When Evan Keller first started renovating and flipping houses in 2010, he didn’t expect it to be the start of a new career. Seven years on, however, he is now the owner and operator of Keller Developments, a custom home building corporation focused on residential and commercial complexes.
Based in Brandon, Manitoba, Keller Developments has grown steadily over the years, but it remains a family affair; Evan’s wife Jill is the managing partner.
We spoke to Keller to find out how he got started, and what it’s like growing a company in a smaller city.
From farming (and finance) to flipping
Keller is a self-prescribed farm kid, and says his past instilled an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age.
“One of the best things about farming is you reap rewards for your efforts. On the farm, you set your goals for the day, work hard and accomplish as much as you can, and those principals carried through to adulthood,” he explains.
Keller’s desire to see the fruits of his labour played a large role in his decision to start his own business.
“I always liked the idea of growing and running my own team…coaching and managing them, and surrounding myself with a group of people that I chose.”
And while farming may have laid the groundwork for Keller’s work ethic, it was his previous career in sales and banking that helped build the business.
“Having worked in banking in Brandon, I already had a natural business network established,” he says. “We had a long-standing relationship with a local realtor that helped speed things up, but through word of mouth we were able to line up one build after another.”
Growing the team
Since its launch seven years ago, Keller Developments has grown from one crew to four. Keller credits Brandon’s close community as a reason for why he could build such a reliable workforce.
“Brandon’s a cool place — it’s a city, but there’s still a small-town vibe to it…it’s hard to not know all the other contractors in town,” he explains. “It’s natural that you’ll eventually rub elbows with almost everyone, or you’re just one degree of separation away.”
Evan and Jill didn’t solicit anyone to join their team —as they grew, so did their reputation, and eventually trades people who appreciated their work approached them.
But a growing team isn’t without its challenges.
“When you go from a team of five to 25, you don’t necessarily know everyone as well as you used to,” Keller says.
These days, he leans on managers to oversee projects that he can’t supervise first-hand. He also relies on them to understand staff needs, and to make sure they’re happy with their workload and conditions.
“There’s always going to be a bit of change, but you have to keep your core strong. We have some very experienced guys who have been with us from the beginning, and that’s been very important to sustaining growth,” he says.
Part of that growth includes the diversification of Keller’s business with the opening of Westman Lumber Supply, a lumber store on the Trans-Canada Highway.
“We looked at the opportunity and it was a no brainer, as it gave us greater control over the whole building process,” Keller says.
Leveraging the local market
When Keller Developments launched, the local market was very strong, which meant a lot of
opportunity for custom home builds. Keller, however, credits the long-term consistency in Brandon’s housing market as the reason his business could grow.
“There are peaks and valleys, as with any business. But we’re not seeing the housing market climb then crash. There aren’t the big fluctuations you tend to see in other cities or industries,” he says, adding that the company is now booking projects years in advance.
This stability has allowed Keller Developments to become much more competitive, and to take on larger projects. It also means the company can attract a stable workforce of reliable employees.
“We’ve been able to attract some really great people,” he says, explaining that the city plays a big part in that recruitment.
“The Brandon lifestyle is just something that a lot of people appreciate.”