When Glenn German established ZyTech Building Systems in 1997 on East Lake Way in Airdrie, the construction world was at his feet. The economy was coming back, people were building and it was a perfect time to establish a company devoted to manufacturing trusses and other supplies used in home and building construction.
Before long, that dream appeared to be in ashes.
“Within eight months, our facility burned to the ground,” says German. “That was a defining moment for us. As a new company, you need time to develop a culture … and when we had the episode of our facility burning to the ground, we called our customers and said, ‘Don’t worry about your orders; we’re going to take care of it.’”
German’s staff arranged for a Lethbridge truss manufacturer to build product from ZyTech’s designs, and the orders were filled. And within seven months the Airdrie plant was rebuilt.
“The culture that was built from that was, when we make a promise, we can keep it,” says German. “We pulled it off when we didn’t have a facility … we always need to find a way to keep our promises.”
By 2002, demand for ZyTech products required a move to a larger facility in Balzac, after which the company began to expand across Alberta, into Saskatoon and, in 2012, into Arizona.
In October 2014, ZyTech bought 10 acres at the corner of East Lake and Veterans boulevards for a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility devoted to “fast frame,” an innovation with which automated equipment from a Swedish company is used to build the major components of construction right in the shop.
“The world is changing and we’re changing with it,” says German, giving an example of a local builder using fast frame. “Vesta Properties took over the Crown Shores project, which is a four-storey wood apartment building. We’re prefabricating the floors and the walls and the trusses … when it comes to the assembly of that building, I think our builder will probably save three months using our fast frame product.”
German calls the new facility ZyTech’s flagship for this new product line, and says that it will be a model for the company’s future manufacturing facilities. “Within a year, we’ll start replicating this facility in Edmonton, Red Deer, Saskatchewan and the U.S.,” he says.
He jokes that ZyTech expanded to the U.S. in 2012 in order for him to fulfil a promise to his wife.
“My wife is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Florida, and when we got married I promised her I would grow her a palm tree,” says German. “I tried for years in Balzac and I couldn’t grow a palm tree, so I found the next best thing, which is three hours by flight to Arizona. Now I was able to keep my wedding vow and grow her a palm tree.”
There was also the matter of a recovering post-recession homebuilding industry in the greater Phoenix area facing a lack of truss plants and lumberyards that had shut down during the downturn.
“We saw an opportunity to be part of rebuilding that community, so we opened up a truss plant there that also allowed some of our staff to move to a different locale and bring the ZyTech culture into our new facility,” German says, adding that the plant in Glendale also serves parts of California, Texas and Nevada, as well as Greater Phoenix. (At present, ZyTech has almost 500 employees across North America, he says.)
German is content to keep his head office in Balzac and says that the new plant in Airdrie is perfectly situated close to Highway 2, allowing easy access to markets throughout the province. “This plant serves Calgary and Edmonton with fast frame product, and a huge advantage of being in Airdrie is we can service those markets very easily,” he says.
Besides the “ZyTech keeps its promises” philosophy borne from that early blaze, the company has also cultivated a corporate culture that embraces diversity and community-building.
“We’re very multicultural and our employees speak 14 different languages,” German says. “And we try to build relationships and help the homebuilding companies build their businesses and build community.
“Without community, you don’t have anything – you don’t have a place where people want to live, and you don’t get vibrancy,” he adds.
ZyTech also promotes community by supporting local kids’ programs, such as Airdrie Minor Hockey Association, soccer programs and Rotary’s Miss School, Miss Out.
Fostering career growth is also important. Thanks to ZyTech’s use of automation, German has been able to hire people for entry-level positions and, he says, “as time goes on, they get to know the different areas and how everything goes together. Your career growth is not limited – you can grow into engineering, management, and work at locations around North America.”