Moving into the hands of the fourth generation, Progressive Countertop continues a tradition of planned succession and business evolution
Photo: Dana Wilton and Howard Wilton of Progressive Countertop
TO SUCCEED OVER multiple generations, a family business must not only adapt to changing market demands but also manage succession plans. Many an enterprise has succeeded with the former only to be sabotaged by the latter.
Since it began life in 1946, operating as Strathroy Glass, the business known today as Progressive Countertop has managed both tasks: It changed its core business more than a decade ago and recently tapped into outside financing to ensure a smooth transition to the fourth generation of family ownership.
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“Our grandfather started the business, selling glass to the furniture industry,” says Howard Wilton. “Several years ago, we expanded into countertops, initially in a small way. We did both for a while and got out of glass completely about 10 years ago.”
Howard and his brother, Chuck, are the third generation, having purchased the business from their father after working there for many years. They made the decision to expand into countertops, beginning in 2006.
Chuck retired last year as part of an overall succession plan that will see Howard step back himself in two years or so. Chuck’s son, Dana, is the fourth generation. At 42, he has worked at Progressive for several years and has an ownership stake.
To fund the transition to Dana, the company sold part of itself to AD Capital principals Dave Sidhu and Ankit Kamboj, who are based in suburban Vancouver and Toronto, respectively.
The brothers were similarly creative when changing the focus and name of the business. At the time, granite was the most popular material for countertops, backsplashes and more. But within a few years, it gave way to quartz, which today accounts for more than 80 per cent of the company’s installations.
Seeing the quartz trend early, Progressive signed with Cambria, one of the best and most popular quartz makers. While quartz continues its dominance, porcelain is increasingly popular. Other changes include the types of jobs the company is doing.
It has always focused on the residential market, and renovations continue to be a big part of its portfolio. Its designers meet with homeowners, work with kitchen designers as appropriate, and provide custom plans and materials.
“We’re doing a lot more multi-unit work,” Howard says. “As interest rates have gone up, we’re doing more and more of these projects. And in the last few years, people expect quartz countertops in the kitchen, and bathrooms too, rather than laminate.”
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There’s also more demand for vertical installations, and not just backsplashes. “Outdoor kitchens, grilling areas, etcetera. We’re doing more and more of those as well.”
As he contemplates his own retirement in a couple of years, Howard is also excited about further expansion. Progressive operates primarily from its recently renovated 25,000-square-foot office and shop in Strathroy. It also has a smaller showroom and sales office on Colonel Talbot Road in London, opened this past May.
“We’re looking now to expand into underserviced areas, somewhere like Kincardine or Chatham,” he says. “We haven’t made any decisions right now, but those are some potential new locations.” Christopher Clark