‘‘I brought [a local carpenter] a resumé — and this was in rural Prince Edward Island,” recalls Scott Costain. “He looked at it and said ‘Well, you’re the first person who’s ever brought me a resumé, so I guess I better hire you.’”
And that’s how Costain got his start in the construction industry, two weeks before he graduated from high school. His career was the beginning of what has become a long and fruitful career in the business.
It would later lead him out to British Columbia where he would meet his wife and future business partner, Corinna Costain, a meeting that was made all the more auspicious by the fact that, as fate would have it, the couple grew up just a few kilometers away from each other in PEI.
Their move back to the island would coincide with the construction of the Confederation Bridge. Faced with the prospect of a potentially high paying job working on the bridge (“Anybody who knew how to hold a hammer could work there and make good money,” said Costain), Scott and Corinna chose instead to found their own company.
There were growing pains early on, but Scotcor Construction Ltd. eventually settled in and carved out its niche in the market. Fourteen years later, the challenge is no longer bringing in the customers, but keeping growth reigned in.
“We struggle at maintaining our small business status. It’s tempting to go out and hire another crew and do twice as much work,” notes Costain. “But at the same time we realize that as soon as we do that we lose a bit of control, and control over quality is so important to us that we’ve been fighting that. You only have to lose control of one project and the reputation that you worked so hard for gets tarnished.”
Building to a Higher Standard
Today the company builds between five and eight new homes per year. Those homes almost always bear two trademarks: They are fully custom built and energy efficient. This year, three of the five homes Scotcor built were R-2000 certified, and Costain believes the other two would have passed if they had been tested for it.
It’s all part of a conscious decision Scott and Corinna took a number of years ago when they resolved to start building to a higher standard. “Even today, we very seldom will price homes against other contractors. Most of our business is referral based,” Costain says.
The customer service experience and quality are two primary focuses at Scotcor. The Costains deal with all their clients personally, and believe responding to their customers’ feedback and making them feel comfortable has been key to their success. That being said, when it comes to quality, some issues are non-negotiable.
“Even if it was a slow time, if a client came to me and asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, I’d send them on their way,” says Costain. “When that house is showing its age because something wasn’t done right, [people] are only going to remember that that’s a Scotcor built home. PEI’s a small place; you’ve got to really work hard at maintaining your reputation.”
Not wanting to sacrifice quality is the reason the company has stayed as small as it has. Costain understands that scaling up their operations would mean employing more workers and sacrificing a degree of control over quality, which they aren’t willing to cede.
Which is why instead of growing the business in size, they’ve branched it off. In addition to their construction business, Scotcor has now spun off two new operations. The first is an insulation company, which came about when Costain’s regular insulation installer retired. Costain knew how he wanted the insulation done on his projects and had shown his regular installer how to do it. This time around, when he was unable to find a replacement he was satisfied with, he decided to do it himself.
The second spinoff is Scotcor Rentals, which built and rents 11 affordable and accessible units to people with mobility issues — an endeavor which has already won the company a number of awards.
Driving Force Behind New PEI HBA
If in reading this story you’ve been wondering where you’ve heard the name Scott Costain recently, it may have something to do with the recent founding of the Prince Edward Island Home Builders’ Association. Costain is the association’s new president, and was the driving force behind its formation.
“I had the opportunity, two years ago, to be on the board of directors of the Atlantic Home Warranty Program, so I got some really good exposure there,” says Costain of his experience with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “After three or four meetings, the topic eventually came around to something that was CHBA-related, and one of the guys suggested I start [a PEI HBA].”
It wasn’t an idea Costain immediately jumped at. Instead he approached the Moncton HBA about becoming a member there.
“I called Claudia Simmonds (executive officer of the New Brunswick HBA) up with the intention of joining the nearest local to PEI (the Greater Moncton HBA),” recalls Costain. “Her response to that was, ‘No, you can’t. Why don’t you form your own?’ It was just kind of an in-good-humour thing; it wasn’t a refusal, it was more of a how would you feel about us helping you to start one in PEI.”
Support began flowing in from all corners of the CHBA. Former CHBA president John Hrynkow, former New Brunswick HBA president Léonce Cormier and Simmonds were just a few of those who pitched in to help get wheels in motion. The founding board was formed this past May, and the local now counts 17 full members, with ten more currently being reviewed for membership. After only a few meetings, interest from local builders has been strong — there were ten people at the first meeting and that number jumped to 60 at the second.
“Just to know and have the opportunity to sit down with your peers,” Costain suggests is the greatest value of having a local HBA. “The other side of it is that we are one of the largest industries in our province, but we had absolutely zero voice until we formed this association.”
Now that’s all changed, and Costain is a big reason for that. And if he can be as successful in leading the country’s newest local HBA as he has been in leading Scotcor Construction, a lot of local builders will be better off for it.