By Andrea Hansen
Photograph by Stuart Kasdorf
Chris Ransom never predicted she would become the second-generation business owner of Ranco Millwork + Commercial Cabinetry (Ranco Millwork), a custom millwork and cabinetry business founded by her parents in 1984. This was a dreamy teenager enamoured of British music, staying up late listening to CBC’s Brave New Waves. In Grade 11, she gave her mom a budget to move out after school, because there was “no way she was staying in this province.”
Those dreams did take her to England, where she lived and worked for five years and met her husband, Simon Nunn. After moving back to Canada and living in Toronto, they realized Saskatchewan was where they needed to be. Simon joined Ranco Millwork in 1999 but Chris continued to pursue her career in marketing and business development.
Even though I’m working on a tight budget, you must find experts in different fields who have the same values.”
Having moved more than 10 times before age 10, Chris learned early that the only constant in life is change, some of which you control and some not. She is a driver of change and those who know Chris will often hear her say, “Even better if…” She loves creating something new and is motivated by the meaning behind those creations. “It’s simply not just about building cabinets.”
How did you end up joining Ranco Millwork , when this was never part of the plan?
I would like to say it was strategic, working for other companies in business development and marketing, but it wasn’t. I was working hard and my kids were really young. I enjoyed where I was working, but was stretched so thin. It was the realization that I didn’t have the quality of life I wanted, and I probably have the right skill set for the business. I was sure my mom was more than ready to retire, and it was just kind of a beautiful transition. It was during that first-year transition that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but ironically, I had it when I worked at the other job but didn’t know.
How did that experience influence you?
I think some health challenges give you a moment to take pause, to take inventory of what’s important to you and to allow you to reprioritize. In doing so, you make changes. Having worked outside of the business, I know how much your job can affect your personal life. It’s not a matter of “nine to five, and we own you from nine to five.” That’s just so archaic. It’s influenced how we lead our team and how I’ve worked to try to make sure that we can get our team everything we can within our budget. We don’t have pockets that are never ending, but if there’s something more I can do to help them in their personal life, it’s just a win-win.
In terms of health, it made it clearer what I want and to let certain things go because they’re just not really that relevant. I’m more realistic about what I can do with the amount of time and resources I have. It’s a journey and all the experiences that you have accumulated slowly nudge you one way or the other.
What do you mean by “it’s more than building cabinets”?
A lot of our projects are not publicly known, so it’s sometimes hard to explain to somebody what millwork is, and when you say commercial cabinetry, people still think, oh, you can do my kitchen. A recent commercial project is the University of Saskatchewan’s new hockey rink, Merlis Belsher Place, which I am super proud of. I’m from Saskatchewan and an alumni. Our university is such a leading institution and we have a small part to play in it. The fact is the majority of the donors for that project are from Saskatchewan and some of them don’t even live here anymore.
We’ve worked closely with different stakeholders. For instance, we’ll bring in a mock-up of a locker and go through our suggestions and what will work well with the architect and the general contractor. What comes out is the best possible and it’s a collaborative process to get it done on time, on budget, but also what’s going to really work for these teams using the facility. It’s just so cool.
Our philosophy is we never wanted to grow in terms of size. We just wanted to get better at what we did.”
Tell us your philosophy of growing your business.
My parents always had a profit-sharing program. It is not a bonus. The staff gets a percentage of profits every year. And in some years that meant that the owners did not take a salary out or any profit sharing themselves. It was known from the beginning that the employees were a big part because if they’re not doing quality work, what goes out isn’t quality. We continued with the profit sharing, but then we looked at the open-book philosophy.
It was the realization that employees don’t know what they don’t know. We started sharing some of the costs because the more they know, the more they understand, and they’ve got so many great ideas on how to improve things.
We played the game The Price Is Right, where our team guesses how much it costs for products they use regularly. Sometimes they were very close and sometimes it was a big surprise. That awareness breaks down the “us” and “them,” because really, we’re in it together and it ties back with the profit sharing. That transparency builds trust. The more we know and can do together, the more profit there is to share. When we had a driver who didn’t work out, we never refilled that position. Everybody picked up and got the same amount of work done. Our philosophy is we never wanted to grow in terms of size. We just wanted to get better at what we did.
How do you continually get better?
Even though I’m working on a tight budget, you must find experts in different fields who have the same values. There’s a time when you’re starting your business that yes, you are bootstrapping and watching every nickel and dime. Sometimes you need to spend those nickels and dimes at the beginning to set things up properly because later on it will cost way more. It’s realizing it’s impossible for you to know everything and nobody likes a know-it-all anyway!
We all have the same 24 hours. How do you want to spend them? I don’t want to spend them downtrodden, beaten up, exhausted, and cranky. I want to go, “Hey, I can learn something and I know somebody that knows this better than me. Let’s ask for their opinion. Let’s have a laugh. Oh, and we both learned something.”
Is there something that would surprise people to know about you?
That I’m addicted to fabric and sewing clothes! My mom taught me as a kid and then I ran with it. I worked at a fabric store and that’s how I paid for my university. In England, I sewed dresses because there are a lot of fancy things there and that paid for some of my travelling. I love the idea of creating something and Ranco creates cabinets; I create garments.
Really, our business is creating something more than just a business and more than just a job for employees. It’s fulfilling, and much greater than the sum of its parts.
First published in the March 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.