–Words Tess van Straaten Photography Lia Crowe
While most kids were playing outside on weekends and during school breaks, award-wining custom homebuilder Terry Johal was put to work on his dad’s construction sites.
“It’s just in my blood,” says the founder of Terry Johal Developments. “My father was a prominent homebuilder and I started working alongside him, I think as early as age 12. So, all my weekends and some breaks were all spent on a construction site.”
At the time, the tween and teenage Terry didn’t fully appreciate the amazing on-the-job training he was getting—or what it would mean for his future.
“Honestly, at first, I didn’t like it,” the 46-year-old says with a laugh. “I’d rather be hanging out with my friends or doing something else. But as an adult, I realized what a great life experience that was and the incredible work ethic it instilled in me.”
Terry decided to strike out on his own in 2001. In his mid-20s and newly married to his wife, Angela, he wanted to carve his own niche in the industry, so they started their own company.
“I think I’ve always been a bit entrepreneurial, I have such an interest in business, and I was determined to be successful,” he says. “Just being married and thinking about our future together, it was the right path. It was definitely a little scary at first because we were so young, but I had such a great partner in Angela that we just did it all as a team and it all worked out.”
They realized early on that luxury, custom homes were what they had a special talent for building.
“It’s just my jam, this is what I’m good at, and it’s just something that I love doing,” the father of two teenagers says. “My skill set and my niche revolve around servicing the needs of our clients and building these luxury homes that are of the utmost quality and the highest of standards.”
Terry quickly learned being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 job and he admits that for the first seven years of the business, there was very little balance in his life.
“The world only revolved around the business and then we had a couple of kids and as my boys started growing up, I realized that there needs to be a family-first approach,” he says. “This is something that we really instill in our employees as well. Family needs come before anything. A balanced family/work life leads to longevity and success in business and life, and once that balance was in my life, everything just seemed to go smoother.”
Growing up with some great mentors on construction sites, Terry says the other big lesson he learned is that there’s only one way to do something—and that’s the right way.
“Never compromise on quality,” he says. “I’ve lived with that mantra the whole time we’ve been in business and it’s really worked out.”
As a result, the small, bespoke company takes on just four to six projects at a time. Any more than this could compromise the high-end, personalized service they provide, Terry says.
“I love the journey we go on with our clients, because we’re with them every step of the way and I like to guide them through each step,” explains Terry. “Whether they’re choosing plumbing fixtures or flooring, I like to be there not only because it gives me knowledge of what’s going on, but I’ve been through all this on so many projects that I like to give them my advice, the pros and cons on certain items, to help them.”
With more than 100 homes—from ultra-modern to traditional— under his belt, Terry doesn’t have a favourite style. He says he loves all the different styles, but, as an experienced builder, he does have a very important piece of advice.
“One thing I stress in whatever we do, and I try to emphasize this with clients, is that we want it to have a timeless feel and look to it,” Terry says. “You don’t want to start doing a renovation in five or six years. A fad is just that.”
The industry’s definitely faced its challenges and the biggest one right now is the high cost of construction, which Terry says has almost doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the increased development costs for land.
“Labour and material costs are at an all-time high and to be honest with you, the reality is they’re most likely only going to keep increasing,” he says. “There are a lot of things like bureaucratic policies and red tape that only exasperate the issue, but I think our government is seeing that now and there have been some recent changes made to hopefully steer the ship in the right direction.”
Terry’s helped create positive change in the industry as a former board member and president of the Victoria Residential Builders Association. Born and raised in Victoria, he says it was important for him to give back to an industry that has given him so much.
“I advocated for housing affordability and regulatory reform, including mandatory continued education for licensed builders,” he explains. “I’m really proud of the fact that there was change made in the industry.”
Terry is also carrying on the tradition of dragging his 15-year-old son, Jagger, to building sites in the summer—and 13-year-old Terran could be next.
“I love building, but as a parent, I’m hoping they chart their own path and do something they love and are passionate about. And if that means continuing with the family business, great, but it’s got to be something that they want.”
As Terry enjoys his success after two decades of hard work, his best parting advice is to “stay hungry.”
“With success, you have security and you become very comfortable, but that can be a real detriment,” he says. “You have to continue to push yourself to get the best out of yourself. Like they say, pressure makes diamonds.”