Heritage Restoration, Inc: A family construction story approaching a century of success

Ontario Construction News special feature

Heritage Restoration Inc. tells a story lasting almost a century – one where four family generations have carried on a thriving business, evolving through different eras, while retaining roots of craftsmanship and reasoning.

Vice-president Clay Huntley, who today shares the future leadership of the company with his brother Chris, says the organization operates now with two divisions – one handing challenging heritage projects, and the other (which he leads) that focuses on structural rehab, most often on newer buildings/infrastructure.

The business started in 1921 in Toronto when their great grandfather, Alfred A. Huntley, founded Huntley Chimney Service. Huntley soon expanded this residential chimney repair business by starting Huntley Steeple Jack Co., in 1926, to take on larger commercial rigging and rehabilitation projects.

The business continued through hard and good times, including the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war era. Alfred Huntley passed the business to his son Kenneth, who continued to grow the companies, eventually uniting them as Heritage Restoration Inc. in 1969. Kenneth passed the business on to his sons, Bruce and Alfred.

Now Bruce’s sons are taking the helm of the business.

Clay Huntley says the organization has succeeded in part because of respect among family members and with the company’s staff, including several senior long-term employees.

“Chris and I have managed to make it work as brothers,” Clay says. “Communication is huge thing for the two of us.

“We approach everything very logically, removing emotion from conversations and decisions, and we’re very good friends. It’s very easy to run a business together when there’s a lot of mutual respect and everything is approached very logically.”

Huntley says that while growth is important, it is not a primary goal. The focus is on improving the overall organization as a whole, in order to continue to deliver a superior service for clients.

However, he says the company has the resources and experience to tackle the largest projects.  “We can take on almost anything in terms of the restoration world,” he said.  “There’s very few projects that are beyond us.”

So far, Heritage Restoration, Inc. has decided to focus its work in Ontario, especially the GTA.  The company has worked on projects from Windsor to Ottawa and as far north as Haileybury (Temiskaming Shores) in the province’s northeast.

“We have toyed with idea of venturing outside Ontario, but there’s such a wide volume of work in the province that we never went ahead (elsewhere) because we decided we would do better staying closer to home,” he said.

Future growth nationally of course is still possible – perhaps driven by demands from the company’s existing clients – but Huntley says the business has always taken a deliberative approach to growth. It isn’t about “bragging rights” but sustainability – managing the organization so that the work quality and volume can be handled responsibly and to clients’ satisfaction without stretching the company’s resources too far.

Growth plans in the short term including achieving Certificate of Recognition (CoR) safety recognition by the end of 2019, making Heritage one of only a few restoration companies to achieve the challenging standard.

“Our main focus for the future is to continue to improve at what we do,” Huntley said. “We have a fairly young management staff, and everyone collectively is doing great, but we have lots of room to improve as a whole.”

Huntley believes that the restoration market is booming, and he doesn’t think it can continue forever at current levels. “While I don’t think the market’s going to tank,” we must capitalize on the current conditions and “use the opportunity to become the absolutely best in the industry, insulating ourselves from potential adjustments in the market.”

“We want to scale our business, but we will only do so provided we keep in touch with the values that brought us to where we are.

“Our focus comes back over and over again to building our teams of people, whether it be field staff crews or project management teams —  it is all predicated on the mentality: ‘Are they going to help us to deliver the best possible service in the best possible way?’ This means taking care to ensure the ‘small stuff’ is done right – so the bigger picture is achieved.”

“In this industry, there is always big huge gap between where you are and perfection.  Perfection is unattainable. There’s no room for complacency. You always have something to do, something to improve on, it’s all about doing what we have done, but better than we’ve ever done it before.”

This is what lead to the vision to expand the company’s capacity beyond historical restoration and renovation into the “structural side of things” – We wanted HRI to be able to offer complete restoration services for our client’s capital repair project needs, Huntley said.

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