NANAIMO – Since Dave Southorn set down roots in Nanaimo, his operation has seen tremendous growth.
Over the past 14 years, Southorn has taken V.I. Outdoor from a one man operation to one of Vancouver Island’s most sought-after outdoor contractors.
The company offers a wide variety of outdoor services, including landscape design, pools, retaining walls, decks, fences, ponds, excavations, and much much more.
With its growing workforce and fleet of eight vehicles, many are surprised at the company’s humble beginnings.
Southorn came to the Island about 15 years ago, moving from Calgary with his wife.
“Moving out to the Island from the prairies was like starting a choose-your-own-adventure,” says Southorn. “I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to take, but I had experience with various machines, and landscaping made a lot of sense for me.
I took business management in college, and have always been a hands on kind of guy. I like to be creative and don’t like redundancy, so the variety in landscaping was very appealing.”
During the first year, Southorn was at another job working graveyard shifts while his wife was in school. He used his days off to hand out flyers door to door in the Oak Bay area.
“I’m a numbers guy, so I realized I could hit about 100 houses per hour with flyers,” he says. “I would typically get a two to three per cent response rate from the direct marketing, and about about a third of those would turn into a job.”
Upon getting his first job, he bought his very first piece of equipment – a ladder, slowly adding to his inventory as the business grew.
While he was primarily focussing on the Oak Bay market, Southorn began to take on a few jobs in Nanaimo.
“I checked out the market there, and Nanaimo seemed to pull ahead by leaps and bounds,” he says. “The response rate was a lot higher. Nanaimo had a lot more residential development going on, and there was more work here, so we decided to move our operation.”
Since this move, Southorn and the team at V.I. Outdoor have established a sterling reputation for their quality of work.
“Quality is number one for us,” says Southorn. “We keep it extremely high. We’re definitely not a discount-type company, and we charge a premium rate for the premium service we provide.
“We’re just as picky with our customers as we hope our customers are with us. With such a high turnover market, I decided to get people to come in long-term and build our brand that way.”
Just as Southorn is particular with the jobs he takes, he is particular with the employees he hires. He regularly sifts through 80 resumes at a time, just to get one or two hires.
“The number one rule in business is ‘surround yourself with the right people,’” he says. “Nobody understands the time, money, and investment it takes to hire even one person, but it’s absolutely crucial to have the right fit join the business.”
In addition to the careful selection of projects and people, Southorn keeps his company running strong thanks to thoughtfully implemented systems.
V.I. Outdoor is in the final stages of implementing a new accounting software and a program called Jobber, which organizes scheduling, quotes, invoicing, billing, and hours for the company.
“Our company is healthier if its built around reliable systems,” says Southorn. “We want to be efficient, and we need our internal processes to be top quality if we’re going to offer a top quality product.”
V.I. Outdoor’s team includes skilled workers capable of excavating, setting up irrigation systems, pouring concrete for retaining walls, creating custom cedar structions, and much more.
With these employees, the company is able to achieve their goal, which Southorn describes as “a magazine-worthy project.”
The team is currently wrapping up an in-ground pool project that they’re particularly proud of.
“We brought in close to 2,000 yards of material,” says Southorn. “We did everything from pool excavation to building and installing concrete patios, underground hydro, and service lines. Being a higher material project, it’s been a fun one.”
Though the company takes on jobs of all sizes, they particularly enjoy getting creative with their projects, working with clients to plan and design the landscape, and taking the job through to completion.