bigger projects around this area, but we’re still earning our stripes. We’re only just becoming comfortable bidding projects in the $10 million to $15 million range and we are actively trying to position ourselves as a small company on the prairie that can build things.”

Developing Lasting Relationships

The firm may be now swimming with bigger fish, but Lindenberg knows that the only reason it’s gotten that far is by maintaining a small-business mindset regarding close customer relationships. One project the firm owes to such a tactic is a recently completed dealership for the Murray Auto Group in Brandon.

“I have been fortunate enough to work for the Murray family for over 25 years now and it was a real honour for me to have Doug Murray put his confidence in me and invite us to build this dealership,” says Lindenberg. The dealership marks Murray Auto Group’s 22nd dealership, and their largest dealership in Manitoba. HBL will be renovating the existing Murray Chev building for the new Chrysler dealership that has been acquired by Murray. The new Murray GM dealership will have space for over 100 employees. “The building is over 58,000 square feet and it was very exciting to see them move in this past March,” says Lindenberg.

HBL has recently seen its design-build operation expand. “We recently completed a design-build project for Assiniboine Community College, building a new early childhood learning centre for the Parkland campus in Dauphin. We worked with Peter Hargraves from Sputnik Architects in Winnipeg on the design and it has turned out to be a really state-of-the-art, leading edge daycare facility.”

The rising popularity of environmentally sustainable products across Canada has benefited HBL. The firm recently completed a large addition of the main distribution facility for Norwex – a company that imports eco-friendly cleaning products from Norway. “We started on their first addition, but the company is growing by leaps and bounds so our hope is to please them and possibly be invited to begin developing phase two and phase three of their additions,” says Lindenberg. “Kelvin was instrumental in developing our relationship with this client and the building has turned out really beautiful. It is a lot more than just a steel box. The designers that we worked with for this project, Integrity Design, have taken care to really dress it up and it looks great. It is definitely one of the design-build projects we are most proud of.”

Growing Gradually

Though the company is continuing to gradually expand its geographical area, Lindenberg aims to avoid an explosive growth pattern. HBL has successfully bid on projects in Thompson (under construction now) and Grandview (a new community hall complete). However, the firm has stopped short of moving into Winnipeg.

“It’s a different kettle of fish there,” says Lindenberg. “As a company, we are kind of growing up. We realized that if we want to increase our volume, we have to travel and our staff is more than happy to travel, but we are not the size of EllisDon or PCL or Bird Construction, and never will be. They are the giants of the industry. Plus, I know there are lots of other Winnipeg companies that are ‘nibbling at their heels.’ We are small potatoes by Winnipeg standards. For our company, I think it makes sense to expand where we can, bid what we are comfortable with, and be as aggressive as need be. It is important to take care of our own backyard first.”

The firm is well-diversified, and is always looking to add capabilities to its skill set in order to be more attractive to potential customers. “We have a couple of subsidiary companies, including a window and door company and a millwork company,” explains Lindenberg.

The millwork company, Horizon Woodwork Ltd. (HWL), is owned and managed by Rod’s brother, Murray Lindenberg. HWL has been supplying cabinetry and millwork to HBL for more than 20 years. HWL has developed its own client base and bids its own work all the time, but HBL always puts them front and centre wherever possible. HWL is one of the larger millwork shops in southwest Manitoba. Horizon Glass Ltd. was recently incorporated. This company is managed by Tom Northam and Matt Andrushak. Once again, starting in residential (retro fit windows and a great line of sunrooms), this company has diversified over quite a few years and is now becoming a force with commercial aluminum and glass, automatic entrance systems.

“Kelvin and I will continue to grow the company to the best of our ability,” says Lindenberg. “After a lot of years in this business, it is still exciting for me to come to work every day. I sincerely still love what I do. There is no better feeling than to see a building start from an idea, develop to blueprints, and then see it actually get built. That is what we do!”

Whether providing PVC vinyl windows, automatic entrance systems and building patio sun rooms with Horizon Glass Ltd., or providing excellent cabinetry with Horizon Woodwork Ltd., or managing an entire concept-to-completion project, the different divisions of the Horizon Group are committed to providing the most value-engineered, cost-saving solutions for clients. The company does its best to deliver on time and with the utmost concern to safety and appearance. HBL is a COR-certified company, the leading edge of safety practises. Utilizing new technologies to allow every opportunity to satisfy clients in varied markets, Horizon Builders Ltd. strives to be a competitive, innovative contractor of choice throughout its region.