25 YEARS OF GUIDE WOODWORKING: Bringing Craftsmanship at Scale

Manny Jubran worked in his father’s woodshop in Nazareth, Israel, from an early age, equipping him with the experience he needed to take over the business as his father, Bassem Jubran, traveled around Europe and North America in search of a better life for him and his family. Manny’s sons, Bass and Joe Jubran, share their family’s story of coming to Canada in honor of Guide Woodworking’s 25-year business anniversary.

JOE: I think my grandfather’s sole purpose of moving here was for a better life. Israel is a country that’s beautiful, but obviously full of turmoil. We’re Christians, so we’re a very small minority in Israel. It’s mostly a Jewish and Muslim population there, so the Christians are kind of pushed to the side. When my grandfather came here and saw Canada, equality, culture, he loved it.

Munder

BASS: My grandfather was very calculating. He went to Germany, Greece, and visited Canada in 1981. He was looking for a place to bring his family because he didn’t want his kids and his grandchildren to stay in Israel. That was his opinion. He liked Canada the most. We had some family in Canada already, the economy was good, and those were the kind of decisions he made.

My father fell in love with the lakes because he grew up near the ocean, and the ocean is always rough. He just loves the outdoors. He has always been an outdoorsy guy. There was only one lake in Israel, Tiberius, like the one Jesus walked on. And it’s always hot. He always had a soft spot for fresh water. When he came here, he saw the amount of fresh water we have and was in love with it, blown away.

Manny Jubran (right) and Abraham Abou-Elias (left) at the Jubran shop in Nazareth

Bassem went home and immediately made plans to move his family away from an eternity of family and woodworking history in Israel to the promise he saw in Canada. Manny Jubran made the move first with his immediate family in 1986, with the idea of bringing his father soon after. Unfortunately, Manny’s father passed away in 1988 before he had the chance. Manny was able to find employment as a millwork installer and then started his own installation business. The quality of his work prompted a Senior Construction Manager at PCL to suggest that Manny start his own millshop so that he could supply and install. Manny took the suggestion seriously, dedicating as much time and energy as he could to fund his own shop.

BASS: It’s so expensive to open a shop. You need a unit, machinery, suppliers that will give you credit to buy material. Whereas as an installer, it was very easy for him to start doing that. You grab other people’s products, you do it yourself. You can work out of your van.

He was working crazy hours in the late 80s and early 90s trying to make enough money to meet our needs. When we were kids, we didn’t see him much because he was working 16- hour installations. He’d be driving all over the states, all over Canada, doing whatever he could to build a business. His toes would be bleeding from the hard-toed shoes that he wore working 16 hours a day, 70 hours a week. It took him a while to save up for a 4000 sq ft. unit and a table saw on Columbus Road in Mississauga.

Guide Woodworking opened their doors in the spring of 1998. By 1999 Manny was buying land for a new 15,000 sq ft. shop.

Awatif and Manny Jubran in their previous Toronto shop.

BASS: We were always around. We were pretty small, but we were always there visiting him and sweeping the shop. Our mom would take us. We built the shop with them in 2000, putting up walls and doing drywall.

Bass started working installation with his father in middle school before they had the first shop. The same is true of his brother Joe, only a few years younger. Every summer and weekend they consistently went out on deliveries and installations whenever they were needed. Soon, Manny would need his sons to take responsibility for family shop like he did in his father’s shop before them in Israel.

 

JOE: Our father had a partner at the time, but the partner decided to leave the business and my dad was forced to buy him out. Then, in 2002, my mother, who was involved with the business administration and accounting, was diagnosed with MS, which progressed rapidly. From 2002, 2004, 2005 our father’s focus was all about trying to help her and find a cure, so the business suffered.

BASS: He shut down the business’s installation service, which he kept going because he could work hard enough and long enough hours to make it profitable. But he couldn’t handle everything.

JOE: In 2006 the business was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. My dad had a heart attack at the age of 45 and my mom had progressed into a wheelchair. He sat us down and he just said, “listen, you guys got to help me out here, build the business with me, get fully involved or I’m going to sell it. I have an offer. I’m going to sell it and we’ll just be done with it”.

BASS: At that time, I was at York University. I got to finish school, but I had to switch to night classes. I worked at the shop from 7am to 5pm and then rushed home to get changed for school, which usually started at 7pm and went to 10pm. It was a pretty hectic time.

JOE: I was 20 at the time. I’ll be frank, at the time I said that I wasn’t interested in the business. You know, I’d say sell it. Bass was the one who said, “no, I’m interested”. He had a talk with me and said, “let’s give it a go. Whatever Dad needs let’s help Him”.

JOE: I had just finished my first year of university and we couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore. I had to drop out. I was at Waterloo. I did one year and after that, I had to step back and get involved full time in the business. In 2005, I decided to be finished with school and not go back and focus 100% on the business with my dad and my brother.

You really can’t compare the four years I spent in the business learning from the bottom to the top with what you learn in a getting a business degree. At the time I was upset because I was 20 and loving university, right? But I knew I had to do it for my family, for my dad. Looking back now it’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made. At such a young age I was so far advanced in this industry because of that decision. It saved me four or five years of education in my industry.

BASS: By 2007 we were fully involved. We had to remortgage my dad’s property. We had my wedding and in Arab weddings, much like Italian weddings, they give money as gifts. We

made a small profit with 550 people at our wedding, around 20 grand, I didn’t see any of that. It went directly into the business account.

JOE: Everything at that time went to the business. We had been in the business for five years. We let go of a lot of unneeded staff, so that by 2010 my brother and I were the only ones in the office running everything. My wife worked as the receptionist, and she wasn’t getting paid.

JOE: In 2008 the recession was bleak. Then in 2010 we had a few jobs that went well and ever since then things just turned around. My brother Joe and I have slowly taken over the business over the last 20 years. The business has been growing, doubling, just getting bigger and bigger. There have been challenges, but a lot of growth. We got started at a young age and then we were able to take over for our dad and he got to retire after putting in all his hard work. We’ve grown it to a pretty good business here in Ontario. And we do a lot of work in the States as well. All over Canada really.

 

THE BUSINESS NOW

JOE: The business today, compared to 20 years ago, has developed quite a bit from doing small residential kitchens to doing Toronto skyscrapers and high-profile office buildings.

JOE: Bass oversees the administrative side of things, accounting. I take care of project management, project development, business development, as well as dealing with clients and sales. We run it fully hands on.

BASS: We do curated and custom architectural woodwork from scratch, all the way up to mass commercial where our work always has a notion of craftsmanship at scale, when needed. Every month brings new projects with unique challenges.

JOE: We moved into our current location two years ago. We have two buildings and roughly 49,000 sq ft., but we’re already requiring more space. We’re growing a lot faster than we expected and currently putting in mezzanines to add an- other 7,000 sq ft. feet to our current building while looking for more space.

BASS: We also have the original building that my dad built. He didn’t want to sell it. By the time we made the move it had almost no mortgage left and was worth millions. So, we remortgaged it instead of selling it, which I wasn’t a fan of back then. I’ve been into finances, and I thought of it as a big risk, but two years later it looks like it was the right call.

JOE: In terms of our hands-on work, Bass is well-versed in integrated and upgraded machinery: CNC, piano saw, operating all the latest machinery in our industry. He’s on the machines a lot doing the cutting work and programing the CNC.

I’m a little bit more on the technical side on the benches, leading our team in the best ways to construct woodwork. I’m involved in the finishing side as well so we’re in the shop a lot and very hands on. We have a lot of knowledge that our dad passed down to us and we still do a lot of custom millwork while evolving to take on bigger and bigger projects.

BASS: St. Michael’s Cathedral was probably one of my favorite jobs. Not the most profitable, but it’s something that is a lot more exciting than regular offices. This project involved curved wall paneling on a concrete wall. It is a very old space to work with. Nothing is exactly square, nothing is exactly plumb, but all the trims and all the paneling had to be perfect. It was a lot of hand-made stuff that couldn’t really be done with a CNC. There’s a lot of stuff that we had to do manually. There were so many different angles and curves that you’d have to do templates for almost every single piece there, and then a lot of it was solid wood that had carved inlays with gold leaf that all had to be done by hand.

 

JOE: Imagine, you’re building this cathedral, but every piece is a custom piece that you have to make with an individual template, carved at the right angle, and then inlay it with the gold leaf, and then the piece beside it is a completely different angle, a different piece completely. It’s like doing it over and over again. It’s a tremendous amount of skill and effort. That job was probably one of the most custom and high-demand projects because it had to be perfect. We were trying our best to keep the aesthetic of the original church and give it a refreshing look, but they still wanted that original wood custom look. It was quite tricky.

JOE: Our work on the Pinterest office won a bunch of architectural awards. It was a complete flip. Completely modern. Very ‘live office’ workspaces with particular areas: the reception area, the back grid wall, a glamping area and a library. All of this in one office, all these little different themes of millwork that were up-design and had different custom features. We did all the metal and glass and plastic as well.

 

LEADERSHIP AS SERVICE

BASS: We run our business according to our client. For construction we are 100% service oriented. The focus is our service, our quality, and always being on time. It’s probably a terrible business model but our profits are always secondary. We always worry about delivering on time and the right quality. We want to retain customers regardless of how the job goes and that’s always our priority.

Sometimes you run into a job where you’re doing a bunch of extra work and the general contractor hasn’t necessarily agreed or they won’t give you written authorization that you’ll get paid for this extra work. We get it done because there are people moving into these buildings and there are repercussions to not doing our job right. Also, we’re at the end where all the rush is. Whereas I know other millworkers will stop everything and say “I’m not doing nothing until I have written authorization to go ahead with this work and be paid for it.” So, obviously, we head back to the office and sometimes don’t get paid for some stuff.

JOE: The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you say you’re going to do something, do it, and if you can’t, just be honest and forthright. The biggest thing that we get compliments for is our honesty. When things are going wrong, we don’t argue. If we mess up, if the quality’s not there, we take care of it. The best feedback we get is ‘You guys are not combative, you just get to work down and if something comes up that you know it’s your fault you don’t try to argue, you just fix it and move on.’ We have a philosophy of trying to deliver the best product on time and working together, never working against each other. Be fair with people. Don’t be greedy. Deliver a quality product on time.

JOE: I like to think that even though we’ve grown quite large, we’re still a very family-oriented business and that’s how we like to run our business. I know maybe a lot of other people don’t really feel this way, but I think our dad has drilled into us the importance of the people that work for you. The biggest stress I have is when we’re slow and I have to tell people to take time off, it’s probably the most stressful and bothersome thing that we deal with.

So, my focus always, and as crazy as it sounds- yes, I want to make money, of course, it’s why we’re in business- but I get focused on doing work and getting sales and knocking on doors to keep all my employees working. I want to make sure they’re busy and they have an income. That takes off a tremendous amount of stress for me.

BASS: The way we are set up and still do business is that we employee actual cabinet makers. What I’ve learned from doing human resources here for the last 10 years is there’s a lot of people that think they are cabinet makers, but they are assemblers. They put units together. The biggest challenge, I’m finding, is getting actual cabinet makers, and what ends up happening is we have to go to other countries. We have a guy from Ukraine, a guy from Russia, we have a guy from Lebanon, two or three people from Israel because we know people there, a couple from Jamaica, Venezuela. We’re finding it very difficult to find that specific skilled labor.

JOE: For the last few years, starting in 2019, I’ve been focusing on upgrading our machinery to take out some of that need for actual cabinet makers. We do have people that we train as well. We did an apprenticeship program for a few years, so we’re trying to train younger people in our industry. I think the biggest challenge we will face in the next five-to-seven years will be our majorly skilled tradespeople getting older. As they start to retire, we hope that the younger generation will start to pick up those skills.

BASS: Succession is something we’ve been thinking about. Our kids are still pretty young. We’ve got four kids each. The oldest of them all is still 12. The youngest of them all; our sons are two. So, we’ve got a long way to go before we can think about giving it up. For me and my brother, as long as we’re able to do it, I think we’re going to keep taking care of everything ourselves.

BASS: I was never forced in. My brother was never forced in. It’s just for me, I love it. It’s a calling. I think it’s almost as if it was in my blood. I just think it’s Important that we keep it going in the family as long as we can.

JOE: I think that the snapshot for me would be: two brothers, family run business. And we’re just trying our best to do our best. That’s basically it.

 

 

Tyler Holt is the Editor of Wood Industry / Le monde du bois magazine. He has a master’s degree in literature and publication, and years of experience in the publishing and digital media industry. His main area of study is the effect of digital technologies on industrial and networked production.

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