In a business world obsessed with expansion, with growth for the sake of getting bigger, with size over substance, Labbe-Leech Interiors is radically bucking the trend. Since it started in 1974, the Calgary-based interior construction contractor has fostered relationships and earned an impressive client base, all the while remaining nimble enough to provide the highest level of service.
Resisting growth does not mean that Labbe-Leech hasn’t evolved and expanded its offerings; it just means that it has carved out a niche and does what it does very well within it. Its size keeps it agile enough to switch gears quickly when necessary and adapt to new market conditions and situations. The partners are not willing to sacrifice that for a bigger piece of the pie. Labbe-Leech does not seek out expansion for the sake of expansion but it will venture into other locations if it means serving clients better.
“I think we’ve always been right sized. It allows us to react to what the market is doing. If you’re too big or too small you’re constantly in flux,” says Peter Whyte, project manager and partner at Labbe-Leech.
“We don’t want to be the biggest interior general contractor in Calgary and we don’t necessarily want to work in other places. However, clients have taken us to places like Edmonton, Edson, Peace River, Toronto and Vancouver, and we are happy to go as they are great clients,” says William Jordanov, president and partner at Labbe-Leech.
Truth be told, the partners and the two dozen valued employees who make up the Labbe-Leech team would happily stay small, provide huge results and continue to live up to the reputation for integrity and quality that has made it a go-to contractor in Calgary. This corporate culture tracks back to 1974 when the firm was a drywall and ceiling contractor and grew into a general contractor somewhat accidentally. By always working to satisfy a client’s needs regardless of scope, no challenge was ever turned down. As clients’ requests changed and evolved so did Labbe-Leech’s skill set, to a point where the company evolved into a highly-respected interior general contractor shortly thereafter.
While there was never a Leech and a Labbe as partners in the company at the same time, the unusual moniker, Labbe-Leech, has never been changed despite ownership transitions. The name has grown to define the industry over the past 45 years and while it tends to get misspelt and mispronounced on occasion, people remember it and associate it with the best in the business.
And today, after being with the company since 1981, William Jordanov and his partner since 2017, Peter Whyte, couldn’t imagine changing the name. Why would they when it has become synonymous with quality and service? Clients hear “Labbe-Leech” and know their renovation will most certainly be taken care of allowing them to go about taking care of running their business. Working closely with clients and consultants, including architects, interior designers and engineers, Labbe-Leech transforms the property from an empty shell to move-in ready, developing the interior from floor to ceiling and everything in between.
While much of the contractor’s work has traditionally been in the downtown core, Labbe-Leech reaches beyond it to service its ever-expanding diversified client base.
“An area where we have developed strong competencies is the medical field,” says Whyte. “We’ve developed stand-alone walk-in clinics, cosmetic clinics, radiology and diagnostics clinics as well as neurology facilities. It’s a specialized commercial interiors sector where our expertise has really been utilized to the fullest.”
Labbe-Leech provides clients with complete construction management, general contracting, renovation and expansion services to deliver a seamless transition into a new or existing space. To ensure this seamlessness, Labbe-Leech chooses its subcontract partners carefully and only brings like-minded firms into the Labbe-Leech family. That way they can guarantee the high-quality standards and processes are met for every project by every cog in the wheel. After all, it’s the quality employees who have made Labbe-Leech such a success over the past 45 years. The field personnel are professional and skilled, and the project managers, who come from a variety of backgrounds including hotel, airline and human resources, are highly capable and motivated but hired largely on attitude.
“We don’t pursue people who necessarily have a ton of construction experience. We pursue people who have people experience and can handle people and situations,” says Whyte. “I started my career in the hotel industry as a concierge and thought why would they consider hiring someone like that? But that’s what we do – we are like hotel concierges. People come to us with varied and unusual expectations and we deliver. So, it is amazing how transferable the people skills are from industry to industry.”
To make this process happen, the partners work hard to create a family atmosphere in which everyone feels respected, valued and enjoys going to work every day. As a right-sized company, employees get to know co-workers and their families through day-to-day operations as well as organized social events. As a result, the average employee has 13 years of service with some field employees providing value for more than 40 years. The key to retention and industry acclaim is Labbe-Leech’s four core values: “we do what we say, we do the right thing, we support each other, and we laugh.” These values dictate how they operate at all levels and in every area.
From implementing a comprehensive safety program to supporting the industry through involvement with the Registered Apprenticeship Program to a board game marathon to turn co-workers into friends, these core values shape what it is to be Labbe-Leech. The staff takes pride in the work and stands by it, and they focus on meeting clients’ needs and expectations to deliver the seemingly impossible on time and on budget. The unique priorities and the unique management style of the partners have played a part in Labbe-Leech’s success over the decades and has helped the company ride out several economic downturns.
“When you think about it, our core business is building relationships. This is the only thing that has been sustaining us in these currently difficult economic times. You can chase your competitors on price and possibly make it that way, but we don’t. Fostering our relationships, on all levels, and providing an extremely high level of service is our way,” says Jordanov.
Labbe-Leech has great relationships with subcontractors, clients, consultants and employees and by supporting each other they have all adapted to the new economic marketplace in Calgary. As clients change jobs or buildings change hands, those relationships endure. Clients know that no matter what, Labbe-Leech will work with them to get the job done.
“In spite of the fact that the economy is suffering in Alberta and budgets are tighter, we have never changed our level of quality and never change the experience that the client gets,” he says.
It’s that experience that has kept clients coming back to Labbe-Leech Interiors for 45 years, and counting.