Spandreltech owners Wes and Irene Sanders expect to be the best.

You remember the cool kid in school, the one who always won at sports,
had the best dates, got invited to all the best parties, had all thebest clothes and made it all look easy.

You remember the cool kid in school, the one who always won at sports, had the best dates, got invited to all the best parties, had all the best clothes and made it all look easy. If you were not that person, you wanted to be, and wondered what made him or her so different. What you realized, probably years later, was that most of it came down to confidence. The cool kids expect success, so they find success. That is the kind of confidence the owners of Spandreltech, Wes and Irene Sanders, exude when they talk about their business, now celebrating 20 years of custom curtain wall component fabrication.

Spandreltech makes backpans, panels, column covers and other custom architectural components out of aluminum, galvanized steel and fibreglass. Everything it builds is custom fitted to a specific project, but the company has recently launched several of its most common designs under such brand names as Alumaspan, Galvaspan and Formaspan. Wes runs the production shop and handles the technical design side of the business, while Irene takes care of most of the estimating, accounting and marketing. All three of their children have worked in the business, but Corey, 20, has the most interest and seems set to take over someday. He has a degree in architectural technology and already takes care of most of the computers and machinery on site.

Located in the small community of Erin, Ont., about an hour’s drive from Toronto, Spandreltech operates out of a 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with 25 employees. The Sanderses have invested heavily in automation; the factory floor sports several CNC brakes, presses, punches and cutters. New designs are laid out using three-dimensional CAD models prior to manufacturing. Wes has seen great benefits from automation. “I invested in a CNC brake press in the mid-’80s,” he remembers. “I used to have six guys working a second shift and reduced it to two guys working one shift.” Wes is enthusiastic about the quality he gets from the CNCs, and likes being able to troubleshoot architects’ designs with a computer model before wasting time and materials on an actual assembly. He has also used computer modelling to his advantage in the bidding process, showing prospects attractive renderings of his proposals to give a clearer picture of his design.

Small beginnings

The Sanderses started Spandreltech with three employees, two pieces of equipment and 4,000 square feet in the old tannery in nearby Acton, Ont. They had just one contract. Even after moving to a 6,000-square-foot location in Georgetown, Ont., in the late ’90s, the company’s growth soon outpaced the available space. “We were packed floor to ceiling. Everything had to come in one door and right back out the other,” Wes remembers.

It was in these early stages that Wes’ unusual determination and confidence paid off. He remembers having to challenge an architect on a Bellville work site at the tender age of 18 with only two years’ experience in the field under his belt. He had been sent to the job site by his employer to show a mockup of an architect’s design. When he saw the mockup, he could see it would move once it was installed, and made some changes. Then he walked into the meeting with the architect who had created the original design. “So we were sitting there and the guy says, ‘I don’t want to discredit you, but you are awfully young,’” Wes remembers. ‘I don’t know if you really understand what you are doing.’ I said, ‘I’m willing to bet my year’s salary against yours that what I am about to put on your building is going to work and you can take that backhoe sitting outside and spin the tires up against it and it will not collapse.’ He said, ‘Let’s make it a gentlemen’s wager.’ I won the wager.”

That kind of take-all-comers moxie has characterized Spandreltech’s approach to business ever since. “Wes is a technical guru. The thing he hates most to hear is, it can’t be done,” Irene says. “Well, you know what? It can be done, and if it is made out of metal, we can make it.”

Building a high profile
From these gritty beginnings, Spandreltech has risen to participate in some of the highest-profile projects in Canadian architecture. It supplied aggregate panels, diagonal panels and other exterior cosmetic work for the new Bow Centre in Calgary, the tallest skyscraper outside Toronto. “We did a lunch-and-learn with the architects on the Bow in Toronto,” Wes says. “We did a 45-minute presentation and we ended up being there for four and a half hours. They took us through and showed us every step of how the Bow was going to be done.” Wes showed the Bow architects at that meeting that Spandreltech could understand their design challenges and find solutions. They started out with a contract to machine the panels, and ended up being asked to do the full assemblies.

Spandreltech’s list of other projects is impressive, including the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont., the Lincoln Centre in New York, and the Windsor and Detroit casinos. One in particular, the Galveston Aquarium in Galveston, Texas, challenged Wes’ creativity. Being in a hot climate, the building needed to be constructed to keep cold air in rather than out, which meant the insulating layer needed to be on the inside rather than the outside of the building. Plus the interior wall needed to be as dark as possible to provide contrast with the illuminated tanks. Wes developed perforated black panels combined with a dark-coloured insulation that gave the aquarium the dark look it needed along with the insulation.

Checking all boxes
If there is one secret to Spandreltech’s success, it is in Wes and Irene’s determination to be the best in each and every area of the business. “I’m a very competitive person,” Irene says. “In the last 10 years we have become…no, I have become very aggressive in selling our product and getting it out there and making people understand our attention to quality.” Spandreltech attracts quality workers and retains them by paying similar wages to what they would get in the city even though they are in a low-cost, rural location. They post photos of their projects around the work areas to keep employees interested and engaged in the products they are building. Irene has poured effort and resources into the branding of Spandreltech, developing catchy product names and developing a slick website that tracks high on Google search results. They stay engaged with associations and trade shows, and provide educational opportunities that sometimes turn into prime networking opportunities. Not content to make do with standard technology, Wes has driven investment and learning in automation and computer design.

There are no plans to turn Spandreltech into Spandreltech International anytime soon. That is something Wes and Irene are going to leave to Corey, if he chooses to do so. For now, the Sanderses are enjoying some extra vacation time after a life of working non-stop to get the company to where it is today. Looks like the cool kids are going to have their success and enjoy it, too.

UNDERtheGLASS: Cool confidence

October 31, 2011  By: Patrick Flannery