When he isn't kayaking Ottawa's white waters or making the team gin & tonics on Fridays, Justin is hard at work behind the scenes at West of Main. Justin is a pillar of the interior design company and ensures things run as smoothly as possible. He sets the bar high for his staff and is a team motivator, (aka he keeps us in line).
Today I sat down with Justin and discussed his position, background, company goals, and how he fits in with West of Main. Here is our interview.
How do you fit into West of Main, what is your position?
I am Co-owner of West of Main with my beautiful wife Sascha.
My role in the business takes place behind the scenes and quite often behind the camera! I work on the backend of the business developing systems that will help us grow and become more efficient. I also support our growing team of five which includes 4 extremely talented designers. Working in a dynamic small business requires that I wear many hats. Often I will be managing schedules, finances and project timelines to keep everyone on track and in the loop. The organization, in turn, helps nurture our relationships with amazing suppliers, trades, consultants and creatives who we draw on regularly. I would especially like to thank my father who represents our New Zealand branch. He has provided financial and business insight that has allowed us to grow.
Tell us a bit about your background, where are you from?
I'm from New Zealand/Aotearoa and after studying and graduating in the education field, I travelled and worked extensively overseas including the last 8 years in Australia working in construction.
What are your goals for West of Main as a company?
I think some of our goals would be to continue to foster a space where our design team can flourish and grow. We want to create an environment that nourishes designer’s creative souls while still maintaining a profitable business. Some may say that's an oxymoron however this is the dream! Afterall people need to live and deserve to be fairly compensated. We pride ourselves in delivering 5 star service and we will continue to strive for that benchmark. I’m not going to lie, growing a small business is hard and ultimately requires a lot of effort. That being said we hope that while our lives are predominantly work focused we are able to enjoy the journey.
What kind of work experience have you had in the past?
I have managed or been involved in running several small to medium-sized businesses. I draw from the skillsets I have learned to develop West of Main.
What is your favourite thing about being part of West of Main?
It's the community and the design process. Sascha often says that we breathe life into spaces making them more functional and enjoyable to experience. The design process is very satisfying. You get to watch it grow from a mere idea to something tangible that affects our clients' lifestyles. We feed off the enjoyment they experience from their newly created spaces.
What is your management style?
I like everyone to be included and have a voice in their workplace, so I encourage people to speak up with their ideas. I definitely have a critical eye and attention to detail which can make me a bit of a hard ass sometimes. Sascha’s free spirit helps offset my personality and I believe we balance each other well in that way.
I try to challenge everyone to have a better sense of accountability and remain organized by having regular meetings where we discuss all the various projects and any issues/ideas our team may have.
How and why did you and Sascha decide to begin your own business together?
I think you dream and dream big! Sascha had been a designer consulting for other designers and firms and after seeing all of her amazing work, her drive, and the professional network she built for herself in Ottawa, I encouraged her to go out on our own and we took the risk of putting our savings into West of Main! We thought long and hard about this and decided this is something we truly wanted to do together, it’s been incredibly rewarding.
What do you look for in an employee?
I basically look for an overachiever with an interior design skillset, great teamwork, creativity and plenty of attention to detail.
To what do you attribute your success?
The people around us! As we say in Aotearoa/New Zealand : He aha te mea nui o te ao - What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata - It is the people, it is the people, it is the people!
What made you choose your current location (Ottawa)?
Well that is a long story, but let's just say I met a lovely young lady while traveling Europe, fell in love, and the rest is history!
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Develop your network. You don’t have to be an expert at everything but you do need to surround yourself with experts. Hiring people that are smarter than you is always a great idea in growing a successful business.
What has been your favourite place to travel? Why?
Raja Ampat, Eastern Indonesian/West Papua. It’s a diver’s paradise and the locals are so friendly!
Where else would you like to travel to?
Many many places are on my bucket list, but we’re going to the Mid-Pacific coast of Mexico in Dec/Jan this year, so I'm really looking forward to that! We have just bought a new camera set up so I'm excited to use that and see how I can capture the moments and environments we use as inspiration in our Designs! So look out for some of those pictures in our social media soon!
How many hours do you work a day on average?
I would say I work 10 hours at a Minimum 16 hours Maximum and some weekends but that’s the schedule for a young business and an entrepreneur. I feel like I have worked a lot in the first 9 months of this year but things are starting to have more balance and we are getting most of our weekend back!
How do you balance work and home life?
I have recently got back into kayaking and will often jet off in the early morning to the Ottawa pump house whitewater course for some training. Getting outside in nature refreshes me for a new day. I really enjoy my work and don’t mind putting in the hours but I also have to be mindful of brain exhaustion and call it quits when I’m no longer being productive.
How do you define success?
I believe success is personal. Are you contributing to other peoples lives in a positive way? Do you challenge this status quo to better the planet and the current paradigm. Do you share your experience with others?
We hope you have gained a bit of insight on West of Main and have enjoyed this interview with Justin. We also want to give a special birthday shoutout to him, all the best in this upcoming year!
As always, thanks for reading,
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Going out to a restaurant isn’t solely about good food and good service. Of course, this is important, but it’s also the ambiance, atmosphere, and social experience that keeps guests returning. Many design elements come into play and considerably influence your overall dining experience.
“It was important to us to give back and to create an environment that is enriching to both customers and staff. It’s cliché, but that’s what really sets us apart. We wanted to create a culture of care. That’s exactly what I see every time I’m in one of our restaurants.” -Stephanie Howarth
“I design for people and believe that the foundation of great design is successful communication and involvement with the client. I believe spaces that foster either intimate conversation or the sense of belonging to a bigger experience are the most magical and memorable spaces.”
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