If you are looking for a countertop for the home or workplace, Uniform Custom Countertops Inc., of Concord, Ontario would be a good place to start. The firm manufactures countertops and sells them to hardware stores, big box stores, builders and kitchen and bath dealers. Uniform can also install and sells directly to consumers through a showroom in a unique mall.
“Quartz would be approximately seventy percent of our installations. We also do granite, marble, acrylic [and] laminate countertops… We’re one of the only companies that manufactures all surfaces,” says President and Owner Milos Bezouska.
Uniform’s focus is on countertops and ancillary items such as sinks – which come from a variety of outside companies – and nothing else. Sales are divided between commercial and retail divisions. Countertops for both divisions are made in-house.
Uniform is located in its hometown of Concord with branches in Ottawa, Barrie and Brampton, Ontario. In addition to facilities for manufacturing for commercial and residential sales, Uniform has a thriving retail division, called Surface Elegance which is based in a mall called Improve Canada in Vaughan, near Toronto. The mall boasts over 320,000 square feet of showrooms devoted entirely to home improvement companies.
“I guess there’s approximately three hundred businesses there that cater to design/renovation… [the mall] is unique in Canada. It might be unique in North America. The company that built this mall is also building one in Atlanta right now,” states Bezouska.
Uniform can customize its products upon request. Clients will approach the company with an idea of how they want their countertop to look, and Uniform then comes up with a digital design concept. If the client approves, manufacturing commences.
In addition to offering design input, Uniform customers have other options. They can provide their own sinks to finish their countertop or purchase these items from brands stocked by Uniform. “If we sell a countertop, approximately for seventy percent of them, we sell a sink. Otherwise, customers are welcome to their own,” states Bezouska.
The company will do installations as far west as Sault Ste. Marie – an eight-hour distance from Toronto – up to the Quebec border in the east and all the way to Windsor, Ontario in the south. “We basically cover all of Ontario … I would say ninety-nine percent of our business is in Ontario,” says Bezouska. The company’s products are also used in “a little bit” of renovation work in Quebec, he adds.
The firm originated as Uniform Countertops in 1993. At the time, the company only handled laminate countertops. Bezouska worked at Uniform Countertops, then in 1998, set up his own firm.
“The reason I went on my own was because the owner didn’t want to do solid surfaces like granite and acrylics and all that stuff. They wanted to stick to laminate. I saw there was a shift in the market at the time and didn’t want to get left behind … When we started, we already had a base of customers that wanted to buy from us. I started with laminate — that was the core of the business—but we started to build on the solid surface part of our business in 2005,” recalls Bezouska.
Bezouska bought out the original Uniform Countertops firm in the early 2000s. Uniform Custom Countertops currently employs about 120 people, roughly the same number as last year at this time.
The Uniform president looks for new hires with experience. “This is a very specific business. You don’t find a lot of people with countertop experience, so we try to find something related. Maybe they’re into kitchens or renovations or worked in a big box store. We would look for that. If not, we’ll take somebody and train them. We’re also looking for people that have pride [in their work].”
Hard work and customer service are the cornerstones of Uniform’s corporate culture. “I just think we work really hard. We take our business really seriously. I think most successful people [in the countertop field] are like us as far as customer service. Everybody’s got basically the same product; the pricing is roughly the same. We spend a lot of money on having people in the office, so when you call, somebody is going to call you back or take your call. A lot of the smaller firms in our business don’t have that. That’s where we win. We don’t win in price that much. We win on relationships and customer service,” states Bezouska.
Uniform devotes much time and attention to safety and quality, ensuring its factory employees are safe and that its countertops are the best they can be. “We’re big on health and safety in our own factory. We have each countertop go through quality control that makes sure the countertops are good before they leave the warehouse,” he continues.
The company is picky when it comes to choosing suppliers that provide the raw materials and parts it needs. Uniform prefers suppliers who have inventory of material and can ship it quickly. “The biggest thing for a supplier, they have to have inventory. That’s what we look for. In our business, no one wants to wait for a countertop. When I get an order, I only have two weeks to turn it around. So if the supplier doesn’t have [the inventory], I can’t wait for it to come from Europe or the U.S. So they have to have good inventory.”
The countertops have been used in a range of interesting building projects. “We do a lot of work for designers. On our commercial side, we do a lot of countertops for the healthcare industry. Acrylic surfaces are very popular because they’re non-porous, and hospitals have a big problem with infections. We’ve done operating rooms [so surgeons] can wash off after doing an operation,” states Bezouska.
In addition to hospitals, Uniform’s commercial division sells countertops that end up in bars, restaurants, libraries and government buildings. For all that, Bezouska says the consumer and residential side of the business generates more revenue than the commercial segment.
Bezouska wants to remain focused on countertops and is not planning to branch into any new products. That said, the company is looking to expand the range of materials it uses to make countertops. To this end, it is particularly keen on porcelain.
“We’re working on porcelain to get it right. We always look at the next thing. It could be porcelain. There’s also some other products that are similar to that, that are not quartz-based,” he states. At present, “quartz is really the big thing right now, especially the colours white and grey. And marble,” he adds.
Bezouska says “getting good people” is the company’s biggest challenge. “The unemployment rate is getting lower and lower. There are fewer people looking for jobs,” he states.
Bezouska also frets about the Province of Ontario’s plan to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour. “No one in our factory makes minimum wage, but if the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour, someone who is making a couple dollars more than that will say, ‘I’ve been here ten years and a new guy comes in and is making the same as me, almost,’” he states.
As a result, companies might be forced to raise wages across the board to appease such complaints. Such a move will “drive costs up in Ontario, not just for me but for everybody,” says Bezouska.
The bottom line is not all that matters at Uniform, however. The company is very active in the community. “We take our charity work very seriously. We held golf tournaments to donate to Brandon’s Eye Research Fund plus attend a lot of charity events for various causes,” says Bezouska.
While Uniform has a website, the company primarily relies on its reputation for promotional purposes. “We’ve been in [this field] a long time, so most of our business is word of mouth referral. Builders know who we are. We don’t really win on price. It’s not like I’m going to go get a job because I’m going to beat somebody’s price. We also do a lot of retail; almost all of that right now is referral,” he states.
As for the next five years, the company wants to grow and expand, but the nature of the business might limit its geographic reach.
“I’ve looked at going into Alberta a few times, but I would have to set up a manufacturing center to do it because our product doesn’t ship that well. It’s very heavy and cumbersome. With pricing the way it is, we can’t really compete in other markets [outside of Ontario],” says Bezouska.
So for now, Uniform’s mission is simple: enhance its existing manufacturing, commercial and retail sales operations in Ontario while keeping an eye out for opportunities to grow within the province.