Terlin Construction Ltd.
In 1989 Terry McLaughlin quit his job and founded Terlin Construction Ltd. (Terlin) as the first general contractor to focus exclusively on commercial retail construction. Over the next two decades, Terlin evolved and developed as a leader and innovator in full service interior construction for commercial, institutional and health care clients.
“Over 20 years ago, the Ottawa area retail industry had a problem,” McLaughlin explains. “The retail industry was doing well and expanding. The problem was that while there was sufficient retail space, it was not suited to the tenant’s purpose – it was a box. Specialized fit-up or interior design and construction services were sorely needed. There was no shortage of construction companies in the area, but they were focused on general construction.”
McLaughlin seized the opportunity. He saw the need for specialized interior construction services to provide unique and high-end retail spaces on the schedule that a competitive retail sector demanded, which Terlin has since proudly delivered.
“Our niche is retail interiors for national chains,” he explains. “We do really detailed work. There are a lot of great contractors who build buildings, but our work is more detailed. The stores we do in shopping centers are real creations, it’s an art. The building is a box and we make it more than that.”
McLaughlin is proud of his team, as well as Terlin’s high-quality service, but at the same time he admits that technology plays a role in the company’s success. “The technology in these interior spaces is incredible,” he says. “There are different woods, fabrics, glass, LED displays and various plastic products that are available that really bring these stores together.”
According to McLaughlin, the company is a step above its competitors. “What sets us apart is our service level,” he continues. “I’m sure a lot of people say that; however, I think we have proven it. We have long-term relationships with major national clients. We have been working with Shoppers Drug Mart for 20 years as a premium contractor in eastern Ontario and throughout Canada.”
Terlin operates out of a recently expanded location in Ottawa with an office and shop on the premises. “We have our own millwork manufacturing,” says McLaughlin. “We have around 12 people working in the shop, 12 in the office and 20 to 30 people on-site. On any given day we work with 100 to 150 additional people through our subcontractors. That makes us responsible for roughly 200 people every day spread between 10 or so sites.”
The Terlin team performs rough carpentry, woodworking and fixtures in-house. “With fixture assembly, it depends on the store, but most of what we do is custom work, not off-the-shelf products, that takes experience to install properly,” McLaughlin explains. “A majority of the money on any job goes to mechanical and electrical work, which we sub out. They use a lot of expensive equipment, unlike paying your painters, which is a less expensive part of the contract.”
While McLaughlin and the management team focus on client relationships, the rest of the staff builds and maintains relationships with subcontractors. “On both ends, the relationship is important,” McLaughlin explains. “If the subs get busy, you want to be the person they want to work for. Paying our bills on time and treating our subs properly enables us to maintain a strong working relationship. It is really no different on the other end. You have to be there when the clients need you and anticipate problems that might come up, which may cause stress, whether logistical or financial. It is simple stuff, but some people get busy, miss the boat and lose customers.”
A Growing Portfolio
McLaughlin says the most exciting part of his work is winning new contracts. “I get involved with estimating,” he elaborates. “We do a final check before all tender goes out. I love a challenge. That’s the fun part; the rewarding part is having a happy customer. We want our clients to feel that they have received better service and better quality workmanship than they expected. Of course, we expect reasonable margins, but making people happy is the most important part of our work.”
It is evident that McLaughlin enjoys what he has created at Terlin. “It’s exciting for us to get together with a client who is building their first, second or third store,” he continues. “It’s a whole learning experience. We rely on repeat business and very often we will build store 27, which is exactly the same as the last 26.”
With real heart and passion behind every project, the company has amassed an impressive portfolio. Terlin’s recent projects include work at the Canadian Tire Centre Suites, which involved the construction and renovation of dozens of luxury suites. Regionally, Terlin has worked with the Senate Club, Sensations, Bert’s Bar and the Bell Zone.
A collection of loyal customers throughout the region and across the country is the company’s ace in the hole. Working with long-standing client, Shoppers Drug Mart, Terlin has performed complete interior construction for the opening of dozens of new stores.
For Via Rail, Terlin renovated a 50-year-old train terminal, which involved intricately designed millwork, granite tops, glass skirts and perforated metal screens that required precision manufacturing and installation. “Ticket sales kiosks, seating, lounge areas and every public and staff washroom were replaced or renovated,” McLaughlin explains. “This was all while the busy terminal provided uninterrupted rail service to thousands of passengers.”
Surviving a Changing Market
Terlin is on an upward trend after a rough year. “Until July 2013, the market had been slow,” McLaughlin explains. “The previous year was the worst in 23 years. Our biggest concern is keeping the volume consistent and keeping the company sustainable, while keeping the people employed. During the downturn, we spent money keeping people employed. Without them, this company is nothing. Fortunately, the future looks promising. Terlin is on track for the best year ever. We have been very busy and hired new staff, all of them superstars.”
To compensate for the changes that are beyond the company’s control, Terlin has placed more emphasis on marketing and reinforcing customer relationships. “We are trying to work on efficiency, because the margins are squeezed now,” says McLaughlin. “Competitors are afraid things will slow down again, so they have been bidding jobs at tighter margins. We have to increase volume to meet the bottom line. Margins aren’t where they were. The world is changing.”
With the worst in the past, McLaughlin and his team are forecasting consistent growth of between 20 and 25 percent over the next few years. As Canada remains stable, and with the help of an enthusiastic and committed team, McLaughlin is looking to continue the company’s strategic expansion with the introduction of structural services over the coming year. As the company applies its time-tested formula of leveraging opportunity, attention to detail and cultivating loyal clients and staff, Terlin Construction Ltd. continues to set the stage for years of sustained growth and profitability.