Keeping Canada’s heavy equipment running for over 60 years
By Cheryl Long
Providing a high level of service has always been the backbone of Equipments Sales & Service Ltd., dating back to its earliest days when Bill Willis founded the company in Toronto in 1946. Whether they were dealing with the OEM or aftermarket side of the business, ensuring that each customer had access to top-notch parts and service was instrumental in growing the company to where it is today.
Three generations later, the family-run business continues to expand and innovate, and has also joined the ranks of some of the top companies in Canada. Earlier this year, ESS was named a Gold Standard winner in Canada’s Best Managed Companies program for 2014, which is awarded to privately-owned businesses that have maintained their Best Managed designation for four consecutive years. They already have their eyes on the Platinum Club, said Jodie Willis, the company’s Communications & Property Manager.
Jodie is one of the third generation of family members working in the business. In 1996, his father, Peter, and uncle Michael took over the running of the business as Board Chair and President respectively and proceeded to grow the business organically across Canada. Today, ESS is a major player in Canada’s heavy equipment sales and service industry, working to maximize uptime and productivity for customers in construction, demolition, road building, mining, aggregates and forestry, among other sectors. Not only does ESS serve as the authorized dealer for many equipment brands including Link-Belt, Berco, Maeda Mini Cranes and Komatsu, but they’re also considered the largest supplier of aftermarket equipment parts in Canada and offer specialized expertise in undercarriage service.
“We supply only quality products,” Willis said. “Komatsu is considered to be a premier line of equipment, kind of like the Mercedes or Rolls Royce of construction equipment. It’s the same with cranes. They only sell the best.”
Both OEM and aftermarket service
The company’s head office is in Toronto but they have branches in several provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, and a staff count of approximately 140. What makes ESS unique is their selection of both OEM and aftermarket parts, and the ability to service aftermarket equipment, Willis said. “That’s kind of our niche where we’re not tied to the OEM supplier in terms of not being able to sell anything else,” he said. “Also, we do service as well. It’s all in one, parts and service, for both the OEM side and the aftermarket side. That’s what has contributed to the success of the company really because they did that from the get go.”
Expanding the business into western Canada in the late 1970s was a turning point for the company, Willis explained, allowing them to tap into the booming construction and mining market. More recently, they’ve expanded their footprint in their two core branches in Toronto and Edmonton with real estate purchases near the existing locations. Bringing in new product lines is one of the ways ESS meets their customers’ needs and the latest addition is Soilmec, which manufactures foundation and drilling equipment. ESS is now the sole Soilmec dealer in Ontario, Willis said.
One of the newest and most exciting projects to date is the launch of the company’s online parts ordering system, a challenge in an industry that is still somewhat old-fashioned. “It’s going to take time before it starts gaining traction … they don’t often use computers to do any of this. They still use the phone and they still call you and come into office and say, I need this and this,” Willis explained. Implementing the online system meant inputting machine and parts numbers, some dating back to machines built in the 1960s. The E-Parts Store allows users to create a list of machines for future use, search for parts, request a quote, add quoted items to their shopping cart and then choose whether to have the parts shipped or picked up at a nearby branch.
Best Managed is a ‘seal of trust’
That continued commitment to the company’s evolution and expansion is just one reason why ESS is able to maintain its position on the Best Managed Companies list. Not only does the designation benefit the company from a marketing standpoint, but customers and suppliers see it as a “seal of trust”, Willis explained. “Really it’s just a testament to the company’s pretty rich history.” That history also includes one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry; some of their staff have been with ESS for more than 30 years. The experience and level of skill that comes with a rich employee history is invaluable in any industry but particularly so in construction where knowing the parts and understanding how to service decades-old machinery is vital.
“The employees are everything. A lot of our employees have family members that work here so it’s very much a family company,” he said. “They like to let employees do the work that they do so well and it’s not that corporate feeling where you’re just a number.”
The construction equipment industry is a competitive one, especially in southern Ontario, Willis said. Customers are faced with a vast selection of equipment, and those choices are just increasing as overseas companies start to produce and market their own brands. “Back even 10 years ago, the only people that made this type of equipment were the older companies that always made it. No one else could really copy it … now there’s just so many new entrances into the market, so many new players, that it’s obviously more competitive.”
By offering a one-stop solution that combines the sale of equipment and parts with excellent customer service and support, ESS is continuing a tradition of success that began more than 60 years ago, and is positioned to carry them into the future. To learn more, visit www.essltd.com.