Roman Rockliffe is the head builder for Rock Cliff Custom Homes, a luxury custom building and remodeling company in Southern Ontario, Canada specializing in traditional, contemporary, and Heritage homes. Rockliffe’s family has been in the real estate development business for over 50 years. With a passion for building and construction, he built his business from the ground up with the help of his wife Ali, a talented designer and businesswoman. Ten years later, they have grown from a few word-of-mouth customers to one of the larger custom home builders in the area. Strong-willed and determined, in 1995 Rockliffe became the first to canoe across Canada in a single season. He is committed to his clients and loves making their custom home dreams come true.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
Like so many, my parents were the inspiration behind my construction career. I was fortunate to grow up with two extremely successful and business savvy parents, who worked in development and property management. It was hard not to follow in their footsteps, having learned so much watching them over the years succeed and fail in a variety of ventures. They definitely inspired me, from a tenacity standpoint, to never give up and always keep looking to improve both your business and yourself as an owner.
How do you make money?
At Rock Cliff Homes we strive to offer our clients a reasonable and fair cost of building, whether it’s by offering a low project management fee or by passing along our vendor and trade discounts. Over the years we have maintained a low albeit fair management fee to ensure our clients have a positive homes building experience. We hope that our top-notch customer service and our overall attention to detail in both planning and execution will serve us well when it comes to client referrals stemming from their experience with Rock Cliff Homes.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I think we still sometimes wonder whether or not this will work out! That’s the thing with owning a home building company, we’re so incredibly dependent on both economic and market conditions that it’s almost impossible to ever settle into a comfort of knowing “we’ve made it”. Things can change so quickly. During the 2009 recession, for example, there were moments we wondered if we would ever build again. We really had to reign in both the number and type of projects we were taking on at that time, not only to protect Rock Cliff, but also the livelihoods of our staff members as well. I can say though that managing through tough times like the downturn of 2009 has only helped us to appreciate our current situation and the fact that we weathered the storm.
How did you get your first customer?
I honestly do not remember the exact first customer. Throughout my younger years, I worked on many projects both residential and commercial with our own development company. I gained a valuable network of trades and potential clients along the way. After I met and married my wife, who has a keen eye for design, is when we decided to start building custom homes for clients. We had a number of people interested in working with us after seeing some of our projects.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Our pictures and videos of completed projects is a really useful tool. We are so fortunate to be able to build beautifully designed homes. The design from architecture to the interior finishes is so critical in the home building process. We are proud to offer design services or we love to partner with local architects and designers. It is very important for us to learn as much about our clients as possible so that we can try to help them realize their design goals.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
That’s a tough one! I think the hardest decision we have made recently was to sell our much-loved cottage on Lake Joseph, to purchase Ali’s parents cottage that was going on the market for the first time in 70 years. It was an emotional purchase, one that took me awhile to get my head around. But at the end of the day, we knew we couldn’t let it go.
The toughest part, however, is that we’re back in the client seat again! The cottage was built in 1917 and frankly I don’t think much has been done in terms of upgrading since then. It requires extensive repairs from top to bottom, which are being managed by a historical engineer and building team. I have to relinquish a bit of control over this project to a team that is skilled in historical cottages, which I’m sure you can imagine is difficult as a builder! However, at the end of the day, I know that we’ll raise our 3 kids in this cottage much like Ali’s parents and grandparents did and all of the stress will be well worth it…. Well maybe talk to me next year when we’re supposed to move in!
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I wake up every day and do what I love to do – I help people realize their dreams. If I didn’t love the sometimes mountain-like challenges and on the flip side the thrill of completing a project and unveiling it to the new homeowners, Rock Cliff Homes wouldn’t be what it is today.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Building our own dream home. There’s nothing better than designing and planning your very own space for your family. Between creating a layout of bedrooms for our kids, to the open concept basement rec-room that we knew would be used for hockey, soccer, and general crazy kid stuff. Every element of our design process has impacted how we have grown as a family and will continue to do so in the years to come.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Everything and anything! We’re at a fantastic point with Rock Cliff. Right now we’re currently building a number of homes in the GTA for amazing clients. We have also partnered with Legacy Homes on to build 43 Heritage Inspired Cottages on Lake Rosseau (http://legacycottages.ca/). At this point we can only continue to grow as a company and expand into areas we may not have explored before.
What business books have inspired you?
Reading is my life (outside of parenting that is…). At any given point I have 3-4 books on the go, sometimes more. Reading biographies on business moguls doesn’t really interest me, however I do love stories of personal accomplishment and beating the odds. Stories like Into Thin Air, Unbroken, Night and The Climb. These stories of humans achieving more than ever thought possible. So many messages can be transitioned into how we live our lives both personally and professionally.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
My Ford F250. You cannot survive as a builder without a reliable pickup!
Who inspires you the most?
My family, my wife Ali, who works so hard at this business each day and my 3 fantastic kids – Chanel, London and Westin. They keep me smiling while on my toes, every single day. They are the reason I do what I do!