Given his eclectic and wide-ranging interests, it’s easy to understand why some might see the gregarious and charming Doug Tarry Jr. as a sort of modern-day “Renaissance Man.” In addition to being Director of Marketing and lead designer for the successful home building company Doug Tarry Homes, he’s also a writer, musician and accomplished professional chef. “You might say I’m a jack-of-all-trades but master of none,” laughs Tarry.
Actually, the “master of none” handle simply isn’t true – not when you consider the lengthy list of awards the St. Thomas-based firm has netted from the local, provincial and national associations for its creative marketing and innovative design. As well, in 2007 and 2010 the company was honoured with the EnerQuality EnergyStar for New Homes Builder of the Year Award and was named a finalist in the 2011 Tarion Warranty Award of Excellence.
The 47-year-old Tarry will add another title to his list of achievements when he assumes the duties of President of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) at the Annual General Meeting on September 22. He brings considerable experience to that role, having served as President of the St. Thomas-Elgin HBA three times following in the footsteps of his older brother Bill and father Doug Tarry Sr. “My dad was known as Mr. St. Thomas,” says Doug Jr. who proudly points to the town’s Douglas J. Tarry Sports Complex named in honour of his father.
No doubt, Doug Tarry Sr. would be very proud of how his four children stepped up to the plate ensuring that the family business that he had founded in 1954 not only survived but eventually thrived following his death in 1993. At the request of their mother Frances (who continues to serve as Chair of the Board), Bill, the oldest son, who was already partners with his brother-in-law in their own construction firm immediately returned to the family business as Director of Construction. He was joined by sister Kathy (Collier) as Director of Finance while Greg came on board to oversee land development.
When their father died, he was in the process of buying the London Knights Hockey Team and Doug Jr. was charged with co-ordinating that project, including developing a marketing plan. “It was a really steep learning curve for me,” recalls Tarry. But it also satisfied his creative streak so when they sold the team six years later it was a natural fit for him to assume marketing and eventually designing duties with the home building firm. “It was like a duck to water – I just fell into where I fit,” says Tarry. Today the company builds about 45 to 50 single-family homes a year (primarily two-bedroom bungalows) and employs about 30 staff.
Like many children of home builders, Tarry and his siblings did their share of working on jobsites, but it wasn’t a given that they would follow in their father’s footsteps. “My dad always encouraged us to pursue our own paths,” he says.
For Tarry, that meant enrolling in the business program at the University of Western Ontario, which he concedes wasn’t for him. “I wanted to be a punk rock musician,” says Tarry, who played bass and guitar all through high school. “I played in a band for a year and eventually ended up washing dishes at the Black Swan café in London.” That glimpse into the restaurant business sparked his interest in becoming a chef, so he enrolled in the Culinary Arts Program at Fanshawe College where he graduated second in his class.
That led to an eight-year career in restaurants across the country. From his first job as a sous-chef in Peterborough to head chef at the Windemere Manor Conference Centre in London, Tarry had stops in Calgary during the 1988 Olympics, Grand Bend and eventually the Drawbridge Inn in Sarnia where he met his wife Carolyne – she was the hostess and he was the head chef. And although he left the restaurant business to join the family operation, Tarry’s love of cooking persists today.
Not surprisingly, he has an awesome grill area in his backyard and the family kitchen is both functional and beautiful. Indeed, his love of cooking is reflected in the homes he designs for the company. Almost all Doug Tarry Homes include a generous pantry that provides easy access to bulk items and kitchen appliances not wanted on the counter, such as bread makers, mixers and food processors.
Another major focus for the firm is “green” building and the company has developed a “High Performance Home” as their standard, which means homes are built to exceed both the Ontario Building Code and Energy Star requirements.
Every home includes solar-ready rough-ins and advanced framing methods that ensure greater efficiency, comfort and quiet. But most homeowners opt for some elements of the upgraded package that can include sub-slab basement insulation, radiant floor heating, R-14 spray foam insulation, an Ecologix Air Handler, Zone C-rated windows along with passive solar heating and cooling designs, which include items such as deeper overhangs, covered porches, stacked decks, sun dormers and solar collectors that can be incorporated into the home’s design.
“Being a green builder is really a no-brainer for us,” says Tarry, who notes the he and his siblings spent many wonderful summer vacations canoeing in Algonquin Park. “My dad had us clean up the campsites and said, ‘Always leave your campsite better than you found it.’ So it follows that our company wants to be leaders in conservation and energy efficiency because it’s the right thing to do.”
A savvy builder, Tarry explains that about a decade ago, they planted trees around the perimeter of a large tract of land that they expect to develop in the next couple of years. “By the time we start building, there will be some pretty full-sized trees there and buyers will pay a premium for full-grown trees in their backyard.”
That kind of long-range planning and forward thinking will come in handy in his role as President of OHBA. “Housing affordability is a big concern for our industry and it should be for government as well,” Tarry says, adding, “affordability has to be the major component in the overall metric when government is proposing changes and we need to hold government accountable.” That includes the HST. Tarry says the GST threshold needs to be harmonized to the provincial level along with eliminating the GST clawback.
Other key issues include housing choice; he’s concerned with diminishing numbers of detached housing being built in the GTA and surrounding area. “Not everyone wants to live in a 20-storey high-rise and not everyone wants to commute for hours on end,” he says (Tarry frequently takes the train from London to downtown Toronto for association work).
So, infrastructure and public transit are high on the industry’s concerns as is training and education. “We are constantly under the gun from every avenue, especially energy efficiency and it’s not going to stop. So how do we now provide our members with the best possible training? I’d like to see OHBA be more proactive in that area.”
He’d also like to develop some strategies to encourage women to enter the industry to combat losses that will be felt with an aging workforce. “Women make up 50-plus percent of our society, but those numbers aren’t reflected in our workforce and we need to find ways to change that.”
He’s also keen on bringing the message to local associations about what OHBA does for them. “Coming from a small local, I can really relate to their thinking – and hopefully will have the opportunity to travel and meet with them and say – ‘here’s what we are doing for you, here’s how we are saving you some money.’”
So, the musician, turned chef, turned home builder certainly has a lot on his plate for this year and while he’s really looking forward to travelling and meeting the members, he knows he will miss evenings “just kicking back with Carolyne and cooking dinner – I’m told I make a really mean risotto!”
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