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Fusion Homes eyes key land acquisitions

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You might think that in a struggling economy anyone in the housing industry would be blanching right about now. Yet, Lee Piccoli, president of Fusion Homes in Guelph is taking the slowdown in stride. In fact, he’s using the time to take on some long overdue projects that will strengthen his competitive clout down the road.

Now in its 10th year of operations, Fusion Homes, a Guelph, Ont.-based residential builder, servicing the communities of Guelph, Kitchener, London, Komoka and Tillsonburg, has been growing in leaps and bounds — 420% since 2004, according to Mr. Piccoli.

The industry veteran says he was well aware a slowdown was in the cards. “We’ve been preparing for that possibility for the last 2½ years, so we started putting more cash aside.”

As a relatively small company, it was always tough to compete on land purchases in a hot market, he says. “You can’t play that game when you don’t have the big dollars. But we knew that if and when the recession came, we would be able to engage in some key acquisitions while others would be hamstrung with their cash flow.”

The October/November collapse gave Fusion Homes much needed “breathing space,” he adds. “Granted, it wasn’t through our own choosing, but it does give us a chance to prepare ourselves for the turnaround when it happens.”

With potential land acquisitions on the table, it was critical the company be in a position to grow quickly and take advantage of the market, he says. “There was definitely a scalability quotient that needed to be fulfilled.”

That meant doing an overhaul of its reporting and data management systems to automate processes and enable information sharing. “When we were growing so fast, our systems and processes were strained to the limit. But the last thing we wanted to do at the time was implement new software because that would have led to mass chaos,” Mr. Piccoli says.

It is not unusual for businesses in the midst of a boom market to fall behind with IT requirements, says Eric Gales, vice-president, small business, mid-market solutions and partners for Microsoft Canada in Toronto.

“When business is good you can afford to carry quite a lot of slack in your systems and be inefficient with some processes. But when a market is tightening, those inefficiencies can lead to problems.”

Elaine Mah, business marketing manager for Intel Canada in Toronto agrees gaining efficiencies is critical these days. “As the economy slows down, businesses should be planning for coming out the other side, and part of that is achieving higher productivity levels through technology.

“If you’re battening down the hatches and not looking ahead, then you’ve already lost,” she says.

Mr. Piccoli says engaging in a major IT project also allowed him to keep valuable staff members. He discovered, for example, that one of his site supervisors, Andrew Day, had a systems engineering degree. Now, Mr. Day works three days on site and two days in the office heading up the software implementation team. “It was great to take his skill set and apply it somewhere else without having to cut back his hours.”

Mr. Gales says the beneficiaries of the upswing will be those that had the foresight to create efficiencies in their systems and processes. “A lot of people tend to retrench, which only compounds the issue when the market returns — and they end up further behind their competitors.

“Lee is taking the time to solve efficiency problems today, which will ultimately take the costs out of doing business in the future,” he says. “As the industry recovers, he will be in a much better place to capitalize on opportunities.”


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