– Words by Sandra Jones Photography by Don Denton
In pursuit of a life path, sometimes we seek out the road. And sometimes the road seeks us. For Eric Johnson, owner of Complete Windows in Parksville, fate seemed fixed on funnelling him towards life as an entrepreneur.
“Every boss I had told me I was unemployable,” jokes Eric.
In truth, early career choices as a drug and alcohol counsellor and a customer service manager for a large food service supply firm successfully took Eric from Calgary to Seattle and Edmonton before landing him back in Calgary. “I was fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time, but the road kept leading me towards being an entrepreneur.”
Eric’s mother and stepfather started Complete Windows in 1992, but by 2012 they were thinking about selling. Eric made the decision to buy the company and move back to Parksville—but he entered the environment with some trepidation.
“When I first came here, I was under the impression that the island was a graveyard for business. There were no huge success stories at the time,” recalls Eric.
Looking for opportunities, he hit the ground running.
“I’d leave the house at 5 am and drive to Victoria. My assistant at the office would Google architects and I’d start visiting construction sites to meet up with architects and builders. I began to see that there were big gaps that nobody was filling in the Victoria market.”
Those gaps included a need for high-end windows and doors for large custom homes and commercial projects.
“Most manufacturers are skilled in a particular niche, but not every window is suited for every application. Because of that we now carry seven different manufacturers that all do things well. The advantage is that we can mix and match the right product for the right application; this suits the architects’ and builders’ needs plus it means we can meet the homeowners’ needs in terms of budget.”
The second void Eric tackled was service.
“Most window companies supply the product and walk away. We saw that when we supplied the windows and didn’t install them, there were big warranty gaps. We decided to take that headache off of the builder and provide installation. Now we have four full-time crews and a lot fewer warranty issues.”
Eric continued to break the mould by hiring more women into what is typically a male-dominated construction industry.
“I saw a huge void with few women in construction and there are massive opportunities with that. I didn’t want a rough, construction feel to the customer experience, so we employ a lot of strong, smart women throughout our operation, and it’s one of the reasons why our customers like to work with us.”
One of the women who plays a key role in the business and in his life is his wife Katy.
“Two weeks after I came back to the island, I met my wife Katy when she cut my hair,” says Eric.
The couple immediately connected. They married a year later and started a family.
“Katy had been looking for a career change and we started to talk about her working in the business,” says Eric. “We wanted to ensure we created the right dynamic between our personal and professional lives.”
“We were pretty thoughtful in the process of it and what role I would play,” recalls Katy. “I started by taking photos of our completed projects—photography is a passion of mine—and then moved onto building up our social media presence. Now I manage our overall marketing and branding.”
The division of duties plays to the couple’s strengths, providing Katy with a creative outlet and Eric with the freedom to identify new opportunities.
“There is a trend towards building large contemporary homes with big windows. One night we were watching the TV show Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles and saw a reference to Fleetwood Doors. These are the doors that allow you to create a wall of windows that seamlessly glide back into the wall. I jumped on a plane to L.A. and got the exclusive rights to sell this product on Vancouver Island,” Eric says, adding, “There’s also a big push right now for steel doors and windows with a thin profile, so we’re introducing a line of these as well. And we’ll be one of only two suppliers in western Canada.”
While some of the products that Complete Windows sells are from nearby US states, Eric’s goal is to source most of their products from Canada.
“Two days after our son was born, we ran into a warranty issue on one of our jobs. I ended up driving down to Phoenix to pick up 10 replacement doors and was back in a few days. If that product had been from Europe, it would have taken 20-30 weeks to solve the issue. We have a lot more control using suppliers that are close to home.”
Almost 10 years into life as an entrepreneur, Eric’s vision and hard work have paid off with long-term relationships within the industry and a staff that feels like family.
“We have the best team that shares our focus on service, and we have virtually no turnover in staff,” says Eric. “We treat them as well as we possibly can and they get to work on some of the most unique projects on the island—whether that’s the Tofino Visitor Centre or the largest single-family home on the island.”
The company, which works on projects from Campbell River to Victoria and along the Sunshine Coast, has grown tenfold in nine years, and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I don’t think you can foresee how much you’ll put into your own business, but we have put our whole selves into this,” says Katy.
Now with a thriving company and three children under the age of eight, it seems that the road was always destined to lead here.
“If anybody would have told us how hard this would be, I don’t know if I would have done it,” says Eric. “But I never thought it would be this good either.”
Check out Complete Windows online here.