For Anita MacKenzie, business is all about the journey, not the destination. And while the destination has been impressive, it has been an incredible journey over the past 25 years as she and her team created a thriving retail and corporate millwork fixturing company from the ground up.
Her success story started in 1985 when she moved west from Nova Scotia to take advantage of the opportunities available in booming Alberta. She found work at a company that manufactured retail stores and in the 12 years that she worked there, she learned all aspects of the business, from operations to sales. During that time, MacKenzie also pursued accounting and business courses through SAIT, which would later be the catalyst for starting her own business.
“It’s where I got hooked on the creative part of it and getting to work with so many entrepreneurs and retailers to see their visions come to life,” says Anita MacKenzie, president of C-West Custom Fixtures.
After the death of the founder, the company folded but the demand for its services didn’t. Many clients reached out to MacKenzie to encourage her to carry on offering retail fixtures on her own. She decided to do just that, and with an employment roster of one, she created C-West Custom Fixtures, originally a sales and marketing company, in a small 500-square-foot space.
Today, that company supports more than 30 employees in its LEED-compliant Calgary headquarters and has evolved with the industry, applying new technology to better serve its growing client base. The original logo was created with PowerPoint 25 years ago and has seen six iterations before becoming the sleek and sophisticated design reflecting today’s C-West. This logo mirrors the style and capabilities of the ever-evolving company.
The continual organic growth of C-West led to it outgrowing its space multiple times. In a very short period, the small marketing and sales firm became an 8,000-square-foot manufacturing company, and in 10 years it nearly doubled to 15,000 square feet to accommodate the workload. The company was bursting at the seams within another decade and MacKenzie doubled the capacity again four years ago, giving the team 33,000 square feet of office and shop space that was tailor-made for C-West’s needs.
“We went from 3,000 square feet of shipping space plus a satellite shop, to 8,000 square feet of shipping and receiving area with seven active loading bays,” says Spencer MacKenzie, Anita’s son and procurement manager for C-West. “Our capacity and efficiencies have increased tenfold. We also added a five-ton truck to our fleet allowing us to transport goods and materials across the city.”
This allows the team to better meet deadlines and get client spaces up and running quicker. C-West is at a great size now, but that doesn’t mean that it is content with being static; the team is continually expanding and seeking new areas for growth.
“We are always looking to expand our in-house capabilities with new equipment and processes. With the changing environment, there are so many opportunities to integrate new technology into our manufacturing,” says Curtis Noseworthy, operations manager at C-West.
The growth and success of C-West comes as no surprise to the long-time team and repeat clients. Since the beginning, MacKenzie has set out to create a company that offers superior workmanship from highly qualified cabinetmakers and finishers, which both earned client trust and made it easy to unconditionally stand behind the products.
C-West works with discerning clients representing some of the most recognizable brands across North America, from shoe retailers to skin care clinics and everything in between. The team proudly provides custom woodwork and cabinetry that incorporates metal, glass, plastics, solid surface, upholstery, lighting and innovative technology to manufacture displays that attract as much attention as the merchandise they showcase. The team consults with clients, either in person or virtually, to discuss the vision and inspiration for the space along with branding requirements. Then the designers take it from there – they create floor plans and 3D renderings of concepts that the onsite engineers and trades professionals will then manufacture.
“You hear a lot of talk in retail about how it’s all about the experience. We’ve been all about the experience since day one,” says Michael Battler, C-West’s head designer. “Our difference maker is how we pull all this together. We pull together the skills, the technology, the materials and the best practices of what retail is about today.”
The sample showroom offers clients a plethora of options to allow clients to realize their dream space, whether it’s a chain store recreating existing branded spaces or an independent retailer looking for ideas and guidance from the design team. C-West’s team presents products in a range of price points to ensure that clients stay within their budget while checking every box for their new space. The team also has the ability to create prototypes of new product lines to test the design and functionality of fixtures before they go into production should the client request it.
C-West then manufactures the pieces, employing a skilled group of Red Seal journeymen and journeywomen who handcraft all fixtures and millwork projects in the state-of-the-art Calgary shop. Once a project is completed, each piece is inspected carefully and the project is assembled in the shop to ensure everything works and fits perfectly before shipping it to the location for installation. After installation, the team follows up to make sure that everything is working well and that clients are thrilled with their new space.
While many of C-West’s clients are larger retailers, MacKenzie hated to turn down smaller retailers because she just couldn’t meet their budgets or timelines. To turn that no into a yes, she launched The Fixture Store. The showroom presents clients with a mini-shopping mall featuring a variety of options for cabinetry and fixtures from C-West’s product line of quality pre-designed, pre-engineered pieces, all manufactured in Canada. This gives smaller retailers a bit of a custom feel by incorporating various accessories and element options without the full-custom costs and long timelines.
“With all the configurations, the sky’s the limit. We have ready-to-go fixtures that are versatile, and we have them in inventory. We can open a store in four weeks, where in the shop we would be about 16 weeks,” MacKenzie says.
She and her team strive to fulfil clients’ needs and are there throughout the process to ensure clients are satisfied. It’s C-West’s attention to detail and service levels that have led to a number of long-term repeat customers over the past 25 years.
“What sets us apart is the service level we offer. And it’s not just that first-day service. It’s how we come to the table down the road when something goes wrong. We’ve got a great team that works to make things right,” says Battler.
It’s that team that MacKenzie credits with the success and growth of C-West Custom Fixtures. Her people-first philosophy has attracted dedicated staff, creating a team balanced between experienced veterans who have been with the company for many years and the fresh perspective introduced by younger employees to ensure every client’s style and needs are represented.
The company is invested in its employees and the industry as a whole. The team supports apprenticeship programs by serving on boards as well as bringing in apprentices to learn from the C-West professionals. This allows the skills and craftsmanship to be transferred to the next generation of cabinet makers. The emPower Women in Trades program pays a month of wages for women to try out different trades in a shop, and C-West has participated in and hired great female employees through this program. MacKenzie also appreciates the value of education and training and has supported staff through schooling to help them advance their expertise, experience and position within the company.
“People matter to me. It takes a team, and there have been some amazing people that have helped me along the way here,” she says.
And in turn, MacKenzie has helped others. When COVID-19 brought retail to a halt, she wanted to keep her staff busy while giving back. She connected with Narrow Road Home, a High River residential healing program for women battling addiction, mental health issues, domestic violence and life crises. Michael Battler designed the space, inside and out, and MacKenzie sent rotating crews to turn the Victorian residence into a Tea House. They volunteered their time, covered costs and enlisted suppliers to make The Noble Teahouse a reality. They helped to create a profitable business that would enable women to learn skills and gain job experience following their recovery. The profits from this business allow the Teahouse to employ more women post-recovery as well as donate back to Narrow Road home.
“All of our employees got to go make a difference and be part of it – hours of sanding, repairs, painting, building shutters and upholstered bench seating,” she says. “We also did their business plan and set up the corporation. Our approach to non-profit was why don’t we create a business that is for-profit? And the Noble Teahouse is now profitable. It’s incredible.”
MacKenzie and her team not only built the Teahouse but also shoulder the responsibility of accounting and financials for the business to ensure compliance. As a female entrepreneur, empowering women to succeed is important to her and MacKenzie is proud to facilitate The Noble Teahouse’s mission.
Anita MacKenzie has used her company to strengthen the industry, help with client growth, support the community and create a family of dedicated staff at C-West Custom Fixtures. And the next generation is poised to carry on her 25-year legacy as the company continues to grow into the future.
C-West Custom Fixtures Inc.
120, 10770 – 25th Street NE | Calgary, AB
P| 403-243-1036 F| 403-243-7219