At Vancity, we have the pleasure of working with an incredibly diverse mix of small businesses and organizations to support them in reaching their goals. In this interview we touched base with Adam Corneil, Founder & CEO of both Unbuilders and Heritage Lumber, to learn about the story behind his businesses and what this year has looked like for them.
How did your two companies come to be?
I moved to Vancouver in 2012 when I read about the Greenest City action plan, as I was wanting to launch a sustainable construction company. In 2013, I started Naturally Crafted and became a Passive House certified builder. I had a reclaimed wood shop and was doing deconstruction on the front-end of all our projects. In 2014, we were renovating a heritage house on the west side of Vancouver, and salvaged all the lumber from the deconstruction phase, which we re-installed into the finished product – showing me just how versatile and valuable reclaimed fir was. At the time, it seemed like every second house in the neighbourhood was being torn down and that beautiful lumber thrown into the landfill or incinerator. It just seemed so illogical, lazy, and wasteful, and I thought there had to be a better way.
We pulled our crew off our build projects and got a deconstruction from a colleague who ran a demolition company, and deconstructed our first house at no charge to see if we could recoup some of the costs from our lumber sales. That was the beginning. Over the following four years, we continued deconstructing under Naturally Crafted and working on the business model to make it a feasible company, splitting off and launching Unbuilders in January 2018. I stopped building in 2019 and pivoted Naturally Crafted to become Heritage Lumber to broker the wood, with the goal of evolving it to become a reclaimed wood product manufacturer.
What is the product or service that you offer?
Unbuilders renovates and deconstructs buildings, and Heritage Lumber sells reclaimed wood and reclaimed wood products.
How has your business been impacted over the past 6-8 months?
There was a lull in March when COVID first hit, it was a little patchy for a few months, and then it took off. Now we are busier than ever, and our Q4 will be almost as big as our Q1-3 combined.
How has Vancity supported you in running your own business?
Vancity has helped in so many ways. They gave our contracting company a line of credit when the big banks would not, which gave us the ability to experiment with deconstruction. They helped us with a loan, and at times managing tough cash flow positions. We were awarded a Lighter Living grant of $35,000 in 2019. On top of the financial support, Vancity has connected us with other businesses and community members. Just recently, after discussing this for a few years, Vancity has introduced deconstruction financing to help close the gap on the initial added cost upfront – this could have a large impact on those clients on the fence about choosing deconstruction over demolition. Simply put, we would be out of business if it were not for Vancity’s continued support and belief in our vision and mission.
Tell us a bit about your experience on Dragon’s Den
Travelling to Toronto during COVID was one of the most bizarre scenes of my life, certainly not what I had ever imagined. The show itself was exhilarating, nerve-racking, and exciting. Once the jitters worked off, I got into my groove explaining the business and value and it was clear a few of them got it right away. In the end, they all decided to go in on a 6-Dragon deal. Since the taping, we are still in the due diligence period, and are hoping to close the deal soon.
What is some advice you would give to someone thinking about starting their own business?
Do what you love and are passionate about and find a way to do it better than the rest. Strap a helmet on because it is a rough and wild ride. You will doubt yourself and your idea. Giving up is easy, persisting is the hardest thing you can do. There are no overnight successes, just incremental steps towards success (including many steps backwards).
Do you have any initiatives that you would like our readership to know about?
Rebuild Hub, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, provides an outlet for other contractors to have a place to donate used building materials and for the public to purchase them. We have also expanded to Vancouver Island, but COVID has really hurt that expansion. We are starting to get more potential projects, but need to spread the word of our service to Islanders (including the Gulf Islands).
How can the community support you?
First, by hiring our service or buying our products, and by following and engaging with us on social media. Second, help push local politicians to take action on demolition by enacting mandatory deconstruction bylaws. Construction waste is one of the largest contributors to pollution in Canada. We need to change this immediately, and the solution is there.
Where can people learn more about your businesses?
www.heritagelumber.ca (launches in December)