With an interest in history and government along with a knack for debate, Shawn Mecklinger was on track towards a career in law after graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a degree in Political Science. But with a successful family business founded by his grandfather, construction was always in his blood.
After joining Wycliffe Homes’ Property Management Division and working on large scale renovation projects, Shawn branched out from the family business to flip houses with his two brothers. The trio eventually set out to make a name for themselves in the industry, launching Kilbarry Hill Construction in 2005.
Today, the company has grown significantly with a full team of labourers, a portfolio of major residential and commercial projects, and a gig on one of HGTV’s biggest hit shows, Property Brothers.
BuzzBuzzHome News caught up with Shawn to learn more about Kilbarry Hill Construction, their experience working with Property Brothers, as well as future plans for the company.
BuzzBuzzHome: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got interested in development and construction?
Shawn Mecklinger: I’m actually fourth generation in the development/construction business. My grandfather was the founder of a company called Wycliffe Homes. He was one of the original founders of the company which started building in the early 50s, when they were one of the first subdivision builders in the GTA. As a little kid, I would go down to the construction sites and see all the big machines, so it was pretty easy to fall in love with, at an early age. I also remember all the trades working and they would always give me high fives so I just loved the environment and the outdoors aspect of it. I took a liking to it from the beginning.
BBH: Where did you go to school and how did you get your start in the real estate industry?
SM: Growing up, I attended Forest Hill Public School and Forest Hill Collegiate. During that time I always knew what was going on with the family business. I would always visit the sites and see the business from afar. I then went to university at Western where I studied Political Science because I was very into history, government, and politics. I was a pretty good debater so I thought about a career in law.
However, the time when I was about to graduate coincided when the market was starting to heat up again after the recession in the early 90s. So I was kind of at a crossroads because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do — but there was always the family business. So like many people, I ended up going into the business where I worked in the Property Management Division of Wycliffe Homes.
BBH: You founded Kilbarry Hill Construction with your brothers, Jordan and Dave Mecklinger. When did you transition into construction and what compelled you and your brothers to start your own company?
SM: Through my experience with Wycliffe I gained a lot of knowledge of the industry and was put in charge of a few large renovation jobs including a couple plazas and a medical building. Working on these projects, I got back into being hands-on, working on the sites and learning from the ground up. But again I started to say, is this something I really want to do? Or do I want to do something on my own?
About two years into it, my brother who is two years younger than me, graduated from Western with an Urban Development degree. This was around 2004-05 when everybody was flipping houses, so we said, you know what, why don’t we try to flip some? So we ended up buying a sidesplit, but my main thing was I didn’t want to use any of the trades from the family business. I wanted to do this on our own so we did our due diligence, put together a budget and a plan and made it happen.
Interestingly enough, while we were flipping that house, we put a little sign on the front lawn that said Kilbarry Hill Construction. We had a very cheesy logo with a little roof and a chimney and people started calling us to do their kitchens, basements et cetera. We had never really envisioned going into the construction management industry but we figured if we are really going to go on our own, let’s go this route. Eleven years later, the three of us — Jordan, David, and myself — have about five labourers, a full time estimating department, and a portfolio of various high-end custom homes and commercial work including Pickle Barrel restaurants and Aroma Cafes.
BBH: You recently worked with Drew and Jonathan Scott on an upcoming season of the Property Brothers. How did you become involved with the show?
SM: I remember it was on one of the hottest days in July last summer. I got a phone call from a senior producer with Cineflix, the company that produces the Property Brothers. She said we saw your profile and we’re casting for contractors for the upcoming season. Now i’m thinking which one of my brothers is pulling my leg, but I said, okay, i’ll bite. She said I like your work and i’d like to bring you in for an interview. So I went to the interview, toured them around some of the current stuff we were working on as well as some of our previous projects, and we ended up getting the job.
BBH: So they came to you?
SM: Yeah, they came to us! And I have to give them credit because I think they like to spread it around and work with different companies.
BBH: What’s it like working with a film crew?
SM: It’s very interesting because we usually work hand-in-hand with the homeowner or with the landlord. In this case, the production company is kind of the intermediary so we don’t deal with the homeowner, so it’s a very different dynamic.
Also, things that we see everyday and wouldn’t typically think anyone would find interesting — like finding groundwater — can become an exciting twist in the storyline and makes for great television. So it’s been an interesting and fun ride, and just a great experience.
BBH: When does the season start and how many projects did you work on with the brothers? What type of renos are they?
SM: It’s going to air in the spring, so the upcoming season. We’ve been filming on two sites in the GTA since October and both projects are main floor guts, not entire houses.
BBH: Will you be working with them again on future seasons of Property Brothers
SM: I hope so. I hope we’ve made a good impression and I would love to work with them again.
BBH: In addition to working on the Property Brothers, Kilbarry Hill has worked on several residential and commercial projects from home renovations to restaurant interiors. What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on and why?
SM: The work we did for the Pan Am Games last summer was just an unbelievable experience. That was a public bid that we won so I think we beat around 50 or 60 applicants. We did two sites for them.
One site was the Uniform and Distribution Accreditation Centre (UDAC) where they rented a hydro building at Yonge and Finch and took it over for five months. Obviously the building had to be retrofitted because it was an existing office building that we had to gut and basically transform into this ‘command centre’. So any athlete, worker, or volunteer that got a pass for the games, passed through our building.
With 60,000 people passing through the building all eyes were on us. I’m talking about everything including the curtains that we put up for the booths where people got changed were scrutinized to the tee.
We also did work at the Molson Amphitheatre where they had the cycling events. We did a lot of the paving and concrete so we basically built the track.
It was an incredible experience and I got huge insight into the games, got to meet a lot of the executives, and seeing all the workers put their heart and soul into something for a two or three year gig was pretty cool.
BBH: What’s the long term goal for the company? Any major projects coming up the pipeline?
SM: We’ve actually launched a new Services Division earlier this year. So we’re working with a lot of developers doing a lot of their service work, assisting them and managing their jobs. So far we’ve been working with Decade Homes on a project called Yorkdale Village on Keele and Wilson, and in January we’re going to be doing a site at Royal York and Lakeshore for Icon Homes.
We just launched that program last May, and it’s really picking up, so hopefully we’ll get to work with more developers.