How This Syrian Refugee Successfully Built a Home Renovation Business In British Columbia
Mai Eilia didn’t have any experience in construction or renovations, but she didn’t let that stop her from creating Magnum Construction Services.
When Mai Eilia first moved to New Westminster, British Columbia, she didn’t know anyone. She didn’t know where she wanted to live or what the best areas of town were, and she had no one to field her questions. Instead, as soon as she arrived at her hotel, she started Googling. It may seem daunting, but Eilia, who was born in Syria and lived in six different cities across four countries in her life, was used to figuring things out in new environments. When she moved to Canada and applied for asylum, she was ready to work anywhere. She considers herself “one of the luckiest people” to have landed a job, and eventually be able to bring the rest of her family to Canada as well.
“It was an exciting journey, and Magnum Construction happened in between all of that,” says Eilia.
Magnum Construction Services is a home renovation and interior design company that Eilia started in 2017, four years after she first moved to Canada. “Magnum didn’t happen based on strategic planning or thinking about it, it was born as an idea and an opportunity,” says Eilia, explaining that the spark for the business began when she personally needed renovations on her condo.
Since its inception, Magnum Construction has built up a team of four permanent employees and a wide network of subcontractors. Eilia estimates that the business has grown around 50 per cent each year and in that time, she has made a concerted effort to hire other refugees from areas like Syria, Iraq and Somalia, as well as tradeswomen.
“Yes, I want to become successful and make money and a profitable company, but I don’t want to forget about so many people who are really struggling to find their way or find a day-to-day job,” she says.
Here’s how Eilia constructed her business and what she wants other entrepreneurs to know:
How did you build a home renovation business with no experience in home renovation?
When I bought my condo and needed renovations, Yosef came into the picture [he is now her husband and Magnum Construction’s site supervisor]. I didn’t have any experience about construction or renovation or anything, but I asked a lot of questions and I started reading about this industry. I used to work in media and marketing so I talked to Yosef and said, “Listen, you’re doing this, and I know how to grow it. I can brand it, I can reach more people, strategically I can develop a communications message that will resonate with the people and what they’re looking for. You will be the man on the ground where you will make sure everything is said and done, and I will be behind, finding the right tools, investing in the right technology.” This is how it started.
What role did Futurpreneur play in your success?
To start with not only the money, just believing in the idea and that we can do this. Futurpreneur gave me a mentor and they have the resources and the tools that we can use. I was invited to multiple networking events where I met people that helped me in growing the business. They gave me a good startup loan where I didn’t have to struggle to go to banks, which helped especially because I’m a newcomer. And the support that I get from all their employees, that is very rewarding. It always puts a smile on my face when I receive an email from them, or they want me to participate in something. That means they do believe in my business, and they do believe in me.
How did your mentor help you build your business?
I always struggled with the financial aspects. Right now I feel like I’m more confident, but when you have your business you need to be familiar with so many things, from taxes to payroll to forecasting to balance sheets to receivables. I wanted someone to just show me the way of how they sort things, especially with the government and legal. Futurpreneur provided me with a mentor. In the beginning we met once a month. I talked to him about, how do I do this? How do I do that? My mentor helped me in figuring out and realizing there are so many finer technology softwares right now in the market, and they can make my life way easier, rather than just doing it on Excel sheets.
How did you decide how to price your services?
When it comes to pricing, I take advice a lot. Yosef, he knows more on this industry, but at the same time I see what other competitors are doing. To be honest, sometimes I call other companies and I pretend that I am client. I want to see how much they’re charging.
What advice do you have for figuring out how to properly price services?
I think just researching the market very well and looking at who are your competitors and who’s your target audience and how much they are willing to pay for the same service. Sometimes it’s the same home renovation service, it depends on who is your target. If Anna is willing to pay $10,000 for this job, some other people are not. For me, it’s all about researching and finding out the cost of this kind of job in the market.
Has being a woman had an impact on your ability to work in this industry?
No. It depends on how you look at it. I was supported by men and women. I think women, they have big potential in this industry, and maybe it’s not common, but nothing cannot be done.
What advice do you have for other women working in male-dominated industries? Don’t look at it as a male or female industry—just an industry. You know what I mean?
To celebrate Small Business Week in October 2019, watch the Startup & Slay digital video series featuring six Canadian companies founded by diverse women entrepreneurs. This special project is produced by How She Hustles, with proud sponsor CIBC in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University. Help us share these stories online with hashtag #startupandslay and don’t forget to tag @howshehustles. We’d love to hear how you Startup & Slay, too!