On the job: Mastering the art of 24-hour renovations

Bryce Dillabough and Lance Nielsen of Longboard Construction
Their days of studying at SAIT may be over, but business partners Bryce Dillabough and Lance Nielsen are still experts at pulling an all-nighter – leading their team of carpenters and other skilled trades in after-hours grocery store renovations.

When Bryce Dillabough (Civil Engineering Technology ’02) and Lance Nielsen (Carpenter ’04) first launched their business, Longboard Construction, in 2006, 24-hour renovations weren’t their specialty. Balancing the need for a job well done with a business’s desire to remain open during renovations can be tricky — almost like a jigsaw puzzle — with many moving parts to consider.

Fourteen years later, they’ve mastered the art of overnight renovations, completing nearly 500 across Western Canada.

In January, Dillabough and Nielsen sat down with LINK writer Giselle Wedemire to talk about the retail renovations that happen while the rest of the world sleeps. This story was delayed due to COVID-19 and has since been updated to include Longboard’s pandemic response.

How did Longboard Construction come to specialize in grocery store renovations?

At first, we didn’t do any store renovations ― just tenant improvements and new builds. Then we got the chance to work with one of our clients to do a smaller store renovation. We started getting more opportunities as grocery stores and other retailers heard about our work ― the rest is history.

What are some of the unique challenges when your construction site must stay open during the project?

Any client who plans on occupying their space during a renovation will go the nighttime route because they don’t want to interrupt regular business hours. Retail clients don’t want you hacking away and making dust during the day because that can drive business to their competitors. It’s also not fun for their employees to be in a construction zone all day. Grocery stores are without a doubt the most challenging because they require you to return the store to a shoppable state by morning.

What’s a typical work shift like during an overnight store renovation?

We have a pre-meeting half an hour before the store closes. All of the tradespeople come together to discuss the plan for the night ― where everyone will be working and what they will be doing. As soon as the store closes, we start bringing in equipment, like saws, scissor lifts, materials and tools. We go hard at it, getting about six or seven hours of work in, and then it’s clean-up and inspection time before the store opens. After we sign off on the inspection with the store manager, the crew heads home to rest. We come back at closing time and do it all over again until the project is completed.

Does the supermarket soundtrack keep playing all. Night. Long?

It sure does! But now it’s getting better because we know we can ask the store staff to either change the music they’re playing, or we can ask them to shut it off entirely, which is especially nice at Christmas when the same songs have been playing on repeat. We’re not allowed to use our own radios because it’s a safety issue – it might be deemed a distraction – so it’s nice that they are willing to change the music on the overhead system for us.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?

When the virus first hit, many of our projects were immediately put on hold. In time, projects resumed and new business spawned with our core group of clients. We were asked to install safety shields in grocery stores to protect their staff and customers. We did that all over southern Alberta in several hundred locations of some of the big-brand grocery stores.

Our workflow was affected at first, too. With government regulations limiting how many people could work in close quarters, we experienced slower progress when the lockdown was at its worst. It’s gotten easier now that our current projects have us working in bigger areas where we can socially distance.

How drastically has this pandemic changed how a job site feels, sounds, and runs?

Before COVID, safety meetings were held in site trailers with multiple personnel in attendance, without any concern about social distancing. Now, texts, emails and phone calls are the primary forms of communication between trades, crews and clients. Traditional walk-throughs and site meetings have been replaced with virtual tours and Zoom meetings. Morale onsite is still good, but productivity can sometimes be down due to social distancing and our mandatory sign-in procedures.

Given the changes our world has undergone this year, what are you anticipating for Longboard in the future?

All indications are that our grocery store clients are going to continue with us regularly updating their stores to make them as accessible and safe as they can. We’re expecting that activity to be steady, if not increasing, over the next year.

This story was originally written for the Fall 2020 issue of LINK magazine — Their stories matter

a view of the moutains and stream in between

Oki, Âba wathtech, Danit'ada, Tawnshi, Hello.

SAIT is located on the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of Treaty 7 which includes the Siksika, the Piikani, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina and the Îyârhe Nakoda of Bearspaw, Chiniki and Goodstoney.

We are situated in an area the Blackfoot tribes traditionally called Moh’kinsstis, where the Bow River meets the Elbow River. We now call it the city of Calgary, which is also home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.