How I Expanded My Business Across Canada at Age 27

How I Expanded My Business Across Canada at Age 27
Image credit: Fares El Sabbagh
Fares El Sabbagh

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Four years ago, Fares El Sabbagh joined Canadian General Contractors, a design and build remodeling company. Remodeling businesses are traditionally localized. However, Canadian General Contractors decided to franchise and spread across Canada. Today, the CGC Group currently has offices in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Here's what's next for El Sabbagh.

Name: Fares El Sabbagh

Franchise owned: I have helped expand the Canadian General Contractor's Group (CGC Group) across Canada, including opening the Vancouver General Contractors (VGC).

How long have you been involved in franchising?

Canadian General Contractors started in Ottawa, Canada in 2009. I partnered with the original owner Moe Abbas on a Vancouver location in March of 2011. Since then, we have opened a location in Toronto and Calgary. After our fourth and most successful launch in Calgary in February of 2014, we started a plan to franchise our proven model across Canada and the states. In the first 10 months of business, our Calgary officer made $2.1 million in sales.

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Why franchising?

Originally, we built centralized departments in our head office in Ottawa to manage and support our existing design build companies. After we built the departments, we realized we had an engine that could provide business owners significant value in building their own companies across Canada and the U.S. This is why we chose to franchise our companies.

In the last four to five years we have built a company that provides marketing, financial and business leadership value to anyone who is in the construction industry. That being said, the renovations industry in Canada alone is worth $30 billion, so we would need to bring on partner franchisees to conquer the massive market.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I have always owned my own business or helped others build their business. Before joining Canadian General Contractors, I helped expand what is now Canada’s largest travel company. I was on the front lines of business development, having built their Cuba program from scratch and helping expansion into new markets such as British Columbia and Alberta. Building businesses has always been a passion of mine and I am very fortunate to have the opportunities to do so.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

The residential construction industry basically has no cap. It’s a massive industry. In Canada, it’s worth $30 billion and in the U.S. it’s worth $300 billion dollars. I have never been one to shy away from a challenge and I knew the construction industry would give me the pleasure of conquering it.

That being said, there is a lot to say about the pride that comes in building beautiful projects that bring value to our clients and the communities we serve. I will never forget the moment when we helped an elderly couple overcome a hoarding problem, and recreated a space they can enjoy while storing their prized positions. It was very emotional -- for not just the couple and our team, but also the couples' children and grandchildren. I want to help be a part of this in every Canadian city in every province.  

I have always been passionate about the technology industry since I can remember. Scaling our business allowed me to combine the technology sector with a thousand year old industry. We bring in an element of technology to streamline our business and in turn provide our clients with a premium service and product.

Our competitive advantage stems from our innovative company culture. Our team members are always looking to improve our systems and processes. These same systems are what have allowed us to provide franchisees significant value that set them up for success.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

When we first started, it was a bootstrapped operation. We literally took our life savings and did not want to give an inch. We started with about $50,000 dollars of set-up costs: $20,000 for marketing, $20,000 for equipment and $10,000 for rent and office renovation.

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Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

Believe it or not we, learned most of our business model from our mistakes. We spent countless hours and millions of dollars on mistakes that have in turn made us millions.  

The most important lesson was to always learn from mistake. It was the $10,000 mistake here and $30,000 mistake there that ultimately was what made us better. We would always say, “Okay, what can we do to never let this happen again?” Whether it was a systems change or process change, we basically fine-tuned our business model the past five years by making a ton of mistakes.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Managing a big team of people. I would have never thought that managing 20-25 employees through a team of managers would be the biggest obstacle we had. But if you think of it, it makes sense. People are usually the one unpredictable factor in business. Once you have employees you automatically inherit all of these problems. This is one of the reason why the model we are presenting to our franchises is less employees (three to four), medium level sales  ($2 to 3 million) and, compared to our current six million plus operations, less overhead but bigger profit. We want to reduce that headache as much as possible.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Mentally, you have to be ready to run your own company. It is not as easy and glorified as what most people think it is. When you own a business it becomes a major part of your life.

You have to be passionate about the business you are getting into it. This is where your motivation will come from. There will be some tough days, and being passionate about your business is what will get you through it.

Part of being mentally ready is also making sure you have a positive outlook in life. Having a positive "can-do” attitude is what is really important. The great part of owning your own business is that when you are established and all gears are in motion you can step back and really start to reap the benefits. Sharing good times with your team and clients when you build a beautiful custom home or just the financial reward from all your hard work: there is a lot to enjoy as a business owner.

What’s next for you and your business?

We are looking to continue to open up more franchises across Canada and eventually into the U.S. Our team is focused on helping our franchise partners make money and run successful businesses.

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