BUSINESS BEAT: Designer brothers reinvent themselves

Personal injury, recession, combine to force the hand of longtime design partners

Bill Lunt

Through the glass panes on the front door, a visitor watches Bill Lunt zip across his floor, one knee on a four-wheeled scooter, to answer the doorbell.

He gets around relatively well for a guy who fell off a roof 20 months ago and is still faced with serious mobility issues. Those physical challenges make it tricky for Lunt, a professional home and renovation designer along with twin brother, David, to do the work he’s been become accustomed to for the better part of the last 30 years.

The brothers grew up working for their dad in the family business, Ted Lunt Designs. Five years ago, when Ted’s dementia reached an advanced stage, his sons took over the company and renamed it Mesa Design Group.

Timing is everything, they say, but it doesn’t always go in one’s favour. Bill’s accident came during a recession that was having and continues to have an effect on the home construction and renovation industry.

Bill has had to make life changes to accommodate his lack of mobility – he and his family were forced to move into a single-level home. Those lifestyle changes have coincided with a shift in the way the brothers do business.

With David bearing the brunt of the load initially, to the point where he was “a heart attack waiting to happen,” the partners decided to “reinvent ourselves,” Bill says.

One of the first things they did was to pare back expenses. The Mesa office, once located in a $3,500 per month space, is officially in David’s north Langford home.

With recessionary forces squeezing the market and competition fierce, they recently took another major risk as a way to retain a piece of the pie: they cut their prices to 1992 levels.

Aware that some designers offer a low-ball cost to get a job, then add on charges for every little change along the way, Mesa moved to a fixed-price, per-square-foot charge for new construction design and quoted prices on specific reno jobs.

“Communication (early and often) is key when you’re dealing with people. An informed client is an easier client to deal with,” David says.

“Our goal is (still) to give them the best bang for their buck within the guideline of their design,” adds Bill.

The brothers still relish their role as a “facilitator between the homeowner and the jurisdiction,” being able to understand municipal zoning regulations and restrictions that affect what the client can do.

“Our dad’s attitude was that it’s not always about just drawing pretty pictures on paper for someone,” Bill says. “He saw himself as playing more of a designer-consultant role.”

Things can go sideways on a construction project, no matter what the size. But the brothers are proud of the fact that they are available to help their clients until the job is done, despite the fact they aren’t swinging the hammers or pouring concrete.

“The way we look at our clients, we work for them and with them. We’ve never bailed on people,” David says.

Mesa Design Group, 250-382-2893 or mesadesigngroup.ca.

Esquimalt depot expands services

The Westshore Bottle Depot, which moved onto Ellery Street in Esquimalt last April, began accepting small appliances in the summer, and items such as sewing machines, exercise machines and power tools and even electronic toys at no cost.

A full list of products accepted is available at islandreturnit.com under the small appliances menu. The depot is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 4 p;m. Sunday at 935 Ellery St. Call 250-381-1482 for more information.

Wright makes return to Marine Group

Randy Wright, son of Oak Bay Marine Group founder Bob Wright, has been installed by the latter as chief executive for the tourism-based company. Bob Wright said he has no plans to retire completely at nearly 82, but wanted to bring in his son to run the business on a daily basis to allow him to take a day off now and again.

Randy Wright, who previously worked 22 years working for the Marine Group, spent the past 12 years as executive vice-president of marketing and sales for Harbour Air.

Child-care centre opens in Uptown

Kids & Company, a Toronto-based, corporate-sponsored child care company, opens in Uptown tomorrow (Oct. 3), making it the first shopping centre in Greater Victoria with a dedicated child-care facility.

The company teams with employers looking to enhance their support of working parents, as well as providing short-term help for parents who need to plough through the shopping to-do list without the kids around. Parents can even keep an eye on their children by uploading the company’s Daycare Watch app to their cellphone.

An open house happens Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 3500 Uptown Blvd. Visit kidsandcompany.ca for more information.

Odds and ends in the business world

Travel agent Normand Schafer of Far and Away Adventures (250-385-3001) is now a certified Tahiti Specialist, having visited the collection of tiny South Pacific islands and completed a training program run by the country’s national tourist office … Baan Thai restaurant has launched a new website (BaanThaiVictoria.ca) and instituted the Baan Thai fan club, where customers can find special discounts and other offers … Olive the Senses, specializing in fresh extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegar is open in the Hudson Building, 1701 Douglas St. A product list is available at olivethesenses.com.

To submit your business news, email editor@vicnews.com.

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