It all started with one man, a pick-up truck and a basement office running a drywall business. When Harald Holdt started Viking Drywall in 1981, he could never have imagined what his small business would grow into in the hands of his sons Marko and Steffen and ownership partner Cliff Francis.
Viking’s first client was Cardel Homes and as the drywaller gained a reputation for quality and service, it continued to grow in size and scope. In 1990, that expansion was aided by the acquisition of Elktone Contracting to enter the multifamily commercial market and Elktone Interiors to augment the residential drywall business. The following year, Holdt and his two partners started Prophit Management to handle the accounting for the growing group of businesses.
“Each business was operating separately but owned as a conglomerate. This created unintended isolation of various business units, creating siloes throughout the company,” says Cliff Francis, president and CEO of SPAAR.
The company’s scope widened again in 2008 when SPAAR, then Prophit Management, started Midgaard Spray Foam Systems, adding loose fill and spray foam insulation application to the companies offerings. In 2010, a distribution company called SPAAR Drywall Supplies was added as the organization explored inhouse procurement and distribution. It was during this time that Steffen and Marko acquired their father’s shares and Cliff bought another partner’s shares to become equal owners of SPAAR.
In 2017 the company introduced a painting division called Colour Spec Coatings which offered interior and exterior painting services to their builders and business partners. Most recently, at the beginning of 2020 Westgaard Exteriors was born, which made SPAAR one of the first organizations in their industry to integrate roofing and exterior services with drywall. This move push SPAAR closer to achieving their goal of “owning the wall.”
“It was then we knew we needed to make a change, each business operating separately yet together, too many different companies and business names, so we decided to rebrand and bring everything under one roof,” says Steffen Holdt, vice president of Business Development and Estimating for SPAAR.
In a nod to the founder’s Danish heritage, the team chose the name SPAAR, which is Danish for “to save” (with an extra “a” for a unique moniker). The companies that previously existed separately came together to form the divisions of the new SPAAR: SPAAR Residential, SPAAR Multifamily and Commercial, SPAAR Spray Systems, SPAAR Colours and SPAAR Exteriors. The divisions clearly show clients the wide range of services SPAAR has to offer.
The company has grown beyond drywalling, and the team is proud to be a one-stop shop offering the gamut of services to an expanding client base. SPAAR simplifies the building process for clients by providing a full-service approach that allows the team to better manage the schedule and deliver quickly.
“Some of the feedback that we’re getting is that our customers like having us take on multiple scopes as it simplifies the building process for them. We take on a big chunk of the project that they don’t have to stress about,” says Chris Francis, vice president of Operations.
That segment of the project is the last phase before finishing and adhering to the schedule is critical. Many other trades are timing their jobs to SPAAR’s so missing dates isn’t an option. This is part of the reason for the expanded scope of offerings — the more parts of the job they control, the better they are able to manage quality and the schedule efficiently so they can turn the project over to the next crew on time.
“We want to be able to own the wall, so insulation, spray foam, drywall, taping, texturing, painting, roofing and attic insulation,” says Francis. “It’s a vertical integration piece — it’s a natural progression because we’re already there on site, so what more can we do for you? It only makes sense for us to do that.”
It makes sense to the clients as well. While the company started out providing drywall services to the top home builders first in Calgary and then in Edmonton, it is now able to bundle a variety of envelope services to make it more convenient for clients. More and more, long-time clients and business partners are utilizing SPAAR to handle multiple aspects of their new-home envelopes.
While it has greatly expanded its residential offerings, SPAAR has also started growing its industrial and commercial divisions. Not only can the team apply its menu of residential offerings to commercial jobs, but it also has unique services for industrial and commercial clients seeking anything from pipeline protection and erosion breakers to steel stud framing and industrial coatings.
“As we grow, we’re continuing to explore more on how we can make an impact on the commercial and industrial markets. We have the equipment, we have the ability, it’s just a matter of tweaking our processes and the way that we apply ourselves to be able to access and tap into new markets,” says Kyle Follett, vice president of Finance and Administration.
SPAAR has changed significantly over the past 40 years but its dedication to quality and high standards of service have remained constant. The team prides itself on delivering a superior product and in the process has become an industry leader that other companies try to emulate. None are successful at replicating SPAAR’s winning formula — superior knowledge and expertise, unparalleled business partners and relationships plus the best employees equals four decades of satisfied repeat customers.
For the owners, the most important part of that equation is the staff. There are 86 full-time employees between the Calgary and Edmonton locations along with a stable of carefully selected, loyal subcontractors that represent SPAAR in the field. The family business seeks out people who are skilled professionals but who like to have fun at work too, and the owners even built a cigar lounge, fire table and barbeque in a turfed area at the back of the shop to promote work-family bonds. Between the competitive wages and the positive atmosphere, the company enjoys impressive staff retention. Many employees have been with SPAAR for decades, and recent retirees Georgie and Orville had been with the company since the beginning.
“If you fit into the family, we don’t really want you to go anywhere,” says Cliff Francis. “We think it’s a pretty good spot to be.”
Management values the employees and does all it can to protect them. Safety is the primary focus at SPAAR and it was one of the first COR-certified drywall companies in Alberta. It’s an important part of the culture and SPAAR takes its safety responsibilities seriously.
It also takes innovation seriously, and SPAAR has utilized technology to improve estimating, scheduling, production and financial accounting. With the help of its in-house software engineer, the company integrated software solutions to facilitate efficiencies and to bolster SPAAR’s tech plans moving forward.
“We’re selling a solution to our clients and by embracing technology and thinking differently than our competition, we create less stress on our equipment, less stress on our people and improve our overall efficiency as an organization,” says Follett.
SPAAR’s efficiency and quality has led to a significant volume of work but the team still has an appetite to grow. They aim to be Western Canada’s leading service provider, and they are open to suitable opportunities to expand geographically. In the meantime, the team will continue to improve and expand its product and service offerings, foster relationships with valued long-time clients, and lead the industry by example with quality standards and safety protocols.
SPAAR has come a long way since Harald Holdt’s one-man operation, and the team couldn’t be prouder to carry his legacy of quality and service into the next 40 years.