From humble beginnings to measured growth, Kenroc Building Materials Co. Ltd., is now one of the leading businesses in western Canada when it comes to the drywall and wall and ceiling supply industry. The story of how Kenroc built its brand is inspiring.
A modest investment in 1967 by local salesman Ken Sexton is what pushed his vision in motion. Sexton was an established building supply salesman at the time, but he realized the correlation between an under-served market and a demand in western Canada for homes and commercial buildings.
In the mid-1960s, Sexton was running the building supply division of Bird Construction Ltd., a Regina builder. He recognized that like plumbers and electricians, drywall contractors needed an independent source for supplies and the tools of their trade.
In 1967, and at the age of 38, Sexton invested $3,500 to launch Kenroc, which was Regina’s first supply house that catered exclusively to the drywall trade.
Kenroc’s first building was on the small side on a leased lot next to the railway line in Regina’s core neighbourhood near Taylor Field.
Vic Winik was one of Kenroc’s first employees. He vividly remembers the original yard. He drove a rickety forklift and an old truck with questionable brakes. Winik kept the vehicles running, took orders, made deliveries and managed the tiny Kenroc yard.
A few contractors followed Sexton from Bird Construction to his new company, and Sexton put his talent for sales and promotion to work by drumming up new business. Kenroc turned out to be a well-timed venture and it rode an upswing in the Regina housing market. Once Kenroc was on its feet, new employees began to arrive.
Being the new guy in a business is rarely easy. In the early days, Sexton needed to find an alternative to a price war to attract new customers. Established contractors were hesitant at first, so Sexton visited Regina’s new subdivisions to look for new building sites. In the 1960s, there were still a few people around who built their own houses, as well as numerous small-scale builders who built homes on spec.
To win their business, Sexton hit on an idea. He told them that he would not only deliver drywall at a good price, but for a small additional fee would haul the waste after the installation was complete. Kenroc’s competitors weren’t interested in the cleanup, but in an age before dumpsters the two-way service was a great deal for many customers. It gave Kenroc an edge, kept its trucks busy, and got the product moving.
By 1969, Kenroc bought a former Co-Op property on the other side of the railyard that had covered storage for materials, something the original yard was without.
Kenroc always looked for ways to offer service that couldn’t be matched by competitors, such as its superior delivery. Kenroc has always used its own drivers and has given them helpers who understand the needs of drywall contractors and who learn the ways of individual customers. Today, Kenroc uses the best available delivery trucks equipped with forklifts and scissor lifts.
Where Kenroc delivered was also a factor. General manager Bruce Bryan was involved in an important innovation in the 1980s that expanded Kenroc Saskatoon’s presence throughout northern Saskatchewan. They did this by establishing a weekly truck run to rural building-supply yards scattered across the province.
All Kenroc locations now provide this service.
Kenroc remained a Regina-only operation until the mid-1970s. Kenroc Saskatoon opened in 1976.
As the company’s resources permitted and opportunities arose, Kenroc gradually expanded into other key markets across western Canada. Kenroc Winnipeg opened in 1985, and the following year stores opened in Calgary and Edmonton.
Outside of Kenroc, the family grew in other facets. In 1981, it addressed a need to make brick walls more builder-friendly when Sexton bought a brick-panel technology from DuPont Canada and opened the first Pan-Brick manufacturing plant in Regina.
Four years later as Kenroc moved into Winnipeg, the need for Kenroc and its customers to be more competitive in pricing spawned what was to become the Sexton Group. This buying group pooled the purchasing power of all Kenroc franchises, member building supply yards and its customers to secure volume discounts for panels and supplies.
Builders Choice Products Ltd., started in 1986 for a similar purpose – to buy specialized drywall tools for Kenroc stores and other drywall suppliers at case-lot discounts instead of separately purchasing one or two units at a time at a higher cost.
In 1986, inefficiency in the trucking business often made it difficult for Kenroc to move product to customers as quickly as they needed. A partnership in the trucking business that began with three long-haul trucks is now a profitable trucking division with 10 trucks.
Kenroc entered the market in B.C., in 1993 when it established a branch in Langley, which was the first unionized location. Four years later, a second Kenroc store opened in B.C., this time in Prince George.
Further expansion took place in northern Alberta in 2005 when Kenroc Edmonton opened a branch in Fort McMurray.
Kenroc also grew by gradually expanding its product mix. It was the first company in Regina to carry innovative products such as steel stud and textured ceilings. Recently, after four decades in the wall and ceiling business, Kenroc added roofing supplies to its product mix.
An online ordering system to ease customers’ queries on job quotes, availability of supplies, order tracking, etc., is also in the works.