HardenHarden’s experience makes it the ideal firm to develop shopping centers.

By Alan Dorich 

Some developers have basic experience in constructing retail properties, but Harden has an edge over its competition. The firm’s deep experience from operating its own stores gives it special insight into the retail world.

“We understand the challenges that retailers face,” Vice-President Chris Harden declares. “The fact that we’re able to relate and [were once] in the same business is a huge advantage for us.”

Based in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, the family owned real-estate company develops, constructs and manages properties, particularly shopping centers. “We’re also working on a few mixed-use developments right now that will include housing,” he says.Harden info box

Harden’s history goes back to 1949, when Harden’s grandparents started their own jewelry business. “They had a line of jewelry stores,” he says, noting that it expanded when his father joined the company in 1975.

Over time, Harden diversified into multiple businesses, including real estate, which eventually became its main focus. Today, with its ability to develop, manage and build, “We’re a one-stop shop for the tenants that are [working] with us,” he says.

The company also exercises more control over budgets by constructing projects on its own, Harden says. “We have carpenters and laborers [working for us for] 12 months a year,” he says.

Standing Tall

Harden is a leader in its market, Harden says. Even in the face of Canada’s economic downturn, “We definitely haven’t had to slow down at any point in time because of our business model,” he reports.

“We’re definitely aggressive and we continue sourcing opportunities and developing,” he continues. “[With our] vertical integration, we’re able to realize cost savings at different locations.”

Harden has invested those savings into higher-quality materials while it stayed current with design trends. “As a company, we have a strong interest in architecture,” Harden says. For example, on its Mega Centre development in Vaudreuil, the company added to the budget by investing in materials and architectural finishes.

Through the years, Harden has built strong relationships with subcontractors that have partnered with the company again and again. “They know how we work and they’re very professional,” Harden says.

“That’s extremely important,” he asserts. “There’s a certain trust that needs to be built between ourselves and subcontractors.

“The vast majority of [them] are people we’ve used for many, many years,” he says, noting that Harden built this trust by using its subs overtime, always providing competitive pricing, and recognizing them for how they do not compromise on quality.

The Family Business

Harden joined his family’s company full-time in 2006. “Every summer job I had was related to the company,” he recalls. “Throughout school, I worked for the construction division.”

He adds that Harden’s work environment reflects its family ownership. “We’ll have kids visiting the office whenever we have an activity [or during] the holidays,” he says.

He credits the company’s success to its staff. “We have a very good team of people,” he says. “Everything they do is done in a first-class way.”

Harden’s key members include Construction Vice President Eric Fortin. “He has built a team of loyal and proud employees,” Harden notes. “We can trust him almost blindly.”

Harden says he foresees a strong future for his company, which always has several projects in its pipeline. The company, he notes, will soon start constructing four developments:

  • Rond-Point, a 120,000-square-foot development in Vaudreuil;
  • Valleyfield Phase II, a 115,000-square-foot, big-box retail project;
  • A redevelopment in Saint-Canut, Quebec; and
  •  An investment in and redevelopment of Mega Centre as well as smaller projects.

Each will be built on land that the company already owns, he says. Additionally, “There’s another 20 projects on the radar,” he adds.

But another important goal for Harden is staying current. “We’ve had to be attentive [to] what the customer desires,” he says.

“Ultimately, we’re in a good position to be developing certain products,” he says. “[But] if you don’t change with the market, you’re doomed to fail.

“We’re definitely staying on top of things but also diversifying,” he says. “I can see us continuing to evolve, keeping all our different divisions busy and pushing the company forward.”

Taking Pride

Harden excels in its property management services. “We take pride in our centers and that’s why we believe that it’s crucial to provide an environment that our tenants can call home,” it says.

“We are dedicated to providing our tenants with safe, clean, convenient, sustainable and comfortable surroundings where they can carry out their day-to-day business, free of distractions,” the company says. “This commitment to the well-being of our tenants means our centers are perfectly maintained and operated.

“We choose to do this because we also believe it is our duty and because it contributes to the shopping experience our tenants offer their customers,” Harden says.

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