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Creating continuity

In an industry known for gobbling up the little guy, Cando Apartments holds strong
Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Harry and Jeff Birman are making the rounds, installing their newly unveiled Cando Apartment building signs. The first batch has already gone in: slanted grey structures featuring a red mounted “C”—a symbol the father-son duo hopes will become synonymous with the quality and care they believe Cando stands for.

With approximately 3,000 rental units currently under its care, the small management firm has been committed to providing value to its residents since 1981, when Harry Birman started the company with only two apartment buildings—one in Mississauga and one in Scarborough.  “Back in the day, I did everything,” he recounts. “I was a rent review consultant, a construction supervisor, as well as being the property manager. I wore at least three hats at all times.  My office was eight feet by eight feet. I had one person who worked for me at the time, and she is still with Cando today.”

Cando has grown since then, responsible now for more than 25 buildings across the GTA with the help of eight full-time office staff, 45 on-site managers and his son Jeff Birman, who officially joined the team in 2001. “A common issue with family businesses is how to ensure its future success when the next generation takes charge,” says Harry.  “It’s difficult for some founding owners who have spent their life building up a business to let go of the reigns and give the control to their successor.”

But Harry believes he is in good hands with his son Jeff, who currently runs the day-to-day operations of the business. “His fresh ideas combined with my experience creates a solid foundation from which great results can be achieved,” he says.

“I’m the new blood,” adds Jeff. “The guy who offers new approaches and perspectives. Over time, things can get stale and that’s always the death of a business.”

One of Jeff’s recent initiatives has been the company’s new look. He has been working on re-branding, starting with the striking new grey signs. Jeff believes that developing Cando’s brand, or rather enhancing the one already engrained, will strengthen the corporate identity and establish continuity across all Cando properties, from the low-rise complexes of Oakville to the high-rise apartments of Scarborough. “In addition to brand recognition,” Jeff says, “I feel that the new signage elevates the properties and portrays the message that a professional and sophisticated management company is in charge.”

Beyond the new signage, Cando is excited to be launching its new website later in the year. “We are just putting the finishing touches on it,” he says. “It will be fresh in its presentation and feel, but still remain very user-friendly for those searching for their next home.”

Jeff adds that his objectives go much deeper than establishing a brand identity for Cando—that the bigger goal is to deliver the service his residents have come to expect, so that they become lasting customers. “Our residents know we provide reliable, professional service at all of our properties,” he says. “We want them to forego a short stay and make a Cando building their long-term home.  If someone is living in Scarborough and he’s happy with his apartment, we want him to stick with our brand when he moves to Toronto.”

The value of good staff

Cando might be a family-run business but Jeff and Harry are the first to admit they couldn’t accomplish any of their goals without the support of a skilled and dedicated staff. “We are a small operator, so everyone at Cando plays an integral role in the success of the business—there’s no waste,” says Harry.

The Birmans feel that their dedication to hiring the best staff available is something that sets them apart from their competition. “We look for trained and educated individuals, but they also need to be problem solvers, therapists, communications specialists, and linguists,” says Jeff.  “Even though we are a small to medium-sized management firm, we operate like a company double or even triple the size, only without the layers of hierarchy and inner-office politics.”

In keeping with larger companies, Cando holds regular status meetings and offers professional development training sessions to ensure that each of its staff members are qualified, informed and content in their individual duties. The company also rewards performance through a monetary bonus system. “In our business, we aim to reduce turnover,” says Jeff. “This not only applies to our residents, but also to our loyal employees who are motivated to do their best every day.”

Jeff says that if it weren’t for his staff, Cando would not be where it is today. “I believe our superintendents are the ‘front-line staff” of Cando. They are our customers’ first exposure to our brand and they are responsible for representing our company each and every day. I’m proud to say that we have many superintendents who have been with us for over 15 years.”

The benefits of being ‘boutique’

The Birmans feel that the pros of being small far outweigh the cons.  “Larger firms can get bogged down in the burdens all the red tape and a robust upper management. Being lean gives us the advantage of being able to make decisions quickly, whether it’s about spending on capital repairs or the implementation of new corporate policy,” says Harry. “We offer a human element that might not exist at other management firms.”

To nurture and ensure this human element, Harry and Jeff personally visit each one of their buildings on a regular basis, getting to know residence while also enforcing their standard of cleanliness, safety, and maintenance. “By being present and seeing things with our own eyes,” says Jeff, “we can act quickly. If more security cameras are needed, for example, we don’t have to go through a lengthy approval process in order to get them.”

Cando might be small but the owners seem to like it that way.  “Being on the small size doesn’t mean we can’t have a strong presence in the market,” says Jeff.  “We are a diligent and proactive operator, and we are not afraid to evolve in order to give our customers the best living experience.”

Moving forward

As Harry and Jeff make their rounds viewing the installation of their new rental signs, they can’t help but reflect on the past and present of Cando.

“We are an evolving company,” says Harry.  “Some smaller companies get stuck and can’t keep up with the industry’s changing pace. We rebrand, we design new rental signs, we have on-site computers and our own proprietary software. In short, we keep up with technology.”

Harry says that this path of continued evolution and commitment to innovation has been a big part of their success. “Recognizing the need to be current and to not get left behind in the dark ages despite that we are on the smaller side, this is what has kept us going.”

And with a keen eye on the future, the Birmans hope the next 35 years are just as successful.