Chris Fillmore isn’t worried about landing more clients. The president of Edmonton’s Fillmore Construction is happy with the approximately 20 companies—including major corporations like Loblaw and CIBC—that make up 80% of his firm’s revenues.
The family-owned business, which constructs commercial and industrial buildings in Western Canada, is on track to make $125 million in its current fiscal year: The company’s highest earnings since its formation in 1991. What makes that sum all the more impressive is that it was earned during a major downturn in the Alberta economy.
Fillmore Construction didn’t manage to grow thanks to aggressive promotion. In fact, it has zero marketing staff, relying instead on existing relationships with customers who are easy to work with and pay on time. Its handful of new clients each year comes from recommendations. “We get in trouble when we deviate from our corporate clients, so we focus on being able to hold on to the good guys and drop the bad guys if we decide we don’t like them,” says Fillmore.
How does he spot a bad guy before it’s too late? Shoddy communication. For instance, Fillmore Construction was about to sign a $14-million contract to build a hotel. Suddenly, the phone calls and emails stopped. The silence suggested a potentially fickle client. “Instead of pursuing them, we said, ‘screw it. Let them find somebody else,’” says Fillmore.
To ensure repeat business, Fillmore constantly finds new ways to save money for clients, even if it means tweaking the existing plan. During the development of a 13-acre retail and commercial project in Lloydminster, Alta., the company reduced costs by more than $100,000 by recommending against ripping up an acre of perfectly good pavement. “Instead of getting every dollar we could, we asked the right questions and let the client save some money,” says Fillmore.