“I really love it,” says Steve Humphries, co-owner of The Bar Store in Fergus, Ont.
“We’re literally building good times for people, it’s a lot of fun.”
Humphries says the great thing about his job is that a home bar is not something anybody really needs.
“It’s not like a kitchen or a bathroom that you have to have.
“A bar is something you spend your money on because you want to, because you like to entertain and you like to have a good time, which means our customers are generally very happy and enthusiastic about their projects.”
So even though some people, including his wife, were initially quite skeptical of his business idea and tried to dissuade them from starting a business building bars, in the end it turned out to be a great idea.
And not just because success is proving him right, but also because everyone who works there shares his enthusiasm.
And now, more than a decade into his adventure and after a prolonged struggle to establish and grow the business, Humphries says they’re at the cusp of something great.
With many happy customers under their belt and having just won Houzz’ ‘Best of Customer Service’ award, the company also recently took another giant step into automating their processes and most importantly, freeing Humphries up to concentrate more on sales, quotes and design rather than looking after production aspects.
Humphries was born in Montreal, but the family moved to Ontario when he was two years old. First to Milton and then - 10 years later - to Fergus.
His father Bill, who is his partner in the business, used to run his own contracting company and Steve and his brother Marty helped out when they were younger – it’s where they learned all the skills they are putting to good use now.
“We worked in the shop with our father when we were younger and after school, it’s where we learned most of what we know about working hard and producing a quality product. It’s something that has stayed with me and even though it took me a while to realize, I guess you could say it planted the seed to one day have my own company.
But first, following high school, Humphries went to Sheridan College and studied to become an architectural technologist. For the next few years he worked for an architectural firm.
“It was OK, it paid the bills, but my heart wasn’t really in it and so after five years I decided to do something else and start my own company,” Humphries says.
However, realizing that it would take some time to get The Bar Store up and running and profitable, he actually started two businesses.
“I wanted to do something interesting and that’s where the idea for The Bar Store came in. But I realized I also needed to pay the bills, which is why I also opened the Grand River Drafting Studio with a partner,” he says.
“I could put my architectural drafting experience to good work and this helped get me through the early days while I was working to get The Bar Store going.”
The idea for The Bar Store came from Humphries desire to build things, like he did with his father, to use his hands and make things people can use. But it also had to be something interesting, something different and fun.
“I thought this fit the bill perfectly, I think of bars as people having a good time and being social and entertaining, and we could build cool things for them, so why not do that?”
Why not indeed. So Humphries enlisted his father’s help and with little more than a table saw, chop saw and an old iron for edgebanding, they started on their first project.
Bill and Steve Humphries.
“My wife said I was nuts,” Humphries says with a smile and I guess at first she had a point.”
However, Humphries says his wife Crystal “has been a tremendous help and always supportive even thought she thought I was a bit crazy for just jumping into this.
“But none of this would have been possible without her. She has helped with starting the company, naming the company and setting it up. And she’s put up with all the ups and downs, late nights and lost weekends that come with being self-employed.”
“And she had to support me while we kept working and got things going.”
“We went to some home shows, printed pamphlets and built our website. It was a huge challenge, but we kept at it and I credit our website for our success in getting jobs.”
Because The Bar Store is so specialized and because it is the only thing they do, it comes up in a lot of web searches.
“Even today, I would say we still get more than 90 per cent of our business from our website,” he says.
As the company grew, they needed more space and in 2009 moved to a 1,500 sq. ft facility.
By this time his mother Penny Humphries also joined the workforce and was taking care of a lot of the edgebanding and sanding.
“She is great, she works incredibly hard and it is great that she joined us.”
In 2010, after The Bar Store was finally turning a profit, Humphries shut down the drafting business and focused all his energy here.
His brother Marty also joined the company and by 2011 they purchased a CNC and an edgebander. But they haven’t thrown out the old iron, it still gets put to use on occasion.
One big challenge over the years has been financing.
“The banks didn’t want to touch us, too much risk they said. But we did get some loans from The Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures Development Corporation.
The WWCFDC is a not-for-profit, federally supported, organization governed by volunteers in partnership with Industry Canada.
As part of its mandate, the organization promotes economic growth in the County of Wellington and the Region of Waterloo via business financing for startups and small business expansion.
“They are fantastic, I’m not sure that we could have succeeded without their help, advice and loans,” Humphries says.
He also says the Bluewater Wood Alliance was a great asset. They helped him pick the software and access government funding.
As the business grew, they added space in the same building, but unfortunately not in the same unit.
“It was difficult, we ended up with three separate spaces, offices, cutting and assembly and we would have to drag pieces through the parking lot to get them completed and then back for shipping.
Finally, at the beginning of this year, however, they moved into their current, 6,200 sq. ft facility on Dickson Drive.
That and their latest acquisition, Cabinet Vision from Planit Canada – the one that will free Humphries up to focus on growing the business – is what Humphries is certain will transform the business.
“It’s a big investment and the work on it never stops, but once you have it, you’ll never want to be without it,” he says.
“It’s a bit like a CNC, once you have it, you don’t know how you ever managed without one.”
“I used to spend eight hours doing a job, now, I can do it in 10 minutes. I used to be the limiting factor. I only had so much time in a day, but now all that is changing. We have the production capacity to do double or triple the work, but we just couldn’t do it because it took too long for me to get things done, but all that is changing now.”
It may have taken them months to get to this point, but now that the system is integrated, Humphries knows it will transform their business.
Time has proven that The Bar Store is on the right track.
“We do bars, not kitchens. If you get a bar from a kitchen manufacturer, it’s likely to look like a modified kitchen. Ours’ doesn’t, it’s a real bar.”
And there are no size restrictions, we will build the bar to suit and fit your space.
And the recent “Best Of Customer Service” on Houzz means they are getting some well-deserved recognition.
According to Houzz, “The Bar Store Canada Inc. of Fergus, Ontario, Canada, a family-owned and operated woodworking company was chosen by the more than 40 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than one million active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals.
“It’s as much about building good times as it is about building great bars”.
“We’re so pleased to award Best of Houzz 2017 to this incredible group of talented and customer-focused professionals” says Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “Each of these businesses was singled out for recognition by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts for helping to turn their home improvement dreams into reality.”
And the reason for their success, according to Humphries is a great product at competitive prices, which in turn goes back to hard work done by the great, dedicated crew in the shop.
“We’ve got some great guys here, they are very passionate and care about quality. That’s how we succeed and that’s why having the right crew is paramount to our business. If you don’t have quality, you have nothing.
“And it’s a family business and family working together like that is great. And especially now that we are in pretty good shape, it’s nice to be able to tell your dad not to come in if he doesn’t feel like it.”