TOOLS OF YOUR TRADE
By Anna Guy
Much more than tool, equipment and safety product company, SureWerx is prime to be the leader in worker safety and productivity.
Looking for a case study in strategic growth through acquisitions, increased market share, and expanding established relationships with distribution partners, there isn’t a better place to look than SureWerx.
The leading supplier of tool, equipment and safety products for professional workers across North America, has been selected as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies for the second successive year.
This distinction is a reflection of commitment and a laser focus with respect to strategic advancement, team collaboration, leadership development, digital solutions and dedicated customer service after implementing a five-year strategic plan to augment its impressive portfolio through growth and acquisition in late 2012.
SureWerx is a leading supplier of professional tool, equipment and safety products for workers, through its partner distributor network servicing the industrial, construction, safety, and automotive aftermarket in North America.
SureWerx markets its extensive portfolio of safety products and tools and equipment in Canada under the JET®, Strongarm®, ITC®, STARTECH®, Pioneer®, Ranpro®, PeakWorks®, and Sellstrom® brands, and in the United States under the American Forge & Foundry®, Pioneer, Ranpro, PeakWorks, and Sellstrom brands.
How did the company get here? Business Elite Canada spoke exclusively with Chris Baby, CEO, about the impressive execution of a strategic plan that has resulted in expansion into the U.S. market as a trial run for further global expansion.
The company history starts in 1957, when a prescient company called JET became one of the first Canadian importers after the Second World War, primarily dealing in material handling equipment for construction fabricating and manufacturing industries.
In the 1990s, after it was determined that there was opportunity in the automotive after market, JET acquired Strongarm, a hydraulic lifting equipment company in Canada, which today is the number one automotive after market lifting brand. Shortly after, JET acquired a long-standing US based company, American Forge & Foundry Inc., to test the waters and gain an insight into differences between US and Canadian markets. “There forged our foray into automotive aftermarket and entry into the U.S. marketplace south of the border—two critical milestones for the company moving forward,” says Baby.
“The vision behind JET was to put tools in the hand of the professional end-user so they can do their job and drive productivity,” he continues, adding their target end-users deal predominately in the trades.
With over half of a century of developed expertise from a global sourcing perspective in the tool and equipment categories, JET set out an ambitious plan to add a portfolio of safety product to its strong network of distribution partners.
“This set the stage for who we are now,” says Baby.
JET saw an auspicious cross over in the safety gear and protective clothing market—something that the end-user of their tool and equipment customer also needs. In 2009, JET acquired two more companies, Pioneer and Jarvis Imports, which were then amalgamated under the name Pioneer Protective Products. This now enabled the company to offer commercial High-Visibility, Rainwear and Flame Resistant clothing while continuing to expand that portfolio. The hot streak continued, and Pioneer is now considered the Number One provider of High-Visibility high-quality, durable outerwear, workwear and personal protective gear in Canada.
“Our goal is to be leader in worker safety and productivity by delivering exceptional tool and safety products and services to our partners and ultimately to the end-users in the Canadian and U.S. marketplace,” says Baby. “We aim to drive innovative brands that create a productive and safe work environment for our customer’s employees.”
In 2012, Toronto-based Penfund, Canada’s oldest independent private equity firm, and JET met. JET’s business strategy, entrenched market position, competent management team, and superior returns fit the bill perfectly, and JET was subsequently acquired by Penfund. “At the time Penfund acquired us, we were three non-integrated companies; JET Equipment & Tools Ltd., Pioneer Protective Products Ltd. and American Forge & Foundry Inc. For us to truly leverage our collective strengths and simplify our business for our Distribution partners, we decided to completely integrate the entire organization under one umbrella. This ultimately did make it much easier for our distributors and their customers to interact with us and gave us the ability to now rapidly grow the business both organically and through acquiring complimentary brands,” says Baby.
The name of this parent company:
SureWerx. “SureWerx is there to articulate trust and confidence to our partners, that we stand behind brands and support needs of users of our products.” Distribution partners will still access the same brands that they have come to know and trust, but with SureWerx, all the portfolios brands are pulled together under one seamless inventory for easier ordering, invoicing, shipping and customer support.
SureWerx responded to further customer requests, acquiring PeakWorks in Canada as its fall protection portfolio. Next, they added a technical array of protective apparel and boots with the acquisition of Ranpro, a Canadian brand that dates all the way back to 1865. The next acquisition was strategic in both product and location as SureWerx acquired Sellstrom Manufacturing Co., a complete offering of face, eye, hearing and head protection located in Chicago. With that acquisition, Chicago will serve as the US head office and fulfilment centre. Finally, late last year, SureWerx acquired its forth company in four years; KP Industries which designed and owned the KneePro kneepad, which is rated by many as the number one protective kneepad in the world.
And when the right acquisition isn’t available, as was the case when looking for lighting products, SureWerx developed a portfolio in-house.
“Driving accelerated growth and rounding out portfolios to ensure our distribution partners have a complete, single-source solution of tool and equipment and safety products so their customers can be safe and productive in their daily functions has been a successful strategy for us, and one we will continue to build on,” says Baby.
“With each acquisition, we gain engineering expertise and talented people who come with the organization,” he continues. “This gives us a stronger base to round out and drive our portfolio globally. Even though we are very deep in core tool and equipment and core safety categories, there are always adjacent products and access to new markets that we seek out to design and drive innovation.” Moving forward, SureWerx is focused on adding some additional critical elements to the overall portfolio, such as traffic safety, respiratory safety and First Aid equipment.
SureWerx caters primarily to small and medium-sized independents distributors—a market that can be overlooked by the behemoth companies, yet which comprise 75 to 80 per cent of the U.S. and Canadian industrial Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) and automotive aftermarkets. SureWerx distribution partners look to SureWerx as a natural extension of their inventory, with the resources and technical expertise to help their customers—the end-users—to drive their productivity in a creative, productive and safe work environment. “We become true partners with our distributors—they are very supportive of us continuing to round out the portfolio especially with hard-to-find or extremely technical products,” says Baby.
SureWerx has continued to propel itself forward through a laser-focused commitment to strategic advancement, team collaboration, and dedicated customer service. Currently undergoing a significant digital transformation, SureWerx partnered with Salesforce and hired a Chief Digital Officer in 2015 to streamline its operations. “We want to be even more efficient when working with both distributors and end-users of our products through more collaborative e-commerce tools and digital training materials,” says Baby, “and work more effectively with our global manufacturing partners by giving them the ability to seamlessly integrate into our business.”
For a company with such deep roots in distribution, it still feels like the best is yet to come for SureWerx. From customer experience, to product development to process optimization to great people, SureWerx is pushing the boundaries—both geographic and technological—to deliver exceptional value to its partners.
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