August 30th 2010
Today on Buzz Talk we chat with Hugh Heron, founder of Heathwood Homes.
The developer currently has have four projects on the go in Richmond Hill (The Woodlands in Richmond Hill, The Enclave in Forestbrook, The Reserve at the Woodlands and Forestbrook).
Heron came to Toronto from Scotland in the late ’60s and has built a housing development empire from the ground up. He’s quite an interesting character. Enjoy the interview!
How did you get involved in the home building industry?
I started an apprenticeship as a shipwright in Glasgow. Then I went back to school and ended up as a cost and bonus surveyor with a construction company called Costain in the UK.
There was a wage and price freeze in Britain and I decided I was going to immigrate. I was at a dentist’s office talking to this dentist about where I should immigrate and he said, “Hugh, there’s only three places you can go, Australia, America or Canada. If you go to Australia and realize you’ve made a mistake, it’s a long way back. If you go to America, they’ll work you awfully hard but Canada is a good place for you, they’re pretty classy people.
Costain found out I was coming to Canada so they hired me in their Canadian division. I left that company in 1970 and decided to become a builder. I was having lunch with a subcontractor and he started talking to me about bids on the Costain work and I told him that I wasn’t with them anymore and was becoming a builder. He asked me if I wanted a partner and the rest just grew from there.
What’s the most important part of building a home?
Well the one I’ll give you right away is make sure you build a good foundation but it goes beyond just that. What’s most important in the home building business is selling the homes. When you’re selling you have to make sure the consumer understands what they’re buying and who they’re buying from. That’s awfully important to us.
What makes a Heathwood home stand out from the rest?
We’ve marketed Hugh Heron as the president of the company [Heron has a boisterous public personality], but really this company is based on team work. I tell people if you’ve got a problem with my houses then give me a call and I don’t get too many calls because we’ve got a great team here. I’m reaping the benefits of the people who are working with me, it’s a great organization.
You have four projects on the go in Richmond Hill at the moment. What is it about that area that makes it great for development?
One of the good things about Richmond Hill is it’s very close to downtown Toronto. Those of you who live south of St. Clair may not believe me, but it’s true.
The two pieces of land that we’re building on are two of the best I’ve ever built on because of the swathes of greenery that surround the site. On top of that you’ve got the Viva buses that can take you down to the TTC.
Can you tell us about the Heathwood’s charity project, the Mikey Network?
It’s named after a guy named Michael Salem, one of my partners. He was the type of person everyone would want as a friend, a tremendous giving person. He was always helping someone.
He was playing golf one day with some of the boys from the office and he dropped dead because of a heart attack.
We wanted to do something in Michael’s name so we decided to put public access defibrillators throughout the GTA. There’s a program called Cardiac Safe City run by Toronto EMS. We got together with them and started raising funds about six years ago and now we’re getting close to putting our 1000th machine out there. We’ve raised about $2.5 million, it’s been very successful.
Tell us about your moving company franchise, Two Men and a Truck.
Since the housing business is always going up and down, we thought we’d look at other opportunities to increase our cash flow so we had this chap come in who was an expert on franchises. Through a couple of weeks, he chatted to us about opportunities in franchise businesses and after it was all done he asked if he could come on with us, so we hired him to handle our franchises.
We’ve bought and sold a couple franchises over the last few years and the latest one we’ve bought is Two Men and a Truck. They now have 50 trucks on the go. There’s definitely a synergy between the home building business and the moving business.
As you probably know, recently there’s been some bad press about the moving industry. Two Men and a Truck decided to come up with a customer’s Bill of Rights detailing what people should expect from a mover [check out BuzzBuzzHome’s story on the Bill of Rights]. It’s been very well received by the industry so far.
Do you try and get public transportation brought any of your communities?
In Richmond Hill we give home-owners a bus pass for a year with Viva, which is the local transportation company up there. This is mainly to raise awareness of greening.
Do you have an iPhone?
An iPhone? What’s that? I have a Blackberry which I’m very happy with. Am I computer literate? No.
Many thanks to Hugh for taking the time out to meet with us. For more information on Heathwood Homes click here.