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Generational Business: Expertise, products draw clients to building supply store

Five decades in, Kelly Lake Building Supplies continues to serve Sudbury's contractors and DIYers

What started as a solution to source building materials for a group of Sudbury contractors has lasted over 50 years for an entire community.

Kelly Lake Building Supplies, named for the original location on Kelly Lake Road, has provided an extensive product line for both contractors and retail customers since 1971.

Steve Choquette, general manager since the early 1990s, shared how the construction supply company kept its name despite moving to Brady Street over 30 years ago.

The original store, a 1,000-square-foot showroom, was built on Kelly Lake Road in the city’s south end. When they moved to Brady Street, closer to the city’s downtown, they decided to keep the name. Not only did the Brady Street location offer more space at 11,000 square feet, but it was centrally located and attracted an increase in retail customers.

The 1970s were challenging times economically for the city, with strikes at the mines impacting local businesses. But they survived those early years and weathered the storms in the decades since.

When big box stores and online shopping were introduced to the Sudbury market, it had little impact on their business. Choquette believes their expertise and quality products are what keep his customers satisfied and coming back.

The building supplier is committed to customer service whether for a contractor or DIY homeowner. This is demonstrated by the little things like having a receptionist answer the phone. Customers can still call up the store and get the answers they are looking for.

“Kelly Lake Building Supplies is committed to having a friendly voice answer our phones and direct customers to the right department,” said Choquette.

In their peak season during the summer months, they have close to 50 employees. “We have quite a few employees with 40-plus years, and a few 30-plus and good amount who now have 20-plus years of service,” shared Choquette.

Choquette himself started in the purchasing department in 1989 and became general manager within five years. Dedicated employees have expertise in their areas and are available to assist the contractors and DIY customers who can often come into the store several times a day to pick up supplies.

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In addition to the showroom and staff, they have a fleet of trucks that deliver products to construction sites first thing in the morning, while showroom staff often find customers waiting at the door in the morning to grab supplies.

They also offer a mobile tool truck, kitchen designs, windows and doors, garage and shed design, deck design, paint and key cutting. Kelly Lake Building Supplies now distributes Brown’s Concrete products such as interlocking brick and retaining walls.

When COVID shut down and most businesses sent their workers home, many people finally found the time to tackle those home renovation projects they had been putting off.

“During the pandemic, we had to hire three receptionists, it was so busy,” Choquette explained. “When the COVID mandate to work from home was in place, within two weeks, all renovation stores exploded overnight; it was overwhelming.”

They were receiving hundreds of calls and did their very best to fulfill all the orders. However, it did not take long for supplies to be purchased and replenishing was much more challenging.

“The massive demand has not worked its way through the system yet. The offshore supplies are coming in now but we are still catching up,” explained Choquette.

The City of Greater Sudbury reported in the 2021 Economic Bulletin that building permits in 2020 were at a record high and the construction industry continues to show resilience despite the challenges experienced throughout the pandemic. Those challenges included increased shipping costs and supply chain disruptions.

There’s a healthy construction industry in the city, and Kelly Lake Building Supplies can attest.

“I feel positive for the city, and Northern Ontario. We may be moving into a slower time, but we will be good in the long run,” predicts Choquette.