It was the year that saw James Naismith publish the rules of basketball and Sir Frederick Stanley agree to award a cup for hockey supremacy in Canada.But 1892 was also the year that 22-year-old Scotsman Andrew Sheret set up a small business at the foot of Fort Street.Arguments may not rage around the water cooler over which Canadian milestone had the longest-lasting impact, but 120 years later that plumbing concern remains as vibrant as ever, and appears in better shape than Naismiths rules, which are barely recognized in organized basketball these days, and Stanleys cup, which appears doomed to taking a year off.But at Andrew Sheret Ltd., the plumbing and heating firm that calls Victoria home, the company is looking at blue skies eyeing a new location and refusing to rule out the possibility of expanding beyond its 23 B.C. locations and 350 employees.Thats saying something for a company that has weathered two world wars the Great Depression, recessions and myriad changes in codes and practices in its industry.What hasnt changed in that time is the family that runs the company.I find that exciting ... Its something you dont see very often and because of that its a bit special, said vice- president Eric Findlay, who along with his sister, Julie, who works part time at the business, grew up listening to parents Brian and Susan talk about the company over the dinner table.Eric, who has worked his way up through the ranks to join his dad and president Brian in senior management, said its both daunting and inspiring to look back at a company, started by his great grandfather, with 120 years under its belt.The original store was established at 102 Fort St. but moved in 1912 to the Sheret-built Montrose Building at 1114 Blanshard St. The company would maintain its headquarters there a Vancouver store opened in 1927 until 1954 when the Montrose Building was sold and head office moved to 712 Bay St.Andrew Sheret died in 1947, at the age of 77, but was succeeded by his son Andrew William (Will) Sheret, who remained as president until handing over the reins to his son-in-law Brian Findlay in 1993.And now it seems were in the midst of the latest [transition], said Eric Findlay, noting in the last year they have had to replace senior executives who were with the company for more than 40 years. Its worked out very smoothly. Theres been a nice transition from one generation to another, said Brian. And now Im quite confident in the management team we have, its an excellent team.And its still being led by the family. Both Findlays suggest its family, in a broader sense, that is at the heart of why Andrew Sheret remains vibrant.We recognize that its not the person at the top that makes the company, but its all of your staff that does it, said Eric.
Andrew Sheret has established programs to ensure each employee feels like they were treated fairly and like they were part of something. I hope [employees] realize they are not just a number, but that we care about them and that theres also an opportunity for them to build a career. We primarily do our hiring from within.The company was one of the first in the industry to establish a pension program and company-funded medical plan. They celebrate employee longevity with five-year anniversaries when the employee in question is gifted shares in the company and has an opportunity to buy more. There are now more than 300 shareholders in Andrew Sheret Ltd.Karen Salmon, a 25-year employee, said the company treats them all like family, and says its normal to work alongside people who have 20, 30 and 40 years experience with Andrew Sheret.Its a great company to work for, with great benefits and great people, she said. Salmon has been able to work her way through a variety of office positions to her present role of purchasing agent and marketing co-ordinator. Dominic Ellis-Gray, who joined the company two years ago as purchasing manager, said the firm does more than just pay lip service to the claim it is a family company.It actually cares about its staff, its people, he said.Not only is it the right thing to do morally, but recruitment is a really expensive process, so the company treats people the way it would like to be treated and it gets it back in return, Ellis-Gray said.We are in an industry that buys and sells stuff, and you can always find someone else who can buy and sell the same item for a little less, he said. We dont try to be the cheapest, we believe in service and the only way to do that is through the people who make up the company.Eric Findlay said the fact the family has always been hands-on in the day-to-day running of the company has made it stronger.[They] always paid close attention to the company. They arent managing from a distance, so we have been nimble over the years because we were involved, Findlay said. That continues as his dad still works full-time after 47 years with the firm.
Its hard to argue against the business model given the expansion from one store to a chain of 23 and affiliates in Alberta and Saskatchewan.Most of that expansion happened after the move to Bay Street, but with Andrew Sheret now about to build an $18.5-million, six-storey headquarters at the site of the former Holiday Court Motel, Eric is not ruling out more additions.My great grandfather and grandfather were more cautious with expansion and, since my father took over, not only have the economics of the time afforded us the opportunity to expand ... we have also been a bit more aggressive with it, he said. As for whats next Eric wouldnt commit to new sites, but said: B.C. is a big place and we have been able to slowly expand throughout it, but we recognize there are still opportunities in the province.
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