Jesse & Garth Dinan: Brothers in Stone
Chameleon Masonry Restoration has grown well beyond the typical small owner-operator masonry service. John Bleasby spoke with Jesse and Garth Dinan about the growth and future prospects of their Barrie-based company.
By John Bleasby
How did you find your way into masonry?
On the suggestion of a family friend, I moved from Alliston to Toronto to work for a masonry restoration company. I was in my early 20’s and it was quite exciting. I pushed a wheelbarrow, mixed mortar and worked alongside masons, then moved through the management levels of the company. In 2006, I returned to Barrie and opened Chameleon with my brother Garth, who now oversees an affiliated aluminum company that rounds out our exterior services.
And you’ve expanded considerably since then.
We hired our first employee within 2 years. Now, six years later, we have a sales team, two administrative staff, and six full-time masonry technicians. We run at full strength 8 months a year, but in the winter we drop back to a skeleton crew.
You learned masonry on the job, but are there college programmes offered in this field?
There are community colleges in Ontario that offer masonry programmes; Conestoga, Algonquin and La Citè , plus one or two private colleges. There are government Red Seal apprenticeship grants available too.
Where does Chameleon’s business comes from?
70% is referrals, 15% from web site inquiries, and 15% from web sites like Home Stars.
That’s a very high level of referrals.
A number are one-off type referrals from residential masonry repairs. However, the majority is repeat business; work for example with property management companies doing disaster restoration and insurance. We focus on disaster restoration. Accidents happen all year round and have to be repaired, no matter.
What sets Chameleon apart from your competitors?
The majority of our competitors are one-man-and-a-truck type operators. However, unlike many of them, we have the ability to write up detailed proposals and carry all the credentials like liability and WSIB. That opens up a level of residential and commercial clientele that the others can’t access.
How would characterise the type of restoration work you encounter?
It’s like rust on a car. What starts out as a dime grows to a loonie and so on. Water ingress is the major cause of masonry damage. The freezing and thawing cycle causes the masonry to spall apart. We’re building mechanics, so we can anticipate damage behind the masonry by how it has degraded. When we draw up a proposal, no matter who the customer is, we insert a clause that lists the types of unforeseen issues that might come up.
Do you have some of the common industry problems with payment from customers?
No, and the reason is we give very detailed proposals to our clients. We outline everything from setting up shop through to the disposal of debris. Expectations are set and get delivered; everybody’s happy and we get paid.
Masonry is heavy work. How do you protect your workers from injury and over-straining?
We try to work smart, not hard. The way to avoid abusing the body is by using proper tools and equipment like knee pads, ear protection, safety boots and gloves, and techniques that avoid the old-school hammer-and-chisel thing.
How do you see your business developing over the next five years?
Our masonry division has grown by about 20% each year over the past 3 years. We are constantly networking and developing new relationships. Business Coach Mike Draper (Renovantage) has been particularly helpful with our goal-setting. In terms of new services, we’d like to add more concrete restoration to our work.