Feature

How Saint John’s Duncan’s Electrical Brings Craft to the Trade

Mike Duncan and his floating light bulb. (Image: Cherise Letson)

SAINT JOHN –When you walk down Saint John’s Canterbury Street on a Friday afternoon, you may be greeted with an abundance of floating bubbles dancing around the air as people walk to and from work (or to grab a beer).

When you look up, you’ll notice they will be coming from an upstairs window.

They’re not coming from an apartment, nor are they a public art installation by one of the nearby local galleries. It’s coming from Duncan’s Electrical.

Don’t believe us? Just check out their very active (and entertaining) Instagram account.

“It’s mostly just for fun,” says company founder Mike Duncan. “We actually use that as a bit of team building for our crew. Our boldest one was a step-dance at the Imperial [Theatre] on the stage. I tell the crew ‘Ok, this is going to be totally out of your norm, but trust me, lets do it, you’re going to have fun and it will be amazing.'”

Clearly, this isn’t your Uncle Larry’s electrical company.

Duncan started his career as an electrician in 1999 working in larger industrial sites.

“I really loved every aspect of it. I loved to be on the tools and I also had the desire to try to get into supervision to see how the management side worked,” he says. “It just seemed to flow that way.”

Though the work was steady, which was (and still is) rare in the industry, Duncan started to feel a little caged in.

“The one thing I always look back to and remember is that feeling of putting my coat and my hard hat on the same hook in the same lunch trailer for years and years, it didn’t sit well with me,” he says. ”

So he took a huge risk and started working for himself.

“Work was just here and there. People were just asking for little stuff to be done and I thought ‘I’ll give it a go,’ Duncan says. “I just started doing it and started getting busier and busier and then I needed an actual work van and employees, it just kind of ballooned into a whole animal of its own.”

Duncan’s Electrical now has a team of eight employees. You can see their work all around the city, including in the hippest new uptown hotspots like Port City Royal, Tuck Studio and Cask and Kettle, just to name a few. When you look at the company’s work, it’s clear design and detail are paramount to their operation.

“Whenever we can put our little mark on it. So if it’s one piece of conduit that is bent just the right way and hidden in the corner, because most of the time you don’t see what we do,” Duncan says. “We get excited about those things. A lot of people wouldn’t really care about a heater, but we need to find just the right heater, same with an exit sign.”

When they take on a project the team becomes extremely invested. Duncan says they think about the final results as if they just finished working their own homes.

“What that means for us is that if there’s anything we consider in a space that we would not be happy with, whether it’s one strap on a piece of conduit or one light that is not hanging the right way, then it’s really unacceptable for us,” he says. “… We will lose sleep at night if we know a fixture isn’t hanging just the right way or should be moved.”

Duncan doesn’t claim to have the best electrical company ever. There’s lots of great electrical companies in the city doing great work they respect, but he says it’s Duncan’s Electrical’s impeccable attention to detail that sets them apart.

“When we do a project and finish, we get great satisfaction of seeing our clients thrive in it… We just want to celebrate the finished product with the client,” he says. “We never want to be squabbling about imperfections or missed opportunities. ”

Like many other companies, Duncan Electrical has been involved in local causes such as Saint John’s Romaro House, Cherry Brook Zoo and Stepping Stones. It’s not something they brag about or advertise, but it’s an important part of the company’s philosophy.

“We don’t look at us growing just as Duncan’s Electrical,” Duncan says. “But if the uptown core is growing and thriving, and that spreads out to the rest of the city and the [Kennebecasis] Valley, it’s going to be good for everybody and that allows others the opportunity to jump on and have that same kind of heart for serving the community.”

Duncan’s Electrical is a small company with big ambitions and right now, business is good. However it’s not always that way for electricians, especially those starting out. Though people are always going to need electrical work done, securing work where and when you want it isn’t easy. Many recent electrical grads have to look elsewhere for work, even Duncan himself has had to do stints in Fort Mac.

His advice for struggling young electricians is to stick with it, if it’s your passion. But he doesn’t sugarcoat the reality.

“The industry will come back. It will always fluctuate with highs and lows. The best advice is when it’s on the highs, you have to squirrel some away for the lows and sometimes you have to be prepared for the traveling, which is very difficult,” Duncan says.

“Do what you have to do in the meantime. I’ve had to climb polls doing cable; I’ve had to do data entry at call centres, so sometimes it’s not all roses. But if you stick with it, you can make a go of it.”

And who knows, maybe you’ll eventually find you’re making a decent living doing what you love.

You might even be able to afford your own bubble machine.