Building Heritage: A brother and sister team return to London to find success
By Lindsey McCaffrey
By Lindsey McCaffrey
It all started in 1990 as a small family business, in a small office, within a small house. Today, London, Ont.,-based Heritage Renovations is a multi-award-winning company and highly recognized provider of windows and doors across southern Ontario.
Most recently, the business has experienced explosive and exciting year-over-year growth.
Getting into the business
Today, siblings and vice-presidents Shannon Ruffell and James Baker are at the helm of Heritage Renovations. As children, the siblings had grown up in the London area but then left to pursue other interests: Ruffell was previously a senior executive at a large manufacturing company in Oakville, Ont., and Baker was doing renovations and working in government in Vancouver. In terms of returning home to pursue a family business, it was just a matter of time.
“Returning to London to pursue company ownership and pass down to future generations was always something we talked about doing,” says Ruffell. “We were just looking for the right opportunity and timing. A couple years ago was the perfect time to come back and help expand the business as vice-presidents, using our experience from other companies we had worked at.
“Plus, our family has always had a strong renovation background, so we already felt very comfortable with windows and doors,” says Baker. “Between that, my strong renovations background and corporate experience, as well as Shannon’s senior management corporate experience, we’ve been able to create a really great partnership for bringing this business forward.”
Coming in at a later point in the business life cycle, Ruffell and Baker are today focused on taking Heritage Renovations to the next level. “We’re in our 30s and we’re very ambitious, and we have lots of fresh ideas,” says Ruffell.
A familiar presence in media
Since joining Heritage Renovations, Ruffell and Baker have become familiar spokespeople on broadcast media.
“It was a natural fit to be able to create opportunities with the media, speak with them and take our knowledge out and share with the public on a wider scale,” she says. As such, Heritage Renovations is a regular go-to expert for outlets including CTV News and AM980’s “Ask the Experts” show.
“We speak about DIY projects, look at trends in windows, doors and renovations and discuss different things you should look for when choosing a contractor,” says Ruffell. “Really, it’s all about looking at things from the eyes of what’s important to the customer. For example, we’ll talk about what the process is, what customers should look for and some of the pitfalls that can occur when working with a contractor.”
Heritage Renovations has also increased its focus on — and brand recognition through — social media and metrics.
“We try to post a lot of different things on our social media channels including esthetics tips and trends,” says Ruffell.“Basically, every time we work with a customer, we’re focused on providing an engaging and likeable experience, where the customer feels they can trust us in terms of our knowledge. And now, if you’re talking to anyone about windows and doors, they know our name.”
Rebate program brings new business
In late 2017, the Green Ontario Fund presented an exciting opportunity to window and door businesses and their customers throughout the province: rebates for home owners of up to $5,000 for select high-performance windows. As soon as Heritage Renovations management heard about the program, they jumped at the chance for early certification.
“We could tell right away how popular it was going to be with customers and understandably the program’s initial rollout created a bit of a backlog for companies to get certified,” says Ruffell. “We wanted to get on that list of certified companies immediately, so we could promote being an official program partner and offer great savings to customers.”
Rather than wait for the program to come to London to offer certification, Heritage flew team members to Ottawa to apply just after Christmas.
“They announced the program on December 14th, and we were on the certified list the first week of January,” says Ruffell. As it turned out, Heritage Renovations already had met most of the criteria for certification.
Hiring the “perfect people”
In just a few short months since certification, Heritage Renovations has experienced an exciting upswing in sales.
“We are a very busy place typically between residential and commercial, but right now, because of the rebate program, it’s led us to hire even more people,” says Ruffell.
Focused on an excellent end-to-end customer service process, Heritage Renovations puts much thought into the people they hire.
“With the rebate program and our need to grow our team, we had to let customers know they would have a bit of a longer wait than usual for our services,” says Ruffell. “But on the positive side, because we take such care to hire the perfect people for our team, our customers will get top quality service no matter who they talk to, and work that will serve them for years from now.”
“We ensure that every single member of our team will treat our customers like gold,” adds Baker. “No matter whether our customers need a one-window replacement in their home or windows through an entire apartment building, they will get the same treatment. We really do have a team of all-stars and we’re told that all the time.”
Moreover, when selecting manufacturers, Heritage Renovations considers three criteria.
“We look not only for quality in the present, but quality that will stand the test of time,” says Ruffell. “Plus, we make sure they have a reasonable delivery time and whether they can consistently meet customers’ deadlines. Finally, we look at warranty, that is, if there is a warranty claim on the product, will they treat their customers with the same level of service as we treat our own customers?
“Ultimately, it’s about cherry-picking manufacturers who offer the best quality products, and then we pair it with the best quality installation and service.”
As a result, Heritage Renovations has accumulated many business awards and accolades over the last several years, including the highest possible rating with the Better Business Bureau, a consecutive slew of Consumer Choice Awards in the Window and Door category and other local recognitions such as Best of London and Reader’s Choice. And just recently, Heritage Renovations was also nominated for the Better Business Bureau Integrity Award.
“We really embody integrity by treating our customers in the best way possible. I think that’s been key to our success and what sets us apart because every single person here really knows their stuff. Every customer has a great, consistent, happy experience with us from beginning to end,” says Ruffell.
Women in the industry
Recently, Ruffell was nominated for a local 20 Under 40 award. She points to the benefits of having women in the industry, particularly when it comes to residential work.
“The windows, doors and construction industry can be a bit of a boys’ club, but I like to think we’re being a bit innovative by having a female in senior leadership and bringing ideas,” she says. “A lot of the time, women are the leading decision-makers in esthetics, styling and functionality. We’ve also added more women to our team, and you see more of them in our showroom interacting with customers. It’s a fresh and exciting approach.”
Having given birth a few months ago to a son, Ruffell has been transitioning slowly back into the business.
“I took a bit of time off after giving birth, but with the general growth of the business and then pairing that success with the rebate program, it’s been impossible to take traditional maternity leave,” she says.
“However, I’ve had lots of flexibility and support since my son was born. Sometimes I even bring my baby to work. I was demoing some windows and doors in the showroom the other day, holding my baby in my arms and people were loving it!”
The next generation
Now, the path is being paved for a new generation of business owners.
“It’s great being able to work with my brother everyday,” says Ruffell. “It’s brought everyone that much closer together, and now we’re working towards a brighter future.”
Moreover, says Baker, business presents an exciting opportunity to have a family legacy company.
“Between Shannon and I, we have five children all under the age of six. And with the exception of the newest baby, they’ve already expressed aspirations of working here one day,” he says. “It’s our intention to keep this business and pass it down from generation to generation as we go on.”
While the newest addition to the family can’t speak for himself, Ruffell says her son is already a big fan of the business.
“From the first day he was born, he was decked out in a Heritage Renovations hat!” she says.