While other companies have struggled to turn a profit in the midst of the recession, business is booming for OJCR Construction (OJCR). The Toronto-based emergency services provider has been using an exclusive niche in intense, highly technical repairs to its advantage for nearly 25 years.
“My father, Vincent Di Santo, started out in 1986 with a friend,” recalls John Di Santo, second-generation owner and general manager of OJCR. “By June 1989, he decided to split off and we’ve been on our own ever since.”
After 24 years of leading OJCR, Vincent has one foot out the door while John has taken on day-to-day operations. “I’ve been here since Day One,” shares John. “I worked my first full-time summer in 1987. After school, in 1988, I went back to work for the company my dad and his partner had. OJCR stands for my brother, Ottavio [O]; me [J]; my sister, Carmela [C]; and our cousin, Rina [R]. We’re proud to be a family-owned and -operated business.” Ottavio and Carmela are not as involved in the company’s day-to-day operations; however, they are fully aware of what takes place as both are looking after other business interests.
Recognized for Round-the-clock Service
Over the years, OJCR has established itself as Toronto’s go-to emergency services contractor; from water main repairs to underground sewers, the company specializes in around-the-clock services. “It’s very demanding work; you’re often working odd hours on weekends and holidays,” describes John. “Not many people are willing to do that. The only time of year we officially close the office down is during Christmas and New Year’s, but even then we’re still taking emergency calls. We like to work; you can call us anytime and we’ll get the job done.”
OJCR operates primarily within the Toronto market, but will go outside of its normal reach for special cases. “If someone calls and says they need a water repair in Oakville, we can do it, especially if it’s someone I know,” shares John. But business is as usual within Toronto, because the aging city infrastructure keeps OJCR busy.
“We work first as a municipality contractor, but we also do residential site services for new buildings and condos in the city, and 75 percent of our work is infrastructure repair,” details John. “The city has pipes in the ground that are well more than 100 years old. They’re doing their best to replace them, but it’s a large area and it takes a long time.”
OJCR serves all areas of greater Toronto, performing overload in repairs city staff cannot get to. “We’ll step in when there’s more intense, technical work,” reveals John. “We deal with areas where there’s higher traffic volume, tunneling or extensive underground utilities and very poor soil conditions.”
Capitalizing on the Downturn
John continues to reveal how the nature of OJCR’s work helped to not only pull the company through recession, but allowed it to thrive and prosper. While 2009 through 2011 were some of the most challenging years for many companies, OJCR was capitalizing on a niche market and trusted, invaluable service.
“The economy doesn’t really affect us, because there’s always a demand for our services,” explains John. “In 2009 city crews went on strike for 33 days and those were the busiest days we’ve had. Also, in 2011, when many companies were struggling, we went the whole month of February and March day and night without a minute’s break.” John adds that some of that rush was due to weather. “If we have a really cold winter it equals more revenue, because more water mains break,” he says.
The company recently wrapped up a job on one of Toronto’s busiest throughways: DuPont Street. “This project involved big repairs; we were digging down to about 30 to 35 feet,” reveals John. “The biggest challenge is to keep things safe and allow our guys to work comfortably, because it’s such a high-traffic area you have to be well aware of your surroundings. As far as road closures and pedestrians, we just try to keep everyone happy and work quickly.”
John admits OJCR’s work is often intense and challenging, but in the end the reward is worth the hard work. “It’s an intense way to make a living, but when you look at all you’ve accomplished and you have letters and calls from clients thanking you for a job well done it’s all worth it,” he says.
John looks forward to continuing the family-run operation, after learning a great deal about the industry and managing family relationships over the years. “When my father split from his friend and partner, it was the best thing ever,” he says. “We’ve found that it actually makes our family closer.”
John is also proud to note how grateful he and his siblings are for their father. “To our father, thank you for providing us with the foundation to excel in life,” John says. “Our success is a direct result of our father’s hard work and dedication in growing a successful company; the Di Santo children state that if it were not for their father, their own accomplishments would not be what they are today.”
The year 2014 will mark a quarter century in business for the company. OJCR Construction continues to support Toronto, with trusted on-call emergency service that’s there; all day and night, year-round.