HomeBuilding a Success Story

Building a Success Story

May 1 2000

Perhaps his last name should be used more as a verb, as in “Tim Banks more money for APM with his latest project.” Banks, the president of APM, is fast becoming one of the Island’s best-known entrepreneurs, if only because his company keeps signing up big projects for Prince Edward Island.

Yet despite all his recent news making with projects such as the recently opened Real Atlantic Superstore in Charlottetown, Banks says his company only does about three per cent of its business on the Island. After all, it’s hard to feed a $70 million business with projects based on Prince Edward Island. One of the keys to Banks’ success is his ability to diversify. APM is actually made up of a wide range of companies, almost all related to retail business construction.

For example, a retail store needs signage, so Banks amalgamated two sign businesses in Halifax into United Sign, which allows APM to do “everything you can do in the sign business.” Building retail stores takes building supplies, so APM now has Southport Building Supplies in its nest, which Banks promises will soon feature a new concept for the home hardware industry.

Once you start up a retail business, you need to furnish it; so also in APM’s group of companies is House of Excellence, which deals in paint, wallpaper, carpet, flooring and window fashions. Then there are store fixtures needed, project management, designs, engineering, leasing, real estate contracts, property development and various other things required to keep APM growing and be what might be called a “one stop shop” fro anyone looking to build a retail business.

Speaking at a business breakfast recently, Banks said he started APM in 1980 and it now employees about 250 people and has revenues, as mentioned earlier, of $70 million. So how did Banks get from his start-up to where he is now? “We work really hard as a company to make sure we compete in the marketplace,” he says.

Another key it to remember that his competitors are people, too, in a small community, so Banks treats them more as associates than competitors. “Even though they’re our competition, they’re also our neighbours,” he says. “They’re Islanders who may go and spend in our stores. We’ve done 50 to 100 projects with other competitors in the last 10 years. It’s really nice to be able to do that, because we end up employing people here on P.E.I.”

That’s one theme you’ll hear repeatedly from Banks if you listen to him long enough – he likes creating jobs and helping Islanders. He tells the story of an engineer who was educated on P.E.I., then got his engineering degree and his MBA, but he couldn’t get a hob on the Island. The engineer had to go to Quebec to get work, but Banks said he was pleased to be able to bring that engineer home to work on P.E.I. “We’re really pleased to be able to bring Islanders home to help us get off the ground,” he says.

While everyone locally becomes aware of APM when a big project like the Real Atlantic Superstore breaks ground, most people aren’t aware of one the biggest events happening to the company. APM struck a deal with the Plaza Group, a property management company in Halifax, that will see the companies basically merge together, allowing the size and expertise of the two groups to attract more projects.

“I’m a bit nervous about going through with the business,” Banks says. “You’re under more scrutiny when you’re a public company.” However, he says, that’s the way business works today, and if you don’t keep up, you’ll soon be left far behind. “It’s a bunch of guys pooling their resources and going forward,” he says. “You have to do that in the marketplace today. The days of standing on your own and hoping to attract national companies – they’re just not going to happen.”

While few Island businesses can match APM’s revenues, many companies can apply some of Banks’ successful philosophies about running a business. For example, Banks doesn’t lose site of where he is – even with all his company’s projects, he still feels like he’s a small fish in a big pond, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a successful fish that can still get his message out to the big fish.

“You can be really big by being little,” he says. “We’re a small account for Loblaw’s – about three per cent of their capital expenditures. But when I go to a meeting with those people, I bring Island lobster and mussels, I promote not only our quality products here but the people who do it – our staff and customers that helped us get here.”

Banks also believes in staying focused and never forgetting where you came from. “I insist at all times on supporting the youth in our community,” he says. “They allow us to rise above and be the best at what we do.” To that end, Banks makes it a point every year to hire at least a couple of young engineers, just to reward them for pursuing their dreams. He tells the story of one of his young employees who, after seeing what it’s like to work at APM, is leaving to go get his engineering degree. “We’ve excited him enough so that’s what he’s going to do.”

One of the things that makes Banks successful is he has the ability to see the big picture while still remaining completely focused on a current project. “Everyone who works with us knows we’re achieving change together,” he says. “We recognize the world changes, our clients and suppliers change. There’s no point in burning bridges. “I’ve done enough of that in the past. I try to develop a team with a positive attitude. We spend a lot of time in team building.”

Banks has adopted the philosophy of hiring good people, then getting out of their way so they can do what they’re supposed to do. “We have a good young team of entrepreneurs that work with us. I try to give the division managers free rein.”

Like most people who really enjoy their work, Banks spends a lot of time just looking for projects, thinking of more ways to create business. When asked what he spends his time at during a typical day, Banks said he spent a lot of time just driving around, looking at sites and finding opportunities. “I find a deal, put it in (his vice-president’s) lap, and they go to it.”

Banks also spends a good deal of his time on the phone, working or exploring deals, and although most people here may think of Banks just as an Island-based entrepreneur, actually much of his time is spent in Halifax, again working deals.

Never one to demur when asked his opinion on most any topic, Banks says it wouldn’t take much to improve business in downtown Charlottetown. First of all, he says, it’s not the province’s responsibility – it’s the community’s. “ It’s up to the city, in conjunction with the province, to build an infrastructure into the community.” Part of that would be to widen University Avenue to improve traffic flow, Banks says, but an even more effective way to get people downtown – and inexpensive – is to improve signage.

“You go Bathurst, N.B., and you can find a City Centre sign,” he says. “But in Charlottetown, one of the most historic areas in Canada – and you can’t find a sign to downtown. These are not big expenditures. But you have to invite people to the community. We have to all work together.” “There’s nothing wrong with investing in downtown, but you have to be focused to do it.”

And that sums up Banks in one word – focused. $

Media Contact: MediaReleases@apm.ca