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‘Keeping out of trouble’ the secret to Britco's success

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by Brian Martin

Britco Structures founders Rick McClymont and David Taft have been inducted into the international Modular Building Institute’s Hall of Fame.
Whistler Athlete's Village townhome.
Whistler Athlete's Village townhome.

Modular construction

Their friendship and their business partnership have lasted longer than many marriages.

Rick McClymont and David Taft are managing partners of Britco and their company recently celebrated its 32nd anniversary.

The company has grown to be the largest producer of manufactured buildings in the Pacific Northwest and among the largest in Canada.

Earlier this year, both men were inducted into the international Modular Building Institute’s (MBI) Hall of Fame.

Britco has its head office and a large yard in Langley, B.C.

Its manufacturing facilities, which total 180,000 square feet, are in Agassiz and Penticton.

When asked if the relationship has always been smooth, McClymont laughed.

“Oh, we’ve had our moments,” he said.

The majority of small businesses that start up fail, so what went so right with Britco?

It made $480,000 in its first 12 months. Last year, the company turned over some $96 million.

“We’ve always been very conservative,” McClymont said. “

We didn’t pay ourselves lavishly. We watched our pennies. We sought good advice when we thought we were getting into a high risk area. Basically, we kept out of trouble.”

He also said they have been lucky.

“Lady Luck has been good to us,” he said.

“In addition Dave and I get along very well. It’s a symbiotic kind of relationship. We handle different areas. I am administration and he is operations.”

The two have actually known each other for about 38 years, dating back to when they worked together for Chimo Homes, a manufactured building company.

When Chimo failed, the two struck out on their own.

They had a handful of their own money and the backing of a few thousand dollars from their mothers.

They rented a 10,000 square foot factory in Surrey and went to work.

The first building they manufactured in 1977 was a ten-foot by 24-foot mobile testing lab that was destined for work in the Yukon.

“We did this, with six production employees plus Rick and myself assisting with lifting, flipping and standing wall panels because we didn’t have an overhead crane back then,” Taft told the MBI meeting in Las Vegas, earlier this year.

“Back then, Rick did a lot of the building material pickups as he could haul eight-foot by 10-foot dimension lumber by sliding them through the sunroof of his ’72 Firebird.”

McClymont pointed out that of the original employees, two are still with the company.

Britco is an official supporter of the Winter Olympics and those two employees have been chosen to represent the firm and carry the torch for a stretch.

The growth of the company from such modest roots was fairly steady.

The founders apparently didn’t know much about the limitations of their young company.

“People would ask if we could build this or that modular and we would just say ‘sure’,” he said.

They started with the single-wide site offices and bunkhouses that helped make them famous.

Quickly, though, they were branching out into creating service stations.

From there, it was on to more sophisticated buildings such as medical clinics and schools.

In 1979 Britco made a breakthrough when it won a federal tender to provide a small addition to the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

Other embassies followed.

Before long, up market buildings – lodges, motels, private homes – indistinguishable from traditionally built structures became the norm.

For instance Britco has supplied the home for the PNE draw every year for the past nine years and has already signed on for next year.

At the moment the big news around Britco is the 2010 Winter Olympics.

McClymont estimated the company’s relationship with the Olympics will be worth in the area of $50 million.

Included is the Athletes’ Village in Whistler and between 500 and 700 temporary offices.

Like everyone in the construction industry, Britco has seen its revenues drop this year and the Olympics came along at just the right time.

McClymont, however, said he has no doubt at all that the company will ride out this recession, as it has others.

As for himself and Taft, they are planning to slow down a bit.

Although they are both in their sixties, they still have no plans for retirement. The company’s success has allowed them to visit places they once only dreamed about.

Taft just returned from the Galapagos, something he had always wanted to do, and McClymont was off almost immediately for a vacation in Europe.

However, McClymont said that both men are enjoying what they do too much to actually stop doing it.

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