– Words by Tess Van Straaten Photography by Don Denton
Mario Conforti began his career as a builder when he was just 14 years old—working for his cabinet-maker dad back in Italy—and he says he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
“Whatever we needed, we would make,” the 79-year-old founder of Conforti Homes says. “We used to make windows and doors, and we would even make furniture. You start from the beginning and when you finish, you’ve done something. You’re creating something with your hands and the more you build, the more you want to do it.”
After moving to Canada in 1965 and starting a homebuilding business with his wife, Vera, that building bug spread to their sons, Gino and Maurizio (Mo).
“Both my brothers have worked with my dad since they were 13 or 14 years old, keeping up the family tradition,” Tania Conforti explains. “I saw that and said, ‘I’m not doing that!’ I actually worked as a paralegal for 18 years and I never thought I would go into the family business.”
Tania began helping out part-time in 2006, but as the Conforti family’s custom home business grew, she realized she couldn’t keep juggling both jobs.
“I was working at a law firm and I was burnt out and this was far more enjoyable,” says Tania, who came on full-time in 2019 and handles all the contracts and designs. “I love design and I love the creativity of it. And because of my background in law, I have the ability to read and write contracts and that makes it a lot easier for us.”
“It was not planned that everyone would work in the business, but it’s fun and we all get along very well,” adds Mario, who’s now semi-retired. “We respect each other and if there’s a problem, we sit down and talk.”
The three siblings all have distinct roles—Mo is the project manager on job sites and they call Gino, a gifted interior finisher, “the artist.” Tania believes their ability to work well together and make both the business and the family work is because they grew up watching their parents do it.
“We learned that business is business and family is family,” she says. “Family is important and, at the end of the day, family is more important than our business.”
For Tania, the biggest learning curve has been getting used to working for herself and finding the right work-life balance.
“I spent 18 years working for somebody else, and suddenly I went from my day being 8 o’clock to four, or eight to five, to my time not always being my own,” says Tania, whose adorable dog, Lola, joined us for the interview. “When you work at home and your office is at home, it’s always there. You don’t get to walk away from it and it’s all about finding those boundaries and that balance.”
The biggest challenges for the business right now are the same many companies are facing—labour shortages and supply-chain issues.
“Getting products that we need in a timely manner has really been an issue since COVID-19,” Tania says. “We try to get our custom homes done within a year and we’re really good at that, but we’ve had to give ourselves a buffer because there’s just things we can’t control.”
The pandemic has also hammered up demand for renovation and building projects, which is something that initially surprised this tight-knit family in the early days of the crisis.
“When the pandemic hit, we all had that nervousness that something might happen to our business because we weren’t sure that people would still want to build,” explains Tania. “And the shocking part for all of us is that the construction industry boomed. People couldn’t travel so they took their travel money and said, ‘I’m going to make my home my sanctuary.’”
With their business growing even faster than they expected, Conforti Homes has several exciting projects coming up, including smaller developments, and Tania is planning for more growth in the future.
“We’ve really found a niche in the building market and we have a good reputation so we get a lot of referrals,” she says. “If you’d asked me two years ago if I could foresee where we’re sitting today, I would have said no. I thought it would have taken us longer to get here.”
There are lots of lessons Mario has passed down to his children over the years, but Tania says the one that resonates the most has nothing to do with construction.
“The best advice my dad has ever given me is to do what makes you happy, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else in the process. And I try to live my life like that.”
After building a successful business and spending 65 years in his field, Mario also has some key advice for other entrepreneurs or people thinking of starting a business.
“Go for it, but you have to be willing to work,” he says. “That’s the main thing because you have to like to work because it takes a lot of your time.”
“Make sure you love what you’re going to do because it’s something that’s going to be with you day and night for a number of years,” Tania adds. “We love what we do and it’s more than just building a house for us. We always say we’re building a home because we’re building people’s dream homes.”