Abe Nafar is bringing it all together with Boreal Architectural

I met Abe Nafar in Las Vegas at AWFS where he was being honored as a part of the 40 under 40 class of 2023. He and his whole team had an infectious, enthusiastic energy about them, and it was a real pleasure to follow up with him again for this profile.

Abe Nafar is an experienced businessman that grew up in construction. His father was in the construction business all his life and came to Canada when Abe was only nine to start a renovation and handyman company to build a good life for his family.

Abe studied business and supply chain management at Algonquin College and then started Ottawa Commercial Contractors with a high school friend when Abe was just 20 years old. Ottawa commercial contractors grew fast, and Abe sold his portion in the business in 2013 to move to Toronto and work with his dad, quickly taking over the family business at GTA General Contractors. By 2016 Abe had moved the company away from residential projects to focus on interior medical spaces, hospitality spaces, restaurant spaces, high-end office interiors, and corporate interiors.

“I’m an entrepreneur and a business-minded individual. That is my passion and my background,” Abe says. “I wanted to grow the commercial construction business into a substantial organization, but at the same time I really have a passion for the construction industry and the trade industry in general.”

“I have always been very passionate about the manufacturing side of the business. Naturally, as part of our construction business, many of our projects involved a substantial amount of woodworking and millwork, especially any of our high-end projects.”

By 2020 Nafar was doing all his own millwork and woodworking as part of construction projects and decided to formally expand into the manufacturing and woodworking business by founding Boreal Architectural. The aim was to start with custom millwork to service their own construction projects while also taking on projects from other contractors and clients, evolving further into manufacturing millwork and division 10 products.

“We were able to establish ourselves and now, in 2023, Boreal Architectural is a custom millwork manufacturer that feeds our construction projects, adjudicational contractors, but also takes on high-end and really challenging custom millwork application projects from other contractors and clients. We also own Ontario Commercial Doors which had some level of woodworking and a millwork aspect to it as well.”

“The vision has always been to be part construction, manufacturing, and distribution, to be a full solution company that serves every corner of the construction market. And that’s how these companies have been planned to eventually come together,” says Abe.

“Most of the products that we manufacture and distribute are a result of filling a need that we were encountering ourselves in our experience in the construction industry,” Abe explains. “With custom millwork, it was a challenge to get the right company at the right cost, or with the right output that we could control, and that’s when the need was realized. It’s the same with the division 10 products, the partitions and the lockers in the case of the distribution business. We saw that there was a lack of Canadian manufacturers that could answer the demand in the Canadian market and fabricate based on the Canadian need and Canadian assembly.”


Bit more about the shop

“We have three different offices. All our offices are within 10 minutes of each other. Our head office for the construction business operates out of Concord. We have a small warehouse space of about 2,000 sq ft. Then, we have another warehouse space of about 5,000 sq ft. and office space. Our main location, the Boreal Manufacturers, is about 10,000 sq ft.”

“There is a bit of an issue of industrial space in the Concord area and the Toronto area in general right now. We are actively actually looking at trying to bring all our operations under one roof within the next couple of years by purchasing our own larger facility.”

“We’ve invested a lot in machinery. I didn’t want to get into starting the Boreal operation at the level that it is now and as extensive as it is now until I was ready. A lot of the experience and a lot of the income that we generated from the construction company came in to support us in putting this setup together. We purchased a full line of Felder equipment in 2021, from a five-axle CNC to a press machine, to edge banders, belt-sanders and planers, and so on. The FELDER support is also really good because we don’t have to run all over the place. I know a lot of guys, they purchase CNC’s and equipment from Turkey and other places, and they import it. It costs less, but then when the machine goes down, you’re really at the mercy of whether they have somebody that can get on the phone and help you or not.”

“We wanted to make sure we source the best product, the best people, and the best tools so we can produce the best product and have people come to us with challenging projects that your average mom-and-pop shop couldn’t handle. I wanted to make sure to give the right tools to our people so we can have reasonable expectations from them. How can you expect people to give you the best product as fast as you want it and be efficient and be lean and all that good stuff if they’re dealing with ancient equipment?”


Young talent is a big part of the business

“I think the trades are being taken for granted massively by the new generation, even millennials and now Gen Z. It’s affecting the business a little bit because there’s obviously a growing shortage of tradespeople in this industry. To me is a shame because, realistically, the trade businesses associated with the construction industry are the backbones of any economy and I don’t see that changing anytime in the future, even with the digital shift that we are seeing in most industries” says Abe.

“What we try to do with the all our companies, before and above and beyond anything, is create a culture in the company. I see a lot of boredom, a lack of motivation and engagement in the workplace in general, no matter if it is a shop, retail, or office setting. We try to focus on results with our employees and not micromanage. We want them to know that they matter and that their work-life balance matters.”

“We work with co-op programs and actively try to search for talent in co-op students that are just coming out of college or coming out of university. Especially with the younger people that we get in, one of the first things that we try to do is understand where they want to go in the business, where they want to go in the industry. Some of them want to become a master carpenter. Some of them want to become a great manager or a project manager or operations manager. Some of them want to grow into partners. We try to focus on understanding what it is that they need and make sure they have and develop the skills to contribute to our company and better themselves professionally. We try to bring in the best and take care of them, and because of that we don’t have a very high turnover rate. Once we understand people’s needs, we can put them in the right place and work towards contributing to the goals they have as well.”

“This is what gives me the confidence to say that I know for sure we are going to be back at the 40 under 40 with some of our younger people in the coming years.”

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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