I initially moved to Vancouver from Edmonton, Alberta in 2002 to take a shot at being an actor and a model. I decided that a month of being a starving artist was enough and set out to find a job. I noticed there were a lot of apartment buildings in Downtown Vancouver and thought that since I grew up on a farm, had owned my own home and was good with my hands I could work as a handyman or caretaker.
At the end of a long day cold calling the buildings on just one square block I spoke with an owner who gave me a business card for their Property Manager. Shortly after arriving back home I called that person, left a voice message. He returned my call about 3 weeks later and invited me into his office.
After a brief meeting he asked me to go ahead and take care of a few things at the same building I had received his information from 3 weeks earlier. Those 5 jobs included a door that wouldn’t close properly, changing a burnt out light bulb quite high on the wall and some minor landscaping. I finished the work in one morning and sent an email with an invoice attached by the end of the day.
Within 3 years I found myself 60 feet up on a man-lift doing the finishing touches on an $82,000 exterior paint job for a townhouse complex in Richmond, BC. Despite being financially successful, I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to my clients at the time and was being pulled in many different directions. I had set up the business to take on whatever work came our way and found this to be extremely difficult to manage and maintain as a business model. One day you were painting a fence and the other you’d be fixing a shower door and often 2 hours drive round-trip away not including materials.
Looking for a change I sought out a regular job with a Property Management company as an employee and ended up working full-time with one strata condominium complex in Downtown Vancouver. I learned a whole new side of condo maintenance that featured on-site Building Supervisors that utilized a variety of skills including electrical, plumbing, painting, and even pond maintenance and parkade membrane repair.
I showed enough promise there over the next 3 months that I was promoted to be a Building Supervisor myself at a brand new two high rise tower complex also in Downtown Vancouver. Instead of being hands-on and working with a team I was now on my own without any direct supervision. My training was less than a day and a half and was spent mostly running back and forth to the developers to pick up keys and blueprints.
I spent many of those first days reading a book in a mechanical room to pass the time. I had no direct instructions and no list of duties; I was to report to the Property Manager and wait for them to contact me. As the building became occupied, the council was formed and things got busier; I soon started receiving complaints that things were not being done. It was then that I realized that if there was anything in the building that was not getting done I could be blamed no matter the reason and I could lose my job. As I gained confidence and understanding from my mistakes I saw that organization was a key component to strata building maintenance and that it made everything so much easier. I developed several lists, manuals, and schedules and started weekly meetings with my staff to make sure all maintenance items were getting done.
I again received a promotion in 2011 and became the Resident Building Supervisor for an even larger complex in Surrey, BC. I chose to learn from my mistakes of the first job; instead of reading a book I spent my lunchtime meeting with the Developer’s Superintendents, Trades and Customer Service Representatives. I learned every mechanical and electrical component of the building including pumps, controls and HVAC equipment. I compiled all the specifications from the building and spent those early days organizing everything from paint codes and keys to signage and parking.
Although I was initially concerned about living and working at the same place 24/7 I soon found that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks for me. I was able to immediately respond to issues and my commute involved me stepping outside my front door. It didn’t hurt at all that I was living in a brand new modern and bright 2-bedroom condo. I soon began to see patterns developing; things that did not get addressed immediately would come back much worse later. The unique relationship between the Council and the Property Manager was frustrating at times as important maintenance issues were either not addressed or not even tabled at their meetings. It was then that I successfully lobbied council to include me in their meetings for the first 15 minutes to not only update them but get those necessary action items approved.
This by itself was not enough to truly make a difference. For things to get an immediate response I had to personally get involved by making direct phone calls and sending emails. One particular issue involved a lengthy dispute between the Developer, Property Manager and Council which ended up causing a WCB investigation due to a maintenance issue not being addressed.
After being forced to pay $3000 for Occupational Health & Safety Officers to monitor the situation and tell us what we already knew I stepped into action to avoid any further problems. I told the Property Manager what we needed to do, why we needed to do it, how much it would cost and which Trades company to authorize to carry out the repairs. It was risky for me professionally and it was the only solution being provided at the time.
The fix ended up working. There were countless times that I took this level of personal responsibility and used my organizational, communication, and sales skills to push the necessary maintenance item forward. My role as I saw it even expanded to the community level as I created a Block Watch Program including recruiting 11 co-captain volunteers of whom I met with for BBQ’s and get-togethers.
I got to see the cause and effect of traditional strata management and how much the owners and residents were negatively affected by things not getting done. I saw how much of a difference I could make by practically, proactively and professionally taking care of my buildings. Throughout my 3 years there I spent much of my free time planning a reliable strata maintenance and people management system and tested it out as I went along. I saw that maintenance issues were very straight forward – find the problem and fix it unlike the people issues that seemed to continue indefinitely. I also experimented here and shifted my communication styles and immediately saw results.
I knew I had to bring this technology out to the marketplace and that the best way was to start my own company. June 1st, 2014 was our first official day of operations for Stratapro Solutions and after months of hard work secured our first contract that September. We have gone through many of the early growing pains that most small businesses have to endure and are now in an enviable position of growth and exposure. Our goal is to bring this technology to as many stratas as possible in the Lower Mainland of BC to save time and reduce stress for councils and property managers while protecting and enhancing strata owners’ property investment.