Building a Construction Business: An Interview with a Custom Home Builder

Alair homes

Stu Hopewell

CHBA BC sat down with Stu Hopewell, Chief Operating Officer of Alair™, a premium custom home builder and large-scale renovation/remodeling company. With award-winning projects found across North America, and a home office based in Nanaimo, we talked about becoming a licensed builder in BC, the value of continued learning and why it’s important for home building companies, new and experienced, to join their local home builders’ association.


Q: Tell us a little about your background and how you got into the home building industry?

A: I’ve been doing construction my entire life. I remember at the age of five, helping my dad strip foundations on residential homes. In my teens, I would do job site clean-up for $7 an hour and in my 20s, I started to do small renovations and then commercial construction. When I turned 30, I made the decision to focus on residential construction and I’ve been doing that ever since.


Q: You volunteer with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, how did you learn about the association and start becoming involved?

A: Early on, when we started the business, we wanted to be the professional in the market. We joined the Canadian Home Builders’ Association in 2007 and I’ve been involved ever since, as it’s vital for us to run a professional organization. We want to be in the room with like-minded individuals and CHBA is that for residential construction.


Q: What do you gain most from that?

A: When we talk about elevating a business, and leveling it up, you have to be challenged by other professionals within your industry and that’s what the association is for us. It’s required for all of our locations to be members of their local home builders’ association across Canada, because we see the direct benefits from being involved.


Q: In B.C., residential builders must be licensed before working on new projects, for anyone thinking of starting a business here, what advice would you give them in terms of getting licensed and gaining knowledge and experience to get the best start?

A: BC is leading the country in striving for excellence within our industry by requiring builders to acquire career development points on a continual basis. There are always things changing within the residential building industry: improvements in materials, advancement in building science, changes to the Building Code – right now there’s Step Code changes – so if you’re not challenging yourself to continually learn, you’re getting left behind by your competition.


Q: Looking back at your career, why is it important to become licensed and do extra courses?

A: When we first started, there wasn’t licensing. You basically put up a sign, got your permit and because you had a truck and tools, you could start. The industry needed improvement and that’s where the licensing and courses come in. If you want to be a professional builder, you need to understand how to run a professional business and CHBA does that. It gives you access to programs in marketing, legal and technical, project management, communication and negotiation and more. Those are the pillars of running any small business and if you want to be a true expert in your field, you need to be educated in those areas of construction. The courses are incredibly valuable for all businesses, even when you’re starting or revisiting a course you’ve taken years later. You will still take valuable nuggets from it.


Q: Alair is an award-winning custom home builder and renovation company in North America, which started in Nanaimo. What are some of the challenges you face today?

A: We operate in 97 locations across North America, with more than 60 of those currently in Canada. As one of the only custom home builders that operates in as many provinces as we do, the challenges we face are often similar in every province. We have land costs, supply chain and labour shortage challenges. What we do differently at Alair is educate the client on what the challenges are currently and we work together as a team.


Q: What have been the main keys to success for Alair over the years?

A: At Alair, we say we are in the “human life improvement business” not the construction business. If it was just construction, we wouldn’t need managers and project managers, but you’re involved in improving their life and understanding why they are making changes. So, if you can communicate and listen, you will get a successful result.

We have a dedicated, passionate and engaged team at Alair, and we’ve built strong relationships with our trades and suppliers, as well as an excellent reputation with our clients over the years, which are all keys to our success.


Q: What advice would you give to builders/renovators who are starting out, maybe a few years into their business and are ready to take it to the next level?

A: We see tremendous opportunity to collaborate together as an industry to improve the construction community and industry. So, when I’m coaching staff, I always ask: what business do you want to be in? If you truly want to be the trusted advisor with a client, you have to dedicate yourself to improvement. It’s so valuable to take courses, keep learning, join an association where you are challenged and set aside time for incremental improvements for yourself and your business over the long term. Dedicate yourself to being the expert in your field and good things will come.

Learn with CHBA BC

Maintain your builder license, keep your skills current, and stay on top of changes in the residential construction industry by taking CHBA BC’s comprehensive continuing professional development courses.