By Natasha Rombough, Director of Marketing and Communications, CHBA
From building a business out of his garage to operating a luxury full-scale renovation company in Alberta’s two largest cities, Danny Ritchie has a lot to be proud of. The co-owner and president of Ultimate Renovations has an impressive collection of housing award trophies and more than 40 years’ experience running a business, which he’s still finding ways to grow.
Although the company is now based in Calgary, Ritchie grew up in Montreal. Starting at a young age, he worked for his father, who ran his own windows and siding business. Being on the jobsite didn’t allow Ritchie much time for school, but he did learn his way around tools, and got experience working not only on exteriors but some home additions as well. Ritchie soon struck out on his own, venturing west. He landed in Edmonton and started his company, then called Ultimate Window Capping, on July 16, 1979, and met his future wife, Barb, the same week at The Rose and Crown. She became his partner in life and business. Together, they built the company out of Ritchie’s garage, which they used to store window capping. Barb did the measuring while Ritchie handled the installations. By the mid-1980s, the company had expanded to doing most of the exterior work on homes, including windows, siding and roofing.
Today, Barb Ritchie remains one of the co-owners of Ultimate Renovations, in charge of accounts receivable. “I might not have what I have now for success if I didn’t have my wife,” Ritchie says. Barb isn’t the only family member helping to run the business. In the early days of the company, Ritchie asked his brother, Terry, who was working as an accountant, if he’d consider joining the company. He accepted, and Terry is the third co-owner and comptroller. The next generation is also involved, and Ritchie is transitioning his son Paul to help take over the business. Paul got his legs in the industry working in sales for another homebuilder in Calgary, working his way up there before coming to join his parents at Ultimate Renovations.
On Sept. 7, 1991, a big hailstorm hit Calgary, and Allstate Insurance asked Ritchie if his company could come to Calgary to help repair the damage to roofs and siding. While working in the city, homeowners there began asking if Ultimate could handle additions and garages. Ritchie took on the work and realized he had a vision for seeing the potential in spaces. “Don’t ask me to sing,” he jokes, “but that was something natural that I think I had – a vision for looking at a home and being able to see how it can be updated to best suit modern needs and lifestyles.”
From there, he expanded the company’s services to include renovations. Ritchie says that growing the company at that time was not difficult, compared to the growth they’re experiencing now due to the success of recent housing awards. “A lot of our people are hourly employees, and we try to keep the same people on our teams. We are so busy right now, we need more people.”
Training new talent
Ultimate is doing its part to help build up the residential construction labour force locally. For years now, the company has been participating in the Registered Apprenticeship Program in Alberta, which is for students who want to learn and practice their future trade while they’re in high school. Each year, Ultimate typically hires three students for four months over the summer. The program pays for part of the students’ wages, and Ritchie says they usually have a least one student that they want to keep on when the summer is over. They company is now also looking to find students from the Southern Alberta Institute of Alberta (SAIT), and are exploring hiring Ukrainian refugees. “We need workers,” Ritchie says simply, “so we need to look outside the box.”
A superior client experience
Although he’s co-owner, Ritchie is still the first touchpoint for homeowners. He visits each home with his son Paul, and after consulting with the homeowners they give their vision for what Ultimate can do for the homeowners, then bring them back to their show home so they can see the superior quality firsthand.
That customer experience is one of the special things that Ultimate offers.
“We built our first show home 15 years ago, and we’re on show home number seven now. Not one of our competitors has one,” Ritchie elaborates. Another positive is that the company is a one-stop shop; almost everything – from sales to architecture to design to cabinet-making – is done in-house. The entire staff comes together to come up with a plan and budget for the project, and Ritchie oversees it all through to completion.
Ultimate Renovations not only prepares its clients well for the experience of renovating, it does its best to make them as comfortable as possible. Ultimate Renovations owns several homes it rents to its clients going through whole home renovations at a reasonable price, with a lot of flexibility. “We provide a way for them to be able to get out of the stressful environment and the mess that comes with renovation, which also makes it easier for us to do the job,” Ritchie says.
The company became members of the local association in Calgary in 1995. Three years later it entered the local housing awards for the first time and won in all five categories entered. The business exploded, and Ritchie was so busy with work he got from that successful awards season that he ended up missing the deadline the following year. But the company kept entering the Calgary awards, and with its continued success the clients kept coming. Ultimate has won 67 awards at its local association since that first season, top honours at the BILD Alberta Awards, and this past year earned the top award for renovators at the CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence: The Renovation Excellence Award.
Design trends in renovation
Ritchie certainly does have an eye for design, and keeps his pulse on homeowner trends. These days he says a more modern palette is most appreciated by clients – flat surfaces with a clean and sleek look. Open-concept homes are still trending, and Ritchie doesn’t see the Great Room going anywhere in the near future. What is new is the increase in customers requesting adding elevators to their homes, as they think ahead to aging in place.
When it comes to making small houses feel bigger without increasing the footprint, nothing works quite as well as high ceilings. Ritchie and his team are happy to be able to offer the option to clients. With the right type of home, or homes that are being completely gutted, they can raise their roofs to nine, 10 or more feet – without taking the roof apart. “The first one was the hardest one to do, on the hardest house to do,” says Ritchie. Having now done it a dozen times, he’s confident in offering the option to homeowners.
Another emerging trend is outdoor living spaces, which the company specializes in. It first started about seven years ago when Ritchie added an outdoor living room to their show home. It was a fresh enough concept that even his wife Barb was skeptical, Ritchie remembers. “My wife said to me, ‘do you think people are even going to want this?’ After the show home was finished, a lot of customers who we’d already done renovations for came back wanting an outdoor space of their own.” The outdoor living spaces aren’t just popular among homeowners; Ultimate Renovations has taken home several housing awards for its outdoor spaces.
And it’s not just design trends that are changing. Ritchie says customers are much more educated these days, because they’re doing their homework beforehand by researching on the Internet.
Plans for the future
Ritchie is a self-proclaimed workaholic. “I’ll need to move away from Calgary to be able to stop working,” he laughs. But whenever he does decide to retire, he can be proud to look back at the company he’s built with the help of family and cherished longtime employees over the years.
Company Name: Ultimate Renovations
Head Offices: Calgary and second office in Edmonton
Number of Full-Time Employees: 50 plus 50 sub-contractors
Projects per year: 75 per year (75 per cent of the projects in Calgary)
Coming CHBA Events
Entries open for CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence
Oct. 23-27, 2023
CHBA National Fall Meetings
May 6-10, 2024
Home Building Week in Canada
Saint John, NB