Constructive Deconstruction: Bill Knight leads B&B Demolition
Knight is shaking up Alberta’s construction industry
by Alexandria Eldridge
Bill Knight may have stumbled into the demolition industry nearly two decades ago, but he’s since become something of a mainstay. The founder and CEO of B&B Demolition has been a key figure in building the reputation of demolition as a trade in Alberta. “Anybody that has a sledgehammer and a half-ton thinks they can be a demolition contractor,” Knight says. “We try to put a different face to it.” Inadvertently, perhaps, Knight himself has become that face. He was the first demolition contractor in Canada to receive his gold seal certification for estimating and he’s been piling on the accolades ever since.
Photographs Curtis Comeau
It’s a role that may be slightly surprising given Knight’s early employment history. A Grade 9 dropout, he came to Alberta from back east when he was 16 and worked odd jobs until finding his way into demolition. “I’ve done everything from milk cows to build pallets to work in a Styrofoam cup factory,” he says. “I’ve done it all. [And] I’ve been fired from most of them.”
Even the first demolition company Knight started turned into something of a disaster. He went into business with two relatives who fired him out of the blue after 10 months. “The next day we took every penny I had, which would be about $3,800 – I still remember it to this day – and we started B&B Demolition.” The company was run out of Knight’s basement, with his mother working as a receptionist. “I remember our first payroll. We didn’t know how we were going to cover it. We sold stuff, did what we had to and made it happen. It took about 11 months and we forced them [his relatives] out of business.”
Despite Knight’s rocky start as a business owner, B&B has lived up to its name as bigger and better. Since its founding in 1999, the company has expanded considerably, with revenue of approximately $10 million in its most recent year and more than 60 employees working in both commercial and industrial demolition. B&B has completed projects for major clients like Wendy’s, Tim Hortons and West Edmonton Mall, where some of the company’s most unique work has been done, including removing one of the mall’s early amusement rides, the Drop of Doom, in the early 2000s. “To this day, I still don’t know how we did it. We ended up pulling the roof off and pulling this thing – it was 50 metres tall – out of the centre of an active amusement park. It was a great project,” Knight says.
B&B has always been able to tackle the tough projects because of Knight’s honest approach to clients. “I’m not going to over-promise and underachieve and I think that’s why we’ve risen to the top,” he says. “I think business is very simple. Do what you promise.” Knight promises his clients an expert team to do the job and the best customer experience they could want.
Knight doesn’t just measure his success by how many satisfied clients he has, although that’s certainly important. More important, he says, is the success of the people he works with, most of whom have been with the company for many years. One of those team members is Knight’s own son, Steven, who was there as a kid when the company started in the basement and now works as the marketing and IT manager. “Every day, there’s at least one point in the day where you think about where it started and you just stop and think about how incredible it is,” he says.
And while the growth of B&B is incredible, Knight’s favourite part of his success is the ability to give back. “I certainly didn’t come from a silver spoon background,” he says. “I swore that someday I’d be in the situation that I could give back.” Both Knight and his company have contributed to countless charities including the Lois Hole Hospital and Kids with Cancer.
Still, Knight’s greatest legacy may just be the improved reputation he’s created for demolition contractors. “When you put up a building, think of how many trades were involved,” he says. “We go in, we need to remove all of it, but none of it’s recognized. I want people to say, ‘Demolition is a trade.’ ”
It’s not easy to change the way an entire industry views demolition, but Knight doesn’t seem too intimidated by the prospect. For him, it just starts with what they’re doing at B&B – doing the best job they can. “You set a standard of quality that people expect,” he says. “Then contractors demand it and everyone else needs to change to catch up to that standard.”