A Proud Moment for Lagois

It was elegant. It was exciting. It was dramatic. And for Lagois Design-Build-Renovate, it was a superb celebration of the company’s creativity, innovation, design, craftsmanship, and deep values.

It was the annual awards gala put on by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA) at the Westin Hotel in early November.

Everyone was on tenterhooks while about 600 people awaited the judges’ decisions. The best of the best of Ottawa’s architects, builders and designers had gathered to socialize, share a beautiful meal, and learn the outcome of prestigious awards.

Lagois was a finalist in five categories for renovation, including Designer of the Year. They were also a finalist for another plum renovation award: Renovator of the Year.

The tension was building. It was, as Brenda Salmon of Lagois described it: “a mix and mingle at the beginning of the night, with all the project boards on display a social hour. We sat down to a lovely four-course meal. They served the salad, announced a few awards, then the soup and a couple of awards, then the main meal; then more awards while they served dessert.”

It was a long wait. Finally, said Brenda: “Our big award Renovator of the Year was the second last one to be announced.” They had won! She added the joy among the team was immediate and wonderful: “There were lots and LOTS of smiles.”

Founder Herb Lagois enjoyed that moment, too. “It was very rewarding to see our team's pride shine through,” he said. “They so deserve the recognition.”

Herb credited the talent of the team and the company’s president, Jacob Kirst.

“We have never wavered from our mission and core values,” he said. “Lagois is deeply grateful to Jacob for maintaining that focus and being the leader he is.”

How did it feel when the Renovator of the Year award was announced?

“Fantastic!” said Herb, “and gratifying because of the work and effort our team puts into achieving an incredible homeowner experience.”

President Jacob Kirst agreed.

The feeling is a deep sensation of pride, appreciation for the dedication as a unified Lagois Team, and a positive reinforcement that we are making true difference,” he said.

Herb explained: “We are a smaller team compared to larger companies vying for the same award, so it's amazing. It’s rewarding to compete and beat out some of the larger companies; yet I feel it's because of the experience and the personalized service Lagois provides.

For Jacob, the award means a lot “to be recognized within our industry for our excellence. It means affirmation that we have been focused on the right things. This is a profound moment.”

He feels the award is deserved by the whole team because “Lagois has been steadfast and unified in our vision, mission and core values. It takes a team to achieve the holistic solutions we provide, the client experience we are known for and the focus/dedication of our team to deliver nothing but the absolute best from all fronts.”

Herb said that although other high-end Ottawa renovators’ work is the same calibre, what sets Lagois apart is “our homeowners’ experience from the first point of contact, through design, selections and the build process to our no-fee 5-year warranty.”

More pointedly, added Jacob: “We don't work on folks’ houses. We work on their homes as if they were ours.”

Dave King of D. King Drywall was one of the first Lagois trade partners to congratulate the company.

We have worked for Lagois for 24 years,” he said. “We have a great working relationship with the staff, which means a lot in the construction industry. They give us lots of notice about when the next job will be ready, and that’s important to us for scheduling.

“They also listen to our thoughts about making the job better for their customers. Their job sites are always very safe and if we have any concerns they’re looked after asap.

“Everyone needs to go home safe to their families, and that’s incredibly important to us. We’re looking forward to working with Lagois for another 25 years, especially since we are a family business, and my son Dustin is in the process of taking over D. King Drywall.”

Mark Perkins of Perkins Home Building Center in North Gower added: “Congratulations to the team at Lagois for the Renovator of the Year award! It is well deserved!”

There are other reasons that make the company highly regarded, encapsulated in Lagois core values, listed here:

Commitment and team work

  • We hold each other accountable for promises made.
  • We give each other the benefit of the doubt and we will not accept or give excuses.
  • Decisions are made with the right people, following the accountability chart, made in an adult state (not be based on emotional reactions) and are final.
  • We lead by example, making sure no one feels alone, in an environment where everyone goes home safe.
  • We persevere to complete what we promise.

Individual respect

  • We trust everyone to do their jobs.
  • We resolve issues with those involved.
  • We recognize that every person is unique.
  • We do not tolerate gossip or personal slander.
  • All questions are good questions. To understand clearly we ask follow up questions.

Forward thinking

  • We are proactive in identifying all the elements (and responsibility for) a project.
  • We continually educate ourselves and give back by educating others.
  • We reduce waste, reduce energy consumption and provide clean indoor air.
  • We have a long-term outlook on the health of the company.

Each Renovator of the Year award candidate had to provide an exhaustive list of information.

These are the questions and answers Lagois supplied to the judges:

What unique services do you offer to distinguish your company from competitors?

At Lagois Design-Build-Renovate, we promise to be on time and on budget in writing. We actively listen to our clients. We truly want to understand their renovation needs so we can solve them. Our clients are not a number.

Even if we are not a fit for a homeowner’s problems, we provide education and a connection to an appropriate contractor.

We have an in-house architectural and interior design team and also an in-house management and construction team. Our services are personalized. We encourage prospects to tell us if our process doesn’t make sense for them. We design holistically; regardless of the scope of the project, we educate our clients about future impacts of current renovations.

We have been in business for 39 years.

We have a no-fee 5-year warranty; a time-proven three-phase process that allows clients to be in control of decisions of budget; a master schedule of all projects; and a Buildertrend client portal to give clients access to their job online any time of day.

At the end, we conduct an exit interview with clients, then an in-house autopsy for constant learning opportunities.

Problem-solving: Describe a challenge that your company has faced in the past year and how you dealt with it.

In the past year we have faced the lack of a skilled workforce, but there has also been an increased demand for our services. In an attempt to overcome this challenge, we are active participants in GOHBA and the Reno Council as a steady voice and advocate for the industry.

We are constantly spreading awareness to our youth to get them excited about a career in the trades. We do this by participating with local partners such as Algonquin College, YMCA and local high schools with co-op placement; and through mentoring, summer employment, and apprenticeships.

Our own team is at the forefront. We ensure they have the tools they need to succeed and grow both personally and professionally. Some of these tools include continued education, systems, principles, and training (for example, net zero, seminars, adaptive-design, and accessibility).

What do you offer your clients to make their home more energy efficient and/or what actions do you take on site to be more environmentally conscious?

Our corporate goal is to be net-zero by 2024. One of our core values is this: “We reduce waste, reduce energy consumption and provide clean indoor air.” It is the responsibility of every team member to uphold this and all our core values.

These are our measurable goals:

  • Energy audits as part of the design process
  • Sun studies (modelling renovation projects)
  • Education and team certification (Net Zero Builder Training)
  • Aero Barrier – Air Sealing
  • Sorting of waste for landfill reduction
  • Donating to Habitat for Humanity
  • Bringing items back to the office for free roadside pickup
  • Value engineering through design
  • Above-minimum code insulation
  • Low-VOC projects
  • Reduction of carbon footprint through material sourcing and choices; less use of gas-fired appliances; alternative energy (geothermal and solar) where appropriate
  • Project management and reduction of driving time.

How do you keep current and innovative in today’s ever-changing environment?

Another of our core values is: “We continually educate ourselves and give back by educating others.”

Nothing ever stands still. It’s crucial that we as a whole continue to learn and grow. We hire recent Architect and Architectural Technician graduates. We love their youthful optimism, ideas, and outlooks.

We are constantly measuring our process for efficiency. We have client-exit interviews and project autopsies because we’re always looking for ways to make experiences even better and also ways to innovate.

We have team meetings with best ideas there’s a prize for the best. Here are some recent examples:

  • 3D measuring existing conditions
  • New client-management software
  • Software that allows the entire team to access project information in real time from anywhere
  • Revit
  • BIM software

Describe the steps you take to guide your client through a renovation project.

We listen. We ask questions. We help our prospects to understand their budget and whether it is realistic. We’re careful to explain that we won't design a solution that is not affordable. We ask how they make decisions so we can understand the best way to communicate.

We have a proven three-phase approach:

Phase I Design

  • Understanding both short and long-term goals
  • Creating 3D models
  • Providing design solutions while respecting the budget
  • Typically providing three to four designs
  • Providing an interactive process where our clients can say, “No” or “Yes” to design features
  • Ensuring the design is within 10 per cent accuracy of the overall budget and construction timelines.

Phase II Details

  • Making a commitment to construction
  • Selecting all finishes
  • Determining what things will cost
  • Determining when we need to order and delivery times
  • Specifying everything properly for constructors (for example, all the different shower controls)
  • Asking our trade partners to commit to cost and timelines through scopes of work and site visits.

Phase III Construction

First, we make sure everyone is clear about what we need to consider in regard to pets, children, and working from home.

For a worry-free experience, we have one point of contact who manages all aspects of construction. This is backed up with formal weekly meetings where we touch base about time, budget, and actions. All meeting notes are recorded, and clients get a copy.

Describe how you promote career development within your organization, mentor newcomers to the industry, and promote employee retention.

We traditionally hire recent graduates. We also fill positions within the company. For example, a craftsman (22 years) and our project development manager (17 years) both began as designers and moved “up”. We are big believers in cross-training.

Our onboarding process includes mentoring, shadowing and skill building. This is incredibly valuable to helping newcomers understand expectations, and it also sets them up to succeed in their roles. A new hire spends the first day with the president to learn our company’s mission, goals and values. It also includes lunch and site visits.

There are quarterly employee reviews with clear expectations and accountable metrics for personal and professional goal setting. “What-drives-you-nuts?” and “What-do-you-need-personally-to-be-successful?” components to these reviews create open and honest communication.

Kitchen Renovation by Lagois

Commitment and teamwork, individual respect, and forward-thinking are what guide our decision-making. Monthly team meetings include nominations for those who uphold our mission and core values.

Continuous training is provided for the team and individuals on communication style.

Continuous education and networking is encouraged through groups like GOHBA or specific skill-type courses and coaching. These are successful factors in employee retention.

Team Building brings us together in fun with, for example, barbecues, axe throwing, ATVing, zip lining, white water rafting, kayaking, company and individual charity events.

An annual breakfast for trade partners reviews the promises we make to our clients, promises we make to them, and promises we expect from them. There are awards recognizing the best of the best.

How do you demonstrate your involvement in the community and the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association?

We give back by educating, volunteering, and supporting particular charities and organizations.

Our president is on the board of directors for Ronald McDonald House, Ottawa, and ROSSS (Rural Ottawa South Support Services).

To date, we have raised more than $200,000 for Ronald McDonald House. We’ve also raised $10,000 with a motorcycle ride for Habitat for Humanity.

For Ronald McDonald House, we provided a pro-bono kitchen remodel valued at $250,000, and a gazebo valued at $30,000.

For ROSSS, we’re designing a barrier-free entry and washroom. We will donate construction management.

For CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), we created, pro bono, a compassionate friends butterfly garden and shed structure.

Other donated projects include Ukrainian church renovations in Manotick, Metcalfe and North Gower; a community bandshell; work for the Osgoode Youth Association and the Munster Community Association; and a shade structure for Castor Valley School.

We give donations to the snowsuit fund, community events, CHEO, Ride for Dad, and local team sports.

We are active in the GOHBA Renovators’ Council (our founder is a past chair) and the Building Innovation, Safety, Reno Tour, and Marketing committees. We are part of the WSIB study group, SmartNet Alliance, Algonquin College Architectural Advisory Board, the City of Ottawa Builders’ Liaison Committee, and Remodelers Advantage.

We do education outreach through speaking events and writing articles in magazines such as Ottawa Renovates.

Why do you deserve to be named Renovator of the Year?

We all love what we do – helping folks love where they live. We are now helping third generations of homeowners.

Clients are never a number to us. Our service is personalized. We have a three-step process that promises on time, on budget in writing. This eliminates the worry and horror stories we often hear or read about. Our no-fee 5-year warranty means peace of mind for our clients.

We’re focused on our sweet-spot project: our ideal client who fits well with us, and our geographic area. In this way we deliver over and above the experience people expect. It’s what we’re known for.

We have clear goals and expectations and a clear line of accountability. With continuous education, everyone on our team is rowing in the same direction. Another of our core values is to have a long-term outlook for the health of our company… for example, putting five per cent of every receivable into a “rainy day” account. We know our company will not disappear “next year”.

We may not be the largest company by volume or number of employees, but we continually produce big and devoted fans. We’re able to give back, to provide value and the best experience in Ottawa.

The other awards in which Lagois was a finalist this year were:

  • Renovation $150,001 - $250,000
  • Renovation $250,001 - $400,000
  • Custom Kitchen (175 sq. ft. or less) - Traditional
  • Exterior Living Space
  • Special Achievement Award: Designer of the Year

They were all exciting nominations, but perhaps the most exciting among the finalists was Designer of the Year. Lead Designer Jeff Hudis recently explained the importance of the honour (among others). See A pride of nominations.