Women Who Dare
The determination that built Rockwood Custom Homes

The determination that built Rockwood Custom Homes

Written by: Rebecca Willson

Rockwood Custom Homes has built an empire on the pillars of honesty, financial stewardship and ultimately customer care, inspired by owner and founder Allison Grafton’s experience as a business professional, as well as a parent, looking to invest in a home that worked for her family.

Following a career as an investment banker, juggling the full-time responsibilities of raising three children and with the understanding that comes from being a client hiring designers, builders and architects, Grafton saw an opportunity to break into the world of custom home building when she began to see cracks in the foundation of the industry as a whole. After 20+ years of building and renovating her own homes, she decided to “dream bigger”.

“I have a lot of experience, I’m a business woman, and I saw a lack of transparency; financial errors, no stewardship, a lack of customer care,” she said. “Not enough commitment, and very little accountability฀ I wanted to start something to disrupt the residential building industry.”

Grafton worked full-time and, along with her husband, they built and financed their houses. Standing firm on what she wanted in her family homes, paying close attention to the financial side of the build, as well as having significant input in the build and design, gave her a unique perspective that she says helps her understand her clients better today.

Throughout her career, Rockwood’s president and founder has faced adversity as a woman standing on her own in this industry. She speaks of challenges that inhibited her and her crews’ ability to work safely, noting comments that are an affront to the intelligence of all women, but she always knew she had a place in the world of custom home building and stood strong alongside her incredible team.

“They were threatened by Rockwood’s entry into the market with a unique business model,” she says, now able to use the experiences as fuel. “I am principled, full of integrity and tough. The men and women who championed or aligned with me weren’t threatened. Those who were threatened tried to put up many barriers, and it was a waste of their time, I was in the market strictly to focus on and build my business.”

Not one to give up, Grafton never stopped working for her dreams and has worked hard to cultivate Rockwood into what it is today. Nearly forty employees and over 750 contractors have handed over the keys to hundreds of new homeowners, many of whom have shared their stories of success and gratitude on Rockwood’s website. Compassionate client care and a commitment to the highest standards of building and design keep Grafton’s team busy, as evidenced by their numerous remarkable projects underway across Western Canada.

Rockwood was founded in 2009 and dominates some of Canada’s most desirable locations, including Calgary and the Okanagan, also newly entering the Canmore market. The company has over 50 awards, including an impressive four crowns in Deloitte and CIBC’s Canada’s Best Managed Companies category.

Grafton herself is highly decorated, with the prestigious RBC Women of Influence and Alberta Women Entrepreneur Upsurge awards under her belt as well as an induction into the WXN Hall of Fame.

The Stevie Awards, which recognize outstanding business and financial management, sales and customer service success, have honoured Grafton with Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Women-Run Workplace of the Year awards in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The team, and Grafton herself, have even more nominations they are waiting to hear about as of this printing, proving the hard work and dedicated care Grafton and her team put in are continuing to yield impressive results.

The Rockwood team is 70 percent female, although Grafton didn’t intentionally hire this way and she credits just as large a part of the company’s success to the hardworking men she works with as to the women. She says she always hires the right person for the job, always looking for exceptional people.

Many of the women working for Grafton have told her they’ve never had another woman in their life like her before; someone who doesn’t question or compare them, always has their back and encourages them to do whatever they put their mind to, no ifs, ands or buts.

“I have heard, ‘I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t come to Rockwood’, and that is powerful.”

A team made up of a majority of women tends to have similar priorities and fundamentally understands what other women are going through, as well as what they may ultimately want out of a career and a life. A natural support system based on respect has blossomed at Rockwood because of these principles.

“Women on my team have clear value systems and encourage one another. You can trust the woman beside you.”

No one knows that delicate balance better than Grafton, who raised three children.
“I give that flexibility. If you need time for your family or to get to events, do it. I care that the job gets done well, but give my team the autonomy to manage. I find that’s rare, especially in this industry.”

Personal development and time away from work are highly valued at Rockwood. One of Grafton’s biggest pieces of advice is to build out your network, both professionally and especially personally. Especially as a woman self care is critical, in all aspects; from health and wellness, to relationships, and beyond.

“I have a big business, it’s 100 per cent mine and a huge responsibility, but I also have a big life. I have wonderful friends, I’m committed to my whole family, and that helps me run my business. I have people who I can celebrate with and also who I can ask for help.”

Every person on the Rockwood team is an integral part of the process, and on the last few days of a build, Grafton said you can expect to see the entire staff at the site bringing the project together.

Homes are handed over to the clients in “pristine condition, fully furnished right down to the last towel,” and everyone truly has a hand in the success.

“I really have an authentic group of creative and entrepreneurially-minded people,” Grafton said, sharing how proud she is to have mentored many of them to their own personal successes. She added opportunities in the company are endless, as she is always looking for extraordinary talent to add to “the Rockwood world.”

Grafton’s other advice? For any woman in business, it is to remember that you can achieve your dreams. “Don’t be intimidated; while it does take a strong person in this field, knowing what to ask for, calling for tradespeople and knowing if the job is done right, you have to be clear on your values and let them be your guiding light. I don’t care what the role is women can do it.”

Teamwork and support may be the grounding operating principles that keep Rockwood powerful at such a level of excellence, but overall, Grafton’s key is holding herself and her employees to a high personal standard that echo her fundamentals of honesty, transparency and integrity.

“Always do the right thing, even if it’s the hardest thing. You always say what needs to be said, stand up for yourself, be confident and support one another. For women, and for everyone, there is no other way.”

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