The Construction Source: Building Communities with Communities, No Bullshit
THE CONSTRUCTION SOURCE | July 2021
TLA Developments is a Western Canadian development company dedicated to creating high-performance, attainable projects in vibrant communities. They are set apart by their leadership – Troy Grant and Chris Bradley, the company’s founders and managing partners, are both veterans of the Canadian Army. With TLA, they are leveraging their military training to bring precision and teamwork to the development space. Their vision is a development company built on “effective leadership, clear communication, and efficient project execution – no bullshit.”
“’No bullshit,’ is kind of our tagline,” says Troy Grant. “We don’t play games. We do what we say. We’re open and transparent in our communication, and we provide quality products for our owners.”
Troy was born and raised in Saskatchewan until he enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent 25 years with the army before retiring in Edmonton. Post-military, he worked as the General Manager of Sturgeon County, where he learned and became appreciative of the many tasks associated with land use zoning, re-zoning, municipal developments plans, area structure planning, and the approval processes associated with all the above.
After Sturgeon County, he accepted an offer to become the president of Landrex, a medium-sized development company operating in the Edmonton Capital Region. That experience upped his interest in site selection and acquisitions and led him to creating a new, smaller land development company that would eventually evolve into TLA.
Chris, meanwhile, was born in New Brunswick, just outside the fence of a Canadian Forces Base. Growing up, his curiosity about the other side of that fence inspired him to pursue a career in the Army. Over the course of his 21-year career, he served from coast to coast in Canada, as well as several foreign deployments and postings. It was during an overseas posting that he first met Troy, when they were in the same regiment in Germany.
After retiring from the Canadian Forces, Chris became the Managing Director of Allied Container Systems, the Canadian subsidiary of a major US defence contractor. He subsequently worked with some of the largest volumetric modular manufacturers in North America, focusing on hotels, apartment buildings, condos and other large, multi-family projects.
Troy and Chris retired from the military in the same year, and over the course of their private sector careers, they ended up crossing paths repeatedly.
“It was one of those things,” Troy recalls. “We kept bumping into each other. It seemed like it was meant to be we would end up working together.”
“We always appreciated each other’s approach to business and approach to projects,” Chris says. “When we had questions – me about land development, him about modular building – we would go to each other every time.”
“Because we knew we’d get the straight goods,” Troy explains. “We knew the conversations would be easy.”
That shared straightforwardness – the lack of bullshit, in other words – is what ultimately inspired Troy and Chris to team up, just over a year ago. The inception was a 12-townhome project on Salt Spring Island, B.C., which Troy didn’t feel like he could manage himself. He came to Chris with an offer to partner up, Chris accepted, and that project – now known as ‘Summerside Village’ – started moving forward.
That first venture directly led to another. While visiting Salt Spring Island, a realtor asked Troy and Chris to take a look at another site in the Greater Victoria area, on 244 Island Highway. They fell in love with the location and the opportunity, and soon after the plans were in place for ‘Skyeview’– a new 37-unit condo building, featuring a boutique collection of one-to-two-bedroom homes.
From there, TLA Developments has grown rapidly. Since launching Skyeview, they have commenced work on three more multi-family projects, also in the Greater Victoria area. That list includes: ‘Sterling,’ a 58-unit condo building of one-to-two-bedroom homes on 815 / 825 Selkirk Ave; and ‘Hylands,’ a 44-unit condo building of one-to-two-bedroom homes on 3347 / 3351 Glasgow Ave.
According to Troy, all those projects have their own unique points of difference, but what they all have in common is their sense of ‘community.’ TLA achieves that sense by incorporating community stakeholders in the process early and by designing and building specifically with the needs of that community in mind.
“The word ‘community’ is it,” Troy says. “We’re building communities with communities. We’re linking up with municipalities, with neighbors, with chambers of commerce – with all the local stakeholders we can find – to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the right reason in the right neighborhood.” “We’re all about collaboration,” he continues. “We identify municipalities that want us to be there, and we build products that the community wants to see.”
“The difference between us and some of our brother and sister developers is we take a more aggressive community approach at the very front end,” he says. “When we end up in front of a council, we already have a complete stakeholder engagement report done, before anyone’s even asked us to do one. We consider the community as a whole right from the beginning.”
“That’s my take on why we’re different and why our buildings make sense. It’s because they’re designed for the communities, and practically by the community.”
TLA’s community engagement typically starts with municipal planners. They ask them what they want to see out of a development, and just as importantly, what they don’t want to see. They also talk to the local chamber of commerce, with local elected officials, and with prospective neighbors. Troy admits neighbors are the trickiest stakeholder, but even those opposed to new development, in principle,
can have useful criticism regarding factors like parking, landscaping, and streetscaping. TLA will take those comments into account when coming up with their design.
“We get out there and we engage with everyone before we even finalize our concept plan,” he says. “I think that’s an incredibly important part of what we do.”
According to Chris, it’s also incredibly important their projects are attainable. The company’s projects, so far, are all in Victoria’s Capital Regional District (CRD), and the goal with all of them is to give local buyers a more attainable option.
“There are a lot of professionals who can’t afford a $1,000-per square-foot condominium in downtown Victoria,” Chris says. “We want to provide those people with a really high-quality product in a great location – it might be a five or 10 minute drive from downtown, but it’s only a five or 10 minute drive from downtown – and we want them to be able to afford it.”
“We want to keep our pricing below the average in the markets we’re in,” he adds. “That’s a target that we’ve set.”
At the same time, TLA also wants to provide value for money. They don’t believe ‘affordability’ is an antonym for ‘quality.’ They want to achieve both.
“We fundamentally believe that anyone who is going to live in one of our projects should be proud of the home they’re living in,” Chris says. “And we want to be proud of the product we deliver.”
“That really comes down to quality assurance and quality control,” he explains. “It’s about working with our vendors to make sure we’re getting a high-quality product while still hitting our price point. Then throughout the construction process, it’s about working with our project managers and site supers, ensuring the installation of the product meets our quality expectations.”
“At the end of the day, we’re not happy unless the person buying one of our condos or homes is absolutely happy,” he says. “Success for us is when a customer says ‘Look at this great house I’m living in.’” TLA also strives to keep customers happy after they move in. When there are issues, they seek to resolve them promptly.
“I don’t care how good a builder you are, there’s always going to be a punch list on every building,” Troy says. “Buildings settle. A year in, you’re going to have the odd issue. We take care of all that. It’s important to us that our clients have a good experience.”
TLA Developments takes pride in building strong working relationships with all their partners, including contractors, builders, investors, government officials and even community members. They build those strong working relationships by being honest and straightforward – which is their founding value – but also by being proactive. For example, Troy says they started blasting on a recent project. Prior to doing that, they went out to all the neighbors and gave them a hand-written note along with a gift certificate to a local business.
“We don’t want to sour the well for the people who will be purchasing our homes,” Troy explains. “Our buyers are going to be moving into this community. We don’t want them to be associated with a construction project that made people miserable for six months.”
“So we’re careful about the hours we work,” he says. “We acknowledge when there’s disruption. We show people we appreciate their indulgence.”
That’s how TLA builds strong relationships within communities. They build strong relationships with subcontractors and vendors, meanwhile, by working with them on a repeat basis.
“That way, they learn to understand our philosophy,” Troy says. “They buy into our safety programs and standards. And they give us consistency.”
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel on every project,” Chris explains. “We’re working with a lot of the same people every time, so can move forward with a common understanding, a common operating picture, and a common language.”
Moving forward, Chris and Troy’s vision is to continue building and maintaining those relationships. TLA Developments is a relatively new company, and most of their partnerships are relatively new, but they see them lasting a very long time.
“We’re committed to them, and they’re committed to us,” Chris says. “The relationships we’ve been building have been very positive, and I expect that to continue.”
TLA also expects to continue growing and to continue adding projects to their pipeline. They see Skyeview – which is currently under construction and is already 50 per cent sold – as a strong model for the kind of work they want to be doing in the near future. They want to keep working in Victoria’s CRD, they want to stay in the multi-family space where they’ve had success, and they want to continue delivering buildings and units that are both high performance and affordable.
“We’re going to keep on keeping on,” Chris says. “I think right now we’re in our sweet spot. We want to do a couple projects a year of this size. Maybe one day we’ll decide we want to go bigger, but for the time being we want to stay the course.”
“We’re very methodical,” Troy adds. “The military has taught us a lot of different things, not the least of which is the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to getting things done. The two projects we have coming out of the ground right now, they’re like a bridgehead for us. From there we’ll be able to move forward into the region and continue to execute the kind of projects we like to do.”
“In the military there are cycles,” he continues. “There’s a pre-deployment cycle, a deployment cycle, and a reconstitution cycle. We’ve fashioned our company after that. We have a purchase cycle, a regulatory cycle, then a build cycle. Every year we want to have at least three projects in each one of those cycles.”
Lastly, TLA wants to continue supporting the communities they work in through philanthropy. For 20-plus years, both Chris and Troy served their country, and they want to continue to give back as much as they can. That’s why they reached out to KidSport Canada and Second Chance Animal Rescue Society, and they have formed ongoing relationships they hope to continue for the life of the company.
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