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An entrepreneur off the beaten track

3-minute read

Gilles Grenier, president of Escaliers Gilles Grenier, with two of his employees

A few years ago, Gilles Grenier had an idea with the potential to revolutionize the way residential stairs are manufactured and installed.

Grenier—an entrepreneur with over 35 years of experience in stair manufacturing—believed prefabricating stairs at the factory would save considerable time and money.

So Grenier, President of Escaliers Gilles Grenier, set about designing a customized two phase stair system whose components were entirely cut using digitally controlled equipment and preassembled at his plant in Saint-Elzéar, some 60 kilometres south of Quebec City.

A construction contractor can then install the stair system himself. The benefits? The new approach can be up to twice as fast on the job site compared with the conventional method.

“We’re really focusing on this new approach,” says Luc Jalbert, Innovation Director and Project Manager. “For contractors, time is money. You have to do the job fast, and you have to do it right.”

In addition to making work sites safer, the new method guarantees clients a stairway that fully meets architectural specifications, Jalbert notes. He says that the Escaliers Gilles Grenier approach allows for better finishing, generating significant cost savings compared to traditional techniques. “Even if customers pay slightly more for a prefabricated stairway, they’ll cut job site time and labour costs by up to 25%.”

One innovation after another

Bit by bit, Gilles Grenier has managed to raise the profile of the business he founded in 1977 and made it a leader in its field—just as if he were climbing the steps of a stairway.

The entrepreneur has successfully transformed a universal product—stair systems—by means of successive innovations that fed his company’s growth and led to a 40% jump in sales in 2010.

At 67 years of age, Gilles Grenier has more than one innovative idea under his belt. Some 20 years ago, his company launched the concept of pre-varnishing and pre staining stair systems right in the factory, whereas the traditional approach consisted of doing the varnishing and staining on the job site. “What’s more, we were the first in Quebec to use the French-cut technique, an extremely precise assembly method,” says Marco Grenier, Sales Director and co-owner of the business along with his father and his brother, Steve.

Marco Grenier believes that Escaliers Gilles Grenier owes its success to his father’s determination and the business model he put in place. “We have always manufactured and installed stair systems ourselves,” he notes. “We have managed to understand our customers’ real-life needs and make continual improvements to our products.”

Technology makes the difference

It was by harnessing the latest technologies that the 120-employee company succeeded in developing its prefabricated stair process, for which it holds a patent.

“Every stair system is unique and designed digitally from A to Z,” remarks Jalbert. “We made a massive investment in developing software to automate our plans. That allowed us to scale back by 90% the time necessary to design a stair system with over 100 different parts.”

The company, a client of BDC, has already built over 500 prefabricated stair systems using the Kaméleon technique.

“What’s most encouraging is that the comments we get from customers who have tested our product are very positive,” says Marco Grenier. “That’s our best barometer.”