Larry Clay wasn’t always a builder.
His initial career path saw him teaching high school for the better part of 17 years, before making the switch.
But even before changing professions, the self-professed farm boy wasn’t a stranger to working in the trades. He took construction jobs during his summers off, learning from painters, framers, electricians, and general contractors.
Eventually, he built his own home, then pooled money with friends and started to build spec houses. Before he knew it, he had eight homes on the go.
Today, he’s CEO of Clay Construction, a national award-winning builder that specializes in luxury custom homes. And he’s just been elected to head up the national Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA).
“It is an honour to represent the Canadian Home Builders Association across Canada, because they strive to ensure that Canadians have access to homes that meet their needs, at a price they can afford to pay,” he shared after his appointment earlier this month.
While he’s no longer officially a student, nor a teacher, Clay said his life is all about learning and sharing his experiences.
And he isn’t shy about sharing what he’s learned with builders and renovators new to the business – whether that be his own crew or others in the industry – similar to the help he received in the early stages of his home-building career.
But, likewise, he finds he’s still always learning, and that’s the way he likes it.
In fact, he’s anxious to meet with other CHBA members in person, when things can open back up again, to encourage the free exchange of ideas and plans for the future of the industry.
“I’m a people person. I’m invigorated by people,” he said.
“Zoom is just not filling my tank,” Clay admitted. But the pandemic won’t last forever, and in his role as the new national president, he’s looking forward to those in-person exchanges.
His journey to head of a company and now of the association hasn’t always been easy. In fact, he offered his first piece of advice for others looking to make waves with their companies?
“Get involved in the association. Don’t just become a member and get the emails. You need to join committees, get to know people,” Clay said.
Shift came almost two decades ago
Clay officially switched careers in 2003.
“I remember it was a beautiful, sunny spring day, and I had to go to school,” Clay laughed. “And I thought I would just love it if I could stay on the job site all day. I knew I had to make a decision. Did I want to do this for a career? It was a no brainer.”
The successes he’s enjoyed since then in the building trade, he confessed, didn’t come without effort and a lot of learning on his part.
It did come, he said, by asking a lot of questions – including looking up trades in the local telephone directory and admitting he didn’t know what to ask them.
More recently, his insatiable appetite for learning earned his a distinct title as a master residential builder, an industry title granted by CHBA to acknowledge commitment to continuing education and professional development in the field of building and renovating homes.
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Those early years came with many lessons for the father of six, lessons both good and bad.
The recession hit in 2008, when he was primarily working on spec projects.
With several homes on the books that weren’t selling, the family faced bankruptcy. His wife, Candice, fed and clothed all eight of them on a meager budget of $300 a month – including diapers. Clay recounted putting rigid insulation on the windows and buying a used woodstove, and together their family pulled through.
Unable to afford to build on spec any longer, he knew he had to transition to building custom homes. But it wasn’t until a conversation with a fellow CHBA member that he realized he’d been charging too little for a viable business.
“I started to turn my weakness – budgeting, reporting – into my strength,” he recalled. “That was the start of me becoming a custom builder, which we do very well now.”
And those spec homes? They held on to them, and eventually sold them.
Clay entered one into his local association’s Parade of Homes. Candice decorated it with a keen eye by scouring auctions and repurposing used furniture, and then Clay entered it into the association’s provincial housing awards where it was named a finalist.
“We sold it for full asking price,” he said, relief still in his voice after over two decades. “That was really the start of us digging out of our financial hole.”
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The success of Clay Construction means that these days he gets to spend a bit more time doing what he loves: dining out, CrossFit, and fishing with his kids.
“When we have a sockeye run, I’ll take all the kids out,” he said.
And, it gives him more time to give back – on many fronts.
His large family is also involved in the family business. One of his sons is getting his Red Seal to get more experience framing, and another is finishing his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Trinity Western University, already serving as administrative assistant with the family business.
Once a month the family volunteers with NightShift, supplying and serving meals to those experiencing homelessness.
Clay also joined the Canadian board of New Hope Uganda, an international charity that supports orphaned children, after visiting the country with Candice and their two youngest daughters a couple of years ago.
And, now, he’s taken on the national CHBA duties, too.
The association has been the voice of Canada’s residential construction industry since 1943, representing one of the largest industry sectors in the country with some 9,000 companies – including home builders, renovators, land developers, trade contractors, product and material manufacturers, building product suppliers, lending institutions, insurance providers, and service professionals.
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