Ep. 116: Salvaging the Industry with Ryan Priestly of Priestly Demolition Inc.

Priestly Demolition Salvage KingsWhile Priestly Demolition is in the business of tearing things down, the crew’s first job onsite is hunting for treasure. Salvage and sustainability has always been a cornerstone of the business for Vic Priestly, the company’s founder.

Today, the King City, Ontario-based company has grown into one of the largest demolition contractors in Canada, under the leadership of Vic’s son Ryan Priestly. The company has a staff of about 300 people and a fleet that includes around 100 excavators. 

Notably, the company is the focus of the History Channel Canada’s original-series Salvage Kings, and they’re bring the spectator sport of demolition to the masses on national television.   

Ryan joins host Missy Scherber to discuss:

  • Advancing the science of safe demolition
  • Showcasing careers in construction to the next generation
  • Creating a culture of safety and incentivizing it
  • Learning from the generation that came before you
  • Using technology for fleet management and operational efficiencies
  • Leading with happiness and confidence

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Show Transcript:

Intro:

Welcome to CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio, where we bring you boots on the ground perspectives from construction business owners and industry experts about their successes, challenges, and whatever else is on their minds. Consider them your own personal mentors on technology implementation, equipment solutions, business management and more, enabling you to apply their expertise to your business. Held every three years in Las Vegas, CONEXPO-CON/AGG is North America's largest construction trade show. For even more ways to connect with the industry, visit conexpoconagg.com/connect. That's conexpoconagg.com/connect. We've got another great guest on the show today, so let's dig in.

Missy Scherber:

Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. I'm your host, Missy Scherber.

While Priestly Demolition is in the business of tearing things down, the crew's first job on site is hunting for treasure. Salvage and sustainability has always been a cornerstone of the business for Vick Priestly, the company's founder. Today, the King City, Ontario-based company has grown into one of the largest demolition contractors in Canada, under the leadership of Vick's son, Ryan Priestly. The company has a staff of about 300 people and a fleet that includes around 100 excavators. Notably, the company is a focus of History Channel Canada's original series, Salvage Kings. And they're bringing the spectator sport of demolition to the masses on national television.

All right, Ryan. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us today. I know you're quite a busy man, but we appreciate your time.

Ryan Priestly:

No problem. Thanks for having me.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. So, for those listeners who may not have heard of you, which should be very few out there, why don't you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself first, and then your family's history in the demolition business?

Ryan Priestly:

Well, I'm a father of two, and we have a demolition, excavation company just north of Toronto, Canada. We employ 2-300 people in the peak times, and during this COVID time, we're down a little bit for sure. But we do demolition of just about anything and everything, so from a 10-story building to an old steel mill to a bridge over the highway or a residential house. So, we do it in all sectors. We do all of our asbestos abatement, all of our own zone remediation... and with all this time under our belt here in this particular industry, we don't say no to just about anything unless we can't add any value to the project.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. And how did you get into the industry? Do I understand correctly, is this a second generation company? Did you grow up around it?

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. When I was younger, I always wanted to go to work with my dad, and so when I came to work with him, there was always labor work to do on our demolition sites. At that time, we had more work not demolition. We did sewer and water, excavation, landscaping, built some roads, stuff like that, and always on the demolition crews, there was always an interior demolition going on somewhere, so it was basically just go there and use the wheelbarrow all day and [inaudible 00:03:18]. I loved it. I don't know why, but I fell in love with it.

Missy Scherber:

Do the grunt work, right? Have the son out there doing all the ...

Ryan Priestly:

[inaudible 00:03:25] hurt yourself. Come home. So it was great. I loved it.

Missy Scherber:

I think that's such a unique experience because I have heard of kids that grow up around the industry, and they tend to actually run from it initially and then they end up coming back. What kind of created that love for you, and just that steadfast involvement in the business?

Ryan Priestly:

I can't probably really put words to it. I honestly just fell in love with the people, the equipment, the challenge, the travel. I've got to see the world from this. Now I'm talking to Missy Scherber in the USA on a podcast. I mean, it just seems to never end. Right? All because I had a real fascination for heavy equipment, I think.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome.

Ryan Priestly:

It just became tearing down these buildings and the challenge of that. And how are we going to do it? And what's the best way to do it? And how are we going to figure this out? It's been fun.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. Tell me a little more about your role, your transition. So you went from laborer. And what kind of age did you kind of start to grow within the company? I know that family dynamic is always interesting, so I'd love to hear the progression of how you grew your role within the company.

Ryan Priestly:

Well, it just literally, I mean, after high school, I took a college program. It was a construction engineering course. It was a three year program, and I had three co-op placements, so I did all three co-op placements at other companies. I did a road building company, I did a general contracting company, and I did another demolition company. All three were great experiences and I still talk to people from all three of those co-ops on a regular basis, great relationships. Sometimes I learn what to do, sometimes I learn what not to do, but that's all part of learning.

Ryan Priestly:

After I got done college, when I came home, my dad's like, "Okay, I'm going to put you right in the office," and I'm thinking to myself, "I don't want to go right in the office." I don't mind to go in the office on a rainy day or a cold day, but I'm good to go out in the field. When I filled out this tender form, back then it was still a typewriter because we weren't big on computers.

He's literally like, he looks at me and he goes, "How did you do that?" I said, "Well, what are you talking about? You have to sign it right here. I'm not signing it, you have to sign it." He's like, "How'd you know how to fill all that out?" I said, "Well, that's what we learned in school." He's like, "Oh, my goodness." He's like, "This is awesome. This is [crosstalk 00:06:03]." Then, I basically just said, "I'm not ready for this. I want to go out in the field, I want to learn, I want to see, I want to go on the top of the highest building we've got."

Back then, we were doing a 10-story building downtown Toronto. We had a big job at a big mine up in Sudbury, which is about four hours north of Toronto. I went up there for a year. We tore down this big building. I couldn't get enough and we were buying these [inaudible 00:06:34] 8000s. They're an 80-ton excavator. We're putting big shears on the end of them. It was just fun to be out in the field compared to the office, you know?

Missy Scherber:

I would agree with you. I get trapped in the office all the time and I love the moment I have to bring out a permit or do an inspection and get out in the field. It's so much more just rewarding and fun to see.

Ryan Priestly:

I always was really, really hands on with the equipment so even when I was a foreman, I'd always try and jump on the equipment from time to time to keep helping and stuff like that. I know it's probably not the right move but when it's in your blood, it's in your blood.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. You kind of built a reputation of advancing the science of safe demolition so I imagine that time in the field really gave you eyesight on what could we do better? So talk about what happened after those few years in the field. Where did your kind of role go from there?

Ryan Priestly:

Well the contracts were just getting very demanding on engineering and work, so we were one of the first companies here in our area to hire a full-time engineer on staff. So basically we have four or five engineers now all the time, sort of engineering our work. I always say to the guys, "We don't want to change how we do it. We just want to put it on paper. There's a safe way to do it. We already know how to do it but we [crosstalk 00:08:03] paper and then we've just got to stick to the plan. We've got to make a plan, then we've got to work to the plan."

That's really been the hard part. You can't just go out there one day and say, "I want to do it this way and I want to do it that way, [crosstalk 00:08:15] that happens. So we've just got to think about it, we've got to plan it and then we've got to stick to the plan, and it's working. It's working very well.

Missy Scherber:

That's absolutely fascinating for us. We are in the demolition business as well, and typically the guy will kind of walk through the big house or the building and by looking at it, try to assess how we're going to take this structure down. That's absolutely incredible efficiency to add to have an engineer ... Are you saying you have an engineer put a plan together on how the whole building's going to come down based on the structure and how it was built before?

Wow, that's awesome. So that's at an efficiency, safety ... I mean, tell me what kind of game changer that was for your business. Because to me, that's a very innovative, new approach that I've not heard of.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, no. If you're going to take down a 10-story building and you want to put a machine on the roof and start at the roof and break it down floor by floor, you want to put the biggest machine the building can hold. Then if you want to add some shoring to that building, you put a little bigger machine. We're constantly trying to maximize the production on the size of machine versus the size of the floors to break down and so on and so forth.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. Really great. Is that kind of what has made you nationally and globally known as a demolition contractor? What are some of the accolades that you guys have received in recognition for the work that you've done there at the company?

Ryan Priestly:

There's a demolition summit every year. It's called the National Demolition Awards. We've won the World Demolition Award, we've won Civil Demolition Award, we've won Environmental Demolition Award and we've won Special Project Demolition Award with the NDA. So lots of accolades on the award side, but mostly it's our safety and our reputation of years and years of being called on and somebody calls and says, "Please come," we come.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. I love it.

Ryan Priestly:

[crosstalk 00:10:17] It's so hard for people to answer the phone sometimes.

Missy Scherber:

Right, and my father-in-law used to push that into us when we started the business, is, "All you've got to do is always answer your phone."

Ryan Priestly:

Oh my God, that sounds like my father. He really struggles when I dismiss a call because I'm already on a call or something like that. He's like, "Just answer the call." It's like, "I can't talk to three [crosstalk 00:10:46]-"

Missy Scherber:

Oh my goodness.

Ryan Priestly:

"... I'll call him right back."

Missy Scherber:

He truly thinks it's the key to success in business and it sounds like unfortunately I've found someone that agrees with him. He's still saying, "Get off the text messaging. My generation does not want to get a text message from you."

Ryan Priestly:

I have my son working here in the yard and the same thing. He'll text me. I'm like, "Just call me, bud. Call me when you're done. Call me and I'll come back or whatever you need."

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. Well that's exciting to hear that, you know? You're a generational business. It sounds like you've brought a new level of innovation to the company. I'm sure your dad's grateful and now you have your son there as well.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. I have a twin sister and she's in the business as well, so she pretty much took care of everything administrative in the company, and she's just recently take a pivot because she's going to go on our real estate side. We're doing a bunch of real estate stuff where we buy and sell some land, so she's going to sort of head up that area to try and keep more focus on that.

Yeah, it's really good and we did over $100 million last year in revenue, so it's a big place around here when it's rocking and rolling.

Missy Scherber:

Right, and it sounds like you've just built a lot of trust in the community, and safety has kind of led that path but I'm sure the work that you guys do is outstanding.

Ryan Priestly:

And some of the jobs are just ... they're not a one-month job. [crosstalk 00:12:13] We're flying into a mine site in Northern Ontario and it's an hour and a half plane ride to the first town and then you ride into the mine site and you land on a dirt runway and we're taking down this old mine. We have 20, 25 guys going in every two weeks.

[crosstalk 00:12:33] And it's remote so we took apart a Cat 345 High Reach machine and we put it on a Hercules airplane and we flew it up there in pieces.

Missy Scherber:

You're kidding me.

Ryan Priestly:

No, and then we reassembled it and it's taking down the building up there.

Missy Scherber:

You'll have to send me some pictures of that because that's pretty amazing.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, that was the first time we did it. So we sent three excavators and we sent some smaller stuff up, but they made ... I think it was 17 or 20 loads in and then they brought out some equipment as well.

The only other way in is through an ice road, but they don't built it unless they need to. They built it every year because they need the supplies to come in for the mine, but now they're closing the mine down. They only want to build the ice road maybe next winter, not this winter coming up, but the following winter [crosstalk 00:13:21] ...

Missy Scherber:

Right. Wow, so that's pretty amazing and I definitely want to see a picture of a 349 in an airplane. That's amazing. So we're going to get a little more into the business outlook for you guys here in a moment but I first want to get right into probably one of the most popular things to talk about. This is exciting for our industry to even have a spotlight through Salvage Kings. One of the most unique things you guys are doing right now is that show on the History Channel in Canada and you just got renewed, it sounds like, for a second season. So tell us how that partnership with the History Channel came about, what it has done for your business, and how it's setting the stage for the future vision of your company.

Ryan Priestly:

We shot a pilot show, they call it, so it's like a 15 minute show. We were tearing down an old lighthouse on an island in the middle of Georgian Bay, so we had to barge the equipment out and stuff. So I think that probably the uniqueness of that particular project probably caught some people's eyes. Like we're not just taking down a house or doing a [crosstalk 00:14:29] national parking lot. We're doing this job that's out in the middle of the water, and so then I think the combination of the unique project and then the family dynamic. We have my nephew on it, so my sister's son, Julian, and the star of the show is a fellow by the name of Ted and myself and my father was on it, season one a little bit.

So before you know, you've got quite a dynamic there, so I think that really catches people's eyes. Season one was definitely a successful one. I definitely don't know how to manage a TV show. I'm learning for sure, but every year I think we're going to get better at it. I think that what it's going to do for us as a business will just sort of do more for our business but I can't give you numbers. I can't say that it's going to grow by X percent or X amount of whatever, but it's going to do more for our business and we're currently building a new yard for our salvage operation and it'll be fully up and running on Shopify so you can go on there and add to cart whatever you want.

It's going to launch probably end of August or September or very close. We're just in the middle of renovating an old house to make it our retail store and there's a couple of old barns up there that we have stuff in. We have probably a two acre open yard for steel beams and pipe and whatever. Whatever we find on a job that we think we can sell, we bring it there.

Missy Scherber:

So is that part of kind of the I guess efficiency of what you do at the demolition business? So you don't just crush it and haul it straight to the landfill. I'm assuming that started before the show. You were in the game of salvaging what you can.

Ryan Priestly:

We had a salvage yard for 30 years. We closed it-

... Where it was and we just moved it to a new location. So we were in between for the past probably eight months but yeah, so we're going to open this one and it's only 10 minutes up the road from our current head office, so it's a lot closer for us to manage, and it just needed a refresh. Now that we've got this show going, I think it's going to draw some attention [crosstalk 00:16:45] but it's just going to be a whole new platform there. When we close our old yard, there's things there from 30 years ago.

That's [crosstalk 00:16:53] moving forward. If we don't sell it in six months then we've really got to make a decision, what are we going to do here? [inaudible 00:16:59] to be a storage yard. Our old yard became like a storage yard for 65% of it and then we got into new lumber, so we're selling new and used lumber, and new lumber becomes very ... It can be a good business but it becomes ... All of a sudden the market changes and our little shop can't compete with the big people who [crosstalk 00:17:22] lumber yards and they're buying way more product than [crosstalk 00:17:24] that.

Yeah, I think for the industry, the show's going to be good for making people welcome the construction industry.

I really feel like there's ... When I was growing up, it was like, "Oh, you get dirty every day and you go to work and you work long hours and you look like you're tired all the time. Why would you [crosstalk 00:17:47] do that?" It's not that bad. You should come work here. "No, I'm not coming to work there. [inaudible 00:17:53] Right?" Okay, no problem. I definitely didn't aspire to be a professional student for very long. Three years of college was great. Don't get me wrong, but it was also a really fun time for me.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, and your friends look at you and you're in your 20s drinking black coffee in the morning and they're like, "Yo, what's up with that?"

"Can I please have a career in construction?"

Ryan Priestly:

[crosstalk 00:18:23] This is my father. Come around. This is my father [crosstalk 00:18:25] ...

Missy Scherber:

Oh, awesome. Hi Vic.

Vic:

Hi, how are you?

Missy Scherber:

Nice to meet you.

Vic:

Nice to meet you.

Missy Scherber:

Your son has great things to say about you and the business. What do you have to say about your son in the business? I bet it seems pretty amazing, huH?

Vic:

He's doing a hell of a job, yes.

Missy Scherber:

How did you wrangle him and keep him in the business? Because my husband and his dad, they kind of butt heads a little on the job site.

Vic:

[crosstalk 00:18:50] 10 years old, he said he would hire me when he took over the business.

Missy Scherber:

Okay, so you're hired. It's job security basically, huh? Thank you. That's awesome. So, going back to the show, the partnership kind of came about. The interest seems like it was through the salvaging and what you guys are ... innovation there that you're providing, and that it's done great things for your business and set a stage for the future of the salvage yard. But, you can kind of see it from the workforce development side. What it's done for our industry, I believe, is fantastic. It's making it look fun, exciting. It's reminding people that there are a lot of family businesses in construction, so we're a family friendly industry, right? This is fun, exciting, but we're also family friendly.

What else do you think it's done for workforce development, just having that show out there? Anything that you've seen or heard out there?

Ryan Priestly:

Well, I think that the amount of learning through video is going through the roof. When I was growing up, everything was ... you stood in the class or you sat in the classroom and you listened or you learned that way and now these kids are all constantly on a device, whether it's an iPad or a phone or a computer and they're YouTubing and they're social media-ing and their communication through text and video is through the roof. I don't even know where to start.

Missy Scherber:

Right?

Ryan Priestly:

And I can't say that I know for sure. It's just how I feel. But at least when they can see it on a television, I think they get a lot more out of it. They can [crosstalk 00:20:33] doing and they can see, well maybe I'd like to do that or maybe I could do that. They don't realize that about that, and I just think it's a really good thing for young people to see what's going on out there, because you drive past a construction site your whole life. I don't care who you are or where you live [crosstalk 00:20:52] from. There's a construction site and it's happening behind that wall, whether it's happening [crosstalk 00:20:57] or fast or slow. I'm not saying they're all perfect but it's happening. So, if you can show them a little bit of what we're doing behind that wall on the construction site and make them feel comfortable to maybe learn more about it, I think it's great.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome. I never even thought about that, that driving by the job site, which we've all done our whole life, is not enough workforce development. We need to really shine the spotlight on what's happening behind the safety fence. I love that you see that. That's amazing.

Ryan Priestly:

I think it's funny how when I'm driving down the road, I hardly look at the road. I'm looking for construction.

Missy Scherber:

Me too. Always on the hunt for a new GC to call, and looking at the trailers and the machines. Yeah.

Ryan Priestly:

I think it's also good for people to see that you can take something and repurpose it. I think people are genuinely enjoying that part of it. My father was like, "Are you sure you want to do this? I don't know if this is going to make sense. You're going to bring everything out there. By the time you spend the labor and you take it out and you haul it up there and you sit on it [crosstalk 00:22:05] whatever." I was like, "No offense, Dad, but if we get the opportunity to demolish a perfectly good furnace or two-year-old air conditioner, are you telling me that we should just grab that with a machine and stick it in a scrap bin?" "Well, you can't scrap that. That's a good air conditioner." "Exactly."

Missy Scherber:

Right, right.

Ryan Priestly:

Bring it to the yard, let's get it marketed and let's get it on the open market and let's get someone to come in and take the old air conditioner away.

You don't have to buy a new one. It's two years old. It's half the cost or whatever it is and away you go. I just think you can't smash everything.

Missy Scherber:

Right, and I completely agree with you. I think sustainability is a really important conversation that our industry is having. We are trying to pride ourselves on landfilling less, and I'm so grateful we're having this conversation because I had the same argument with my husband, Trevor. Not argument, but I was kind of like, "Gosh, look at these cabinets. Look at this stove." He's like, "By the time you ... you're going to fill a whole yard and it's just going to sit there. What's the sustain ..." and I was like, "But sustainability is so important, there's people out there who really appreciate and love salvage items," so I love seeing that you've made this happen and it might create a new conversation for me to have with Trevor.

Missy Scherber:

So you're an industry leader when it comes to safe demolition and I think safety, and this is really true, can be a hindrance to being more public about the work we do in construction. You know, we're concerned. Public perception, safety. Is everything being done right? What have you done as a leader in a company to ensure that safety is always priority number one and that all employees are trained and following the processes?

Ryan Priestly:

Well, I think if you have people who can follow the training and work safely, it's an immediate formula for success. Taking chances and cutting corners and pretending like it's not important is just ... it's not a recipe for success and we all make mistakes. We're not all perfect, so that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is to keep the training up, all of a sudden people become more fluid with it. I remember when the safety harnesses first came out and everyone's like, "Oh my God, I can't believe they're going to make us wear this harness. It's going to be more unsafe." I'm like, "Are you guys crazy? What are you talking about? The safety is harness is going to be awesome. You could jump off the side of this building and you're going to smash your kneecap but you're going to live. We're going to have to tease you about it. Don't jump off the building. Don't do it."

And I think with this, one of the reasons in Toronto the COVID has not hit our job sites, we don't have any COVID cases in our company and I think it's because construction people can adapt. "Okay, today we're going to social distance. Today we're going to wear a mask. Today we've got to wash our hands. Today we've got to do this, and this is what we're doing and we're training everyone and we're talking about it." So far, so good, knock on wood.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome.

Ryan Priestly:

I think that the construction industry is definitely good at that.

Missy Scherber:

For sure.

Ryan Priestly:

I'm not saying we're perfect but we're good at it. We're [crosstalk 00:25:21] ...

Missy Scherber:

We're adaptable, 100% and what I'm curious about is ... That's an astounding statistic that during this time, that you've had a healthy staff. With 2 to 300 staff members, how have you imparted a culture of safety? How do you get them to value that? Because I've seen a lot of programs out there that are so rule and rigid driven and it seems to be like it's a negative thing, when actually safety is a positive, exciting way to make our work better. So, how have you done that with your staff members?

Ryan Priestly:

We've had some different incentive plans with regards to safety. So here in Ontario, the way it works when you pay into the WSIB, and then if you have a safe record, they'll give you a return. So we used to take the return and give it to the employees and then the employees got so big and then one year we didn't have any return and then all of a sudden ... So we had to find other ways, but it's just every day talking about it and making sure that from the top you lead it so we're working safe. We have a safety department here, we have human resources departments, so we're constantly trying to talk about it and bring it up to life.

You don't want to change the way you're doing the work, you just want it done safely.

As I bring my younger generation and my nephew and now my son and hopefully my daughter and my other nephew will be interested one day, you want them to feel safe.

It doesn't really matter if they're my children or not, but you know what I'm saying, right?

Missy Scherber:

For sure.

Ryan Priestly:

You don't want to hire some young guy or young lady or whatever and they don't feel safe. We've always had a real different array of culture in our business. We have people from Italy and Portugal and Poland and Ireland and Ontario and US. Now we have an operation in the US. We're doing some work in Virginia. It's just white, black, blue, green, and women, we have women in the field that work for us.

And pretty much always have, and lots of different variety here.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, and so you've wanted to just really kind of take safety and make it palatable for everyone, which is amazing.

Ryan Priestly:

I think people will do more if they feel safe.

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. I 100% agree. I've tried to push for that value within our company as we're in the residential space and there just didn't seem to be a lot of value. I was coming up with safety plans for a job site and they're like, "We're just building a house. It's fine. OSHA doesn't watch residential." And I'm like, "Yeah, but I want my people to feel safe."

They'll perform better. They appreciate that. So I love that you've really, really planted that in your culture. So, one of your mantras is, "If a project is worth doing, it is worth doing well," which I love that. How do you deliver a consistent client experience for projects small and large and measure that experience?

Ryan Priestly:

We have a standard. Every project gets the same. It doesn't matter big or small. So they get a project manager, project coordinator, superintendent, a foreman and then our health and safety and our engineering. They all get involved as well. So basically you get the same four people for every single job. It doesn't matter if it's a job for $30,000 or $30 million, and sometimes you get more. Obviously a bigger job will get more than just that, and it's to try and create a consistent model. So basically you call up and hopefully within three to five days we can get onto your site if that's what it takes, or get you a price or whatever it is, and then we want to make sure that when we start the job, we're starting it with an orderly fashion and [crosstalk 00:29:07]-

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. So you kind of built a model that's consistent and your approach to every job is the same.

Ryan Priestly:

That's right.

Missy Scherber:

That's phenomenal. That's outstanding. So, let's talk a little bit about business management. The construction industry is built on a lot of family-run businesses like ours, which we talked about. What advantages have you seen working in a family business? How has it set you apart?

Ryan Priestly:

I think you can get great production in a family business. At the end of the day you really get a really good team experience in a family business. When you see it firing on all cylinders and everything is actually falling right into place and everything is just working out really, really well, I think that you see that more in a family business. But that's only me because I'm in a family business [crosstalk 00:29:59] it's not every single day, every hour of the day, but when it's happening, it's a great feeling.

Missy Scherber:

Right, and the name is right there. The name's on the equipment. The name's on the safety fence. The person is out in the field on the job site giving direction. I feel like teams are really responsive to that. They like that.

Ryan Priestly:

You've just got to get the right people in the bus and that's the big key for us now, is just constantly trying to keep our talent high performers as much as possible because that's what they want to do. They want to come somewhere, they want a challenge and that's what they want to do. We're not looking for someone to make coffee in the corner. We're good. We have a machine for that.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, we could use the machine for our black coffee. So, was it more your dad that was ahead of his time when it came to sustainability or is that something that you really brought into the business?

Ryan Priestly:

I think my dad is like if you open up the dictionary and look for sustainability, there might be a picture of him. He never wasted anything. It doesn't [crosstalk 00:31:08] ... Ever since I was a kid we had a farm and we had a big barn and we'd bring stuff back to this barn. He'd put toilets, doors, windows, whatever, an old rowboat from a seafood restaurant that he took out of the ceiling. We'd have this garage sale once a year and we'd sell all the stuff in this barn and then he'd slowly build up a bit of a clientele that would call from time to time or whatever and that's how he ... That money was how we went to Disney World one year when we were kids. He worked six days a week, seven days a week all the time growing up and I think he just worked too hard to throw things away.

Ryan Priestly:

I'm probably a little bit different in the sense that I'm good with saving things. I'm good with it to a certain degree but I really like to weigh the numbers out and I really like to make sure that we're doing the right thing because I don't want to fall into a situation where we're just keeping it for the sake of keeping it. I want to keep it [crosstalk 00:32:14] turn it over or use it.

Missy Scherber:

Especially with the labor. It's labor intensive to salvage, right? So really you have to really cost analysis it for sure.

Ryan Priestly:

And I think you have to decide if there's a market. You could say those cupboards are beautiful but if nobody's really looking for kitchen cupboards that style anymore then-

Missy Scherber:

Right. Is there an end user?

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, and then if somebody comes along and says, "Oh, I'd like that for my garage but I don't want to pay anything," well then that's not really ... Well you have to pay $100 for these cabinets because we took them out. Two guys took an hour. We need [crosstalk 00:32:50] right?

So that part of it is constantly a juggle. I think as this new yard, we're going to have more of an inventory and it's going to be marketed on Shopify and [crosstalk 00:33:05] take picture and then you can see it. I think people are going to shop from their home office or their desk at work and I think people are going to shop after hours when they're at home and they're like, "Oh, I could use a new window for my second floor bedroom or whatever it is. I'm up at my camp this weekend and I want a new kitchen cupboard. There might be some good kitchen cupboards there."

And then the other thing is you can send us a message and then we can keep an eye out for you [crosstalk 00:33:33] I'm not looking today but if in the next three weeks you find something like this, can you let me know?" [crosstalk 00:33:40]

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. So you're really bringing sustainability opportunity to the masses through digital, which is absolutely fantastic. So it sounds like you really learned a lot when it comes to sustainability and saving things, the right things from your dad. What is the most important lesson that you learned from your dad?

Ryan Priestly:

I think that my dad every single day wakes up in the morning and everything he touches is about money. He's just constantly like, "If I'm buying this cup of coffee, I've got to make sure I want to afford this cup of coffee." He literally is like that, and I think it's just some days it's hard to wake up and not think about how much money I'm spending or how much money I'm buying or how much money I'm costing or how much money. So he's like a hyper accountant with this real drive for doing heavy work. The harder the job, the happier he was.

Missy Scherber:

I'm sensing that at some point your dad and my father-in-law need to meet because he's a minute by minute, checks and balances. He absolutely cannot believe ... He's been successful as a land developer and he cannot believe that I buy Starbucks. "You've got to go to McDonald's. I just can't believe you guys spend $3 on a cup of coffee or $15 on ribs." He just can't, when you go to the gas station and get the $4 ribs. I love that you're ...

Ryan Priestly:

My dad can hardly afford to take a day off, you know what I mean?

He thinks that he's taking a day off, he thinks he's shorting himself.

It's crazy.

Missy Scherber:

There is something like ... It used to drive me crazy at first when I was around him. When I first met him I just thought ... He'd be like, "I'm just too broke for that," or, "I can't afford that," and I'm like, "You've been really successful. I don't understand." But I have learned so much from that mentality of saving and profit and loss and what are you losing and gaining by the hour, by the minute. I think there's a very valuable lesson to learn that ... It's not very popular these days. It's to spend, right? To get the cushy, instant gratification and that generation, I love that. I've learned a lot from it.

Well I love that we have this mutual appreciation for the generation that went before us and I wanted to call them obsessive savers. You call them American pickers. I like that and I hope your dad and my father-in-law listen to this episode and know that we appreciate the crazy. One funny story that really introduced me to the Scherbers is, it was my birthday and to me you go to a nice dinner for your birthdays. So I called him. "We're going to do a birthday dinner," and he's like, "Oh, I know it's on Sunday. Let's do it on a Monday because they have $2 hamburgers at the ..." I was like, "What? I help your son run his business and I get a $2 hamburger?" "But the onions are extra, so don't order the onions." I'm like, "I just can't."

Ryan Priestly:

It's in their blood. It's in their blood. [crosstalk 00:36:49]

Missy Scherber:

But it's amazing, isn't it?

There's a lot of appreciation.

Ryan Priestly:

But it's awesome.

Missy Scherber:

I do too. I think it's great to have that mentality at the core of a business. You're thinking about saving and efficiency and the best way to do things, so I love it. I've learned so much from him and it sounds like you have as well from your father, and we can have a mutual appreciation. But your crew has described you, and I can tell just from this interview, as a natural born leader. What's your best advice for becoming a good leader and leading teams and inspiring others?

Ryan Priestly:

I think leading by good example is always something that we've done a lot around here and I think that communication is also something that we're probably better at than some of the others. But I think the biggest thing is to be happy and confident and knowing that you're doing a good job every day. I think a lot of people struggle with being happy.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. So you've kind of valued that as part of how you lead by example.

Ryan Priestly:

When I play hockey, I'm always smiling [crosstalk 00:37:53] you're coming into the corner and you're smiling. I'm like, "I'm sorry, man. That's just me." They're like, "We're losing. We need to win this hockey game." It's like, "Well no we don't actually. It's fine. There's beer in the dressing room. We're fine."

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, it's going to be fun. So that's your-

Ryan Priestly:

We're here for an hour then we'll make the best of it. I apologize if I totally made a bad play back there but it's behind me. We're moving on.

Missy Scherber:

You're still happy and so you really brought that into the business, which is a great, great attitude to have and I'm sure your staff pick up on that every day.

Most definitely. So let's talk a little bit about equipment and technology. You're managing a slightly large fleet, putting them in planes and all. What types of technology or systems have you implemented to ensure maximum up time and profitability?

Ryan Priestly:

Well I think that we've done a pretty good job but there's probably a little ways to go here. We manage our estimates through software called B2W and then we bought their B2W, the track module and now we have the equipment repair module, so any time we have any downtime they use the software and notify the shop and then try and get it repaired.

But the big thing is it's tracking what kind of calls, how many calls, so it's giving us feedback without even knowing where our sort of ... our regular day to day problems are, so where we can try and keep focus on trying and fixing some of the little things. A lot of our fleet is designed specifically for the industry, so a lot of additional plumbing on the excavators. We have these OilQuick quick couplers on our machines, so when an excavator goes out to a job site it's instantly, "We need this machine and we need three attachments to fit that machine."

That was a real struggle for us for a while and I remember we just ... I said, "That's it. We've got to put our foot down here. We've got to spend $100,000 and make all these attachments universal by size." It's been a big change for us. All of a sudden you've got a machine that's three hours away and then the hammer's not going to fit that machine.

Missy Scherber:

Oh man.

Ryan Priestly:

So I've got to switch the hammer, you know what I mean?

It was getting such a pain point for us, and now with this OilQuick, that's really taken that to another level for us. We do a lot of jobs on water, so you don't spill any oil when you change attachments with these quick couplers and so on and so forth. It makes our machine operators very happy.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome, yeah.

Ryan Priestly:

You put the hammer on and then he literally hits a button and he swings over and picks up the hammer. He's a happy, happy guy. Not hot oil and oil gloves and you're trying to catch the oil with a pail. It's crazy.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, and where is the attachment I need? And it's not here. And this one doesn't fit. That is a very big pain point in the excavation demolition business because you're doing different types of jobs on one site.

So that's fantastic that you invested in that. Have you seen that really maximize your up time and profitability?

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. There's a whole other host of softwares here. I feel like some days you're like, "Where do I find that? What software are we using [crosstalk 00:41:18]?"

Missy Scherber:

Can someone make one?

Ryan Priestly:

I thought we were in the demolition business, not the software business, but [crosstalk 00:41:25] it's ... safety uses software and human resources uses the software, engineering uses about 10 different softwares, [crosstalk 00:41:33] uses three softwares and it just goes on and on. Our accounting uses a different software, so it just keeps going on and on. I think that again with this recent shift in work from home and all this COVID, we literally ... Okay, I guess we're all going home. I guess we're going to go work from home and everyone's staying home for a couple of weeks. I guess that's what we're doing now. We literally packed up here in a day. Everyone [crosstalk 00:42:03]-

Missy Scherber:

Was set up and ready to go.

Ryan Priestly:

And set up and ready to go. It's still all happening, so I think that that was a real great thing for us to have in place when that happened and moving forward it's like we have so much work that's ... Even a job in downtown Toronto, the traffic alone can take you an hour to get there. If you can do it remotely-

Missy Scherber:

Let's do it.

Ryan Priestly:

... Why are we spending an hour in traffic? [crosstalk 00:42:28] It's been really good for us, I think. So hopefully there's some good from it.

Missy Scherber:

I think on the estimating side, I feel like the social distance and working from home has been a benefit. You're going and looking at job sites on Google Map. You're maybe doing a video conversation and you're saving so much time. You just don't realize how much you spend driving around in this business.

Ryan Priestly:

I wholeheartedly agree with you but I do say there's nothing better than walking [crosstalk 00:42:55] ...

Missy Scherber:

I agree. I agree.

Ryan Priestly:

When you're walking that job, you're like, "I don't know what you're picking up but [crosstalk 00:43:00] going crazy right there, like oh my God [inaudible 00:43:02] what's going on here."

Missy Scherber:

For sure. Pivoting into that conversation, 2020 has just been an interesting year for all of us. What are the biggest challenges that you're facing right now?

Ryan Priestly:

Well I think most of the time you can have somewhat of a prediction or somewhat of an intuition on what the future brings. I would say I've given up on that in 2020 and I think I'm struggling with that. To be honest with you I feel like [crosstalk 00:43:34]-

We're just here along for the ride. Honestly I can't even begin to say what's going to happen next, and all I can do is be in control of who I am and be here in the present, so I think that's the biggest thing for us. We've been very fortunate to not have a lot of health issues, which is great and everyone's safe and healthy and I think for the most part everyone's still getting through with some level of happy. So far, so good that way, so I'm looking forward to it opening up and getting more back to normal as soon as possible. I live outside the city. I live in the country so we have dirt bikes and stuff like that. We've been really, really fortunate to have space to be able to do stuff like that and have a couple of families over that we've been close with.

I think one of the biggest challenges is going back [crosstalk 00:44:34]-

Missy Scherber:

Yeah, what's it going to look like? And the lack of predictability, you're absolutely right. It's like we've been used to prediction for years now.

Ryan Priestly:

Even if there's a recession, it's like, "Oh my God, the stock market crashed." Or, "Oh my God," you're like, "Well, I predict it's going to come back. I predict it's going to be six months. I predict it's going to be a year," or whatever. With this it's like at first I was like, "Jeez, I don't know. Is this six or eight weeks of a bump in the road or is it like a [inaudible 00:45:04] or is it going to be [inaudible 00:45:05]?" All these, and I'm in a peer group so I try and listen to my peers and try and hear what's going on out there. Right now I think everyone's just like ... no idea what's next.

Missy Scherber:

Right. I'm so grateful that you're being open and honest about the challenges of this. I think people struggle to really talk about the challenges right now, and you're right, the sleepless nights are starting to creep in for us because it's like, "Okay, it's still here. It didn't go away. What's next? What's the pipeline look like? What's getting paused? Where's funding going?"

Ryan Priestly:

They're not talking about any of the good news. Every day it's just like, how many cases? How many death? How many recovered? Just say it's going good. Just say it's getting better. Just say something's good.

And they're just not saying it and so everyone's coming in with their own analysis on what's actually happening and everyone [crosstalk 00:46:05] ... You could find any piece of media you want to find for whatever direction you want to believe.

I've tried to stay away as much as I can and just keep talking to people and see what's going on out there. I think that the other thing, too, is everyone just started judging each other. If I want to have someone over or you don't want to come over, I think it's all good. Just don't judge, you know? Don't be peaking in over my fence saying, "What are you doing on your side of the fence?" If no one's sick, that's great. But they're not saying that, so it's just really hard. It's a hard time.

Missy Scherber:

I think you're right, that culture of judgment is definitely creeping up and kind of becoming a societal norm to point fingers, to judge, and it's like, let's all stay in our own lane. Let's manage this the best we know how for ourselves, for our teams. I think leaders are getting a lot of judgment and eyes on them right now on how they're ... what are they doing? My response to that is, "We're working with our team. We're letting our team guide us. So unless you're on the team, I don't want to hear it."

Ryan Priestly:

We've put everything in play.

Missy Scherber:

All you can do.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, we set up a task force if you will right from the get go and we've been communicating to the whole entire company since day one on it but I'm not the police. What you do outside of work is up to you and what you do on the weekends is up to you.

Missy Scherber:

I did a post on Instagram a few days ago about just how comparison can really diminish self worth and affect your mental health, and it's like let's stop comparing. We're an industry built on building. Let's build each other up. Let's support each other. Let's empower each other. That's the best we can do right now, right? To make it.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, and let's just kind of keep going day by day [crosstalk 00:48:02] this summer has blown by again.

I always say that in the middle of the summer. Right now I hear it's middle of summer. It's just flown by again, right? We've been very, very fortunate to have good weather and everyone's safe so it's good.

Missy Scherber:

I like your principle of happy and I think that's one of my biggest takeaways that I'll talk about in a minute here, but just keeping the principle of happy. We're moving. We're doing something. Machines are busy. One might be sitting, the other four are going. Hallelujah.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. Exactly, right? It's a snowstorm but we're going to stay home today. Let's be happy.

Missy Scherber:

I got a nice coat on, so whatever. With all this happening though, I still think there's conversations about growth opportunities within our industry. What do you see as the biggest growth opportunity for the construction industry in the coming years?

Ryan Priestly:

Well, the projects are definitely getting larger. I say that about our specific industry [crosstalk 00:49:06] industry, so I think a lot of big plants were built 50 or 100 years ago and I think a lot of those big plants need a makeover or an upgrade or what have you, so there's just a lot of that industrial work. I think there's a lot of civil work. You know, bridges and tunnels and dams and stuff like that. Everything is just somewhat getting old. Same thing, it's like we're building these houses and they're downtown Toronto and they're this far away from the house beside it. It's like it's got to be taken down by hand. You can do some with a machine but you've got to do it by hand [crosstalk 00:49:51] beside you. So it's getting more and more challenging and it's just getting bigger and bigger.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. Infrastructure's definitely growing. That line of work is growing, and that's a great positive thing for us to look at, is, hey, there's a lot of big projects coming into the pipeline that weren't always there, which is exciting for our industry. I love that. So we had some listeners pipe in and put in a few questions that they wanted specifically to ask you. The first one is, what motivated you to expand into the United States versus Eastern or Western Canada?

Ryan Priestly:

Well, it's closer, for one. From our office to Downtown Buffalo is only like two hours.

Missy Scherber:

Oh wow.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah, from our office to Downtown Detroit is about four hours.

Missy Scherber:

Wow. Proximity.

Ryan Priestly:

Proximity was one. To go to Western Canada is like a four hour flight so it's like going to California for you.

Missy Scherber:

So you don't want to put your whole fleet in an airplane?

Ryan Priestly:

So that was one thing but mostly it was just the project that we're working on there was something that we felt very comfortable with. It wasn't a demolition of a building or anything like that. It was a civil project that's on a highway and we're doing multiple bridge structures. I think they were looking for some solutions. The people asking the questions were someone that we've worked with before so I think we had a comfort level, they had a comfort level and I think it just worked out.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome. I think that's fantastic and has to be exciting for your team in the times that we're in to see some growth and expansion to a new market. I think that's fantastic.

Ryan Priestly:

So, most of our guys ... Well, the team in the US is 100% from the US.

There's no Canadians there working on the job site, so we can get a visa for a couple of people but really it's going to be Americans that we hire-

That'll do it and it's all good.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. We've had some luck finding some good people down there and we've been there just over a year now. Yeah, it's going great.

Missy Scherber:

Congrats. I think that's great to grow into a new market like that and you're building the local economy with your business and then you're also building the economy in the United States which I think is awesome, so congrats on that. Now here's a funny question. Is there a salvage item you've always wanted to find but haven't yet? Or what is your salvage unicorn?

Ryan Priestly:

I'm always looking for a gold bullion but I haven't found one yet. Some guys always talk about money which is funny but there's a couple old wives tales around here from years and years and years ago and I'm pretty sure if somebody found $10,000 behind a drywall wall somewhere in an old house, they probably wouldn't turn it in anyway, but I'm pretty sure I'd hear about it one time. They'd probably be long gone, not recapture the money but it'd be like ... they would've had a great time with it one way or the other. But honestly, it could be anything and everything. I think the biggest thing is sometimes it's old stuff. You just find something they don't make anymore, it's old. [inaudible 00:53:05] be broken, you're like, "I kind of ... I got to have that."

Missy Scherber:

I need that. I've got to keep that. I'd love to see your garage someday.

Ryan Priestly:

Yeah. We just found an old motorbike in the building we were telling down in the parking garage in the basement of this high rise we were doing. I'm thinking, "Who leaves a loan motorbike?" But again, same thing. You [crosstalk 00:53:26] right?

Missy Scherber:

Absolutely. We're going to end the episode with just a little rapid fire round, but first I want to just recap some of my favorite moments from this conversation, some of the lessons I learned from you for our listeners. One, I just loved how you said, "For workforce development, we need to show what's behind the fence. We need to put a spotlight on what's happening behind the safety fence," and I just loved that. That safety is a leading formula for success, and incentivize your people to have a safe culture. That to you is the formula for success but to also lead by example and lead with happiness. I loved learning that from you. It's like, "Oh, yes. Lead by example." We know that. Right? That's what we do as leaders, but lead with happiness in what we're doing no matter what, every day was a great principle.

Missy Scherber:

I love that your team treats all projects the same, that your approach is ... you have a consistent method whether it's small, whether it's large. I really learned a lot from that today, and then invest in pivots that alleviate pain points in your business. I think that's fantastic how you guys just said, "Okay, we're spending that hundred grand, we're getting these attachments and we're doing this the right way." That really worked out for you. I think as small business owners sometimes we wait and we wait and we wait. We let the pain points remain. You had just said, "Nope, we're investing," and it worked.

Missy Scherber:

So those are some of my favorite principles that I learned from you today. This conversation was fantastic and I really appreciate your time, but I'm not letting you go without a rapid fire round.

So, what was your first job?

Ryan Priestly:

Sweep the floor.

Missy Scherber:

Love it. What was your first car?

Ryan Priestly:

Chevy Wrangler, three quarter ton.

Missy Scherber:

Did your dad find it in the barn is the question?

Ryan Priestly:

No, he bought it from his brother actually?

Missy Scherber:

If you weren't doing this, which I'm sure is hard to imagine for you, what would you be doing?

Ryan Priestly:

I don't know. Part of me thinks I might have joined the armed forces or maybe even become a policeman, but maybe a fireman or something along those lines maybe. I like all those jobs.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome. What song gets you pumped in the morning?

Ryan Priestly:

Oh my God. I don't know, probably Satisfaction from the Rolling Stones.

Missy Scherber:

I like it. Who is one person you wish you could have dinner with?

Ryan Priestly:

I don't know. Maybe the White House. Maybe go to the White House for dinner.

Missy Scherber:

Yeah. I think that'd be awesome as well.

What is your favorite piece of equipment and why?

Ryan Priestly:

Probably our KOBELCO SK1000 with a three piece boom on it. The versatility is just awesome, the power is awesome and you pretty much feel like there's nothing can stop you.

Missy Scherber:

Might be a little scary, huh? On the wrong day?

Ryan Priestly:

It's fun, yeah.

Missy Scherber:

That's awesome. What was your favorite part of CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020? Such a great show. They did a really good job this year. What did you love about it most?

Ryan Priestly:

I think I've been going for such a long time that I'm probably a little bit jaded because I just love walking the out lots with all the big cranes and all the big machines high up in the air. That's probably the part I like the most, is just walking around all that new equipment. I like inside too but outside is great and this year I was fortunate enough to do an interview with CONEXPO ... And Scott from PushySix so that was a highlight from this year. I probably won't get to do it again.

Missy Scherber:

Scott's a great guy. He's just a great guy. I love what he does for our industry. So you liked the out lots, the big cranes.

Ryan Priestly:

All of it. It blows me away every year.

Missy Scherber:

Isn't it? It's amazing.

Ryan Priestly:

It just blows me away.

Missy Scherber:

It's crazy to just stand there and look up and you could just look up for hours.

Ryan Priestly:

You think you've walked around a booth and then you look over there, there's like, "Oh my god [crosstalk 00:57:30]-"

Missy Scherber:

Something else.

Ryan Priestly:

"I didn't see this," right? Yeah, no, it doesn't get old and everyone's doing such a good job with their equipment these days. It really doesn't matter what brand. Everyone's trying to hard to compete and fight for market share. Everyone's putting out phenomenal products.

Missy Scherber:

Great products, yeah. Well I hope to meet you at CONEXPO 2023. Sorry that I missed you at 2020 but thank you for today. I learned so much. I know our listeners will really appreciate this interview and your approach and just your leadership of the industry. We really appreciate your time today.

Ryan Priestly:

Thank you very much Missy.

Missy Scherber:

Awesome, thanks Ryan.

Outro:

And that's going to wrap up this edition of CONEXPO-CON/AGG Radio. If you like the show and think other people should listen too, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. We'll be back next time with another great guest. Until that time, be sure to visit conexpoconagg.com/connect for even more ways to connect with the industry.

 




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