November 15, 2009
For Gerald Marshall, May 25, 2009 is a day he will never forget. It was the day the building that housed his business, Martek Corporation Landscape and Construction Products, burned to the ground.

Over 30 firefighters battled the blaze, with at least a dozen buildings around Martek evacuated. The business was located near Harvester Road and east of Appleby Line in Burlington. Traffic was jammed as motorists slowed to watch the huge billows of black smoke, visible as far away as the Skyway Bridge. Cause of the $520,000 fire was never determined.

The material that initially caught fire included rolled blankets of straw and other natural material used to cover soil after it has been seeded, allowing the soil to remain in place until growth occurs.

Martek supplies the landscape and construction industries with an ever-increasing range of products, such as geosynthetics, erosion control materials, polycon site fencing, sedimentation control, surface draining products, drainage pipe, engineered walls, nursery materials and polytek pond liners. The latest product is a real up and comer for the company, high-end landscape lighting.

Didn’t give up

Marshall never had a second thought about whether he would continue the business after the disastrous fire. “This is my livelihood, and it provides income for the seven people who work here. I wasn’t about to throw up my hands in defeat. I had to move on.”

In an interview with Horticulture Review right after the fire, with determination in his voice, Marshall said, “We are working hard to keep our customers in product, even though the logistics are tough.”

Five months later, Marshall proved true to his words, relocating in Burlington at 1150 Northside Road. “One of the most difficult tasks was to find an appropriate building to provide what I needed. The only option I had was a choice between two buildings.” The building he chose required six weeks of refurbishing in the office areas before Martek could move into the new quarters.

Although a system was in place to routinely store computer data offsite from the business, it was important to retrieve data in the office’s main computer’s hard drive. Despite the fact that it was buried under rubble and soaked from the water used by firefighters, the information in the computer was retrieved. “One of the firefighters went in and retrieved the computer. Using a backhoe, they even managed to bring out some of our hard files.” But, there was still a great deal of information lost.

One of the positive results to come out of the fire was the reaction from Martek’s competitors. “Within a few days, I had calls from my competitors assuring me that they would not take advantage of my situation,” says Marshall. It wasn’t just talk, some of them even allowed Martek to store product, until the company had its own warehouse.

Gerald Marshall began Martek in 1990, operating out of the basement of his home. With a background in civil engineering, he first became involved in the industry in l981, working for various companies. In 1993, he moved into his first warehouse facility.

A major part of Martek’s success is the focus on service. “Attention to serving our clients is vital,” says Marshall. “We maintain a fleet of delivery vehicles to serve our regional customers. Contractors in Toronto don’t want to come to Burlington to pick up material, so we deliver to them normally without charge.” The company also ships throughout Canada.

Gerald Marshall has been a member of Landscape Ontario since he began his business, saying, “I believe it’s important to support the association.”

Marshall says that it has been tough enough financially with all the problems brought on by the fire, such as dealing with insurance companies, but the dip in the economy made it even tougher. “We managed to hold onto most of our customer base following the fire,” he says. “There was a bit of a decrease in business.” Despite all this, Marshall is optimistic about next year. “I see some potential for good growth. I look forward to exhibiting at Congress in January to help gauge what’s ahead in our industry for next year.”

Whatever is ahead during the next year, odds are it likely won’t match the level of upheaval, that one day in May this year, created for the Martek team.

Caption: Gerald Marshall and his staff have settled into new quarters after a devastating fire this past May.