One-Stop Shopping

Oct. 1, 2001
FORT GARRY INDUSTRIES has thrived in Canada because it broadened its business interest, as opposed to the trend followed by many body distributors of

FORT GARRY INDUSTRIES has thrived in Canada because it broadened its business interest, as opposed to the trend followed by many body distributors of focusing on a niche market.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company is much more than a parts or body distributor. In 1978, Fort Garry opened one of Canada's earliest versions of a supermarket-style parts store. This certainly contributed to its role as a leading supplier of aftermarket parts and services to Canada's growing transportation industry.

With 18 locations across Canada, the company is involved in almost every aspect of manufacturing and distributing products for the heavy-duty ground transportation and emergency response environment.

Fort Garry is organized into six distinct divisions; aftermarket parts, truck equipment, trailer sales, service and repairs, manufacturing, and SuperStop brake remanufacturing. The divisions are not constrained by the locations of Fort Garry facilities. Fort Garry executives decide what services should be offered at each location on the basis of economic and space justification.

To understand the breadth of activities at Fort Garry, consider the vastness of Canada, which encompasses more than 3,850,000 square miles — 130,000 more than the US. Having less than 12% of the US population and a population bell-curve that is just entering the 30-40 age category, Canada is set for a continuation of its population growth pattern.

Expansionary growth has been the secret of success for Fort Garry. By keeping up with the economic and population growth of Canada, Fort Garry has increased the number of cities it serves as well as its business activities.

“The company has really grown since the late 1970s,” says Dave Kell, regional manager for the truck equipment division operations. “Much of that growth has come from reinvestment in the company, and in part from Canada's growth over the past thirty years. Canada's growth has allowed us to expand our distribution locations as well as enter several new aspects of the manufacturing business.”

Fort Garry had five operating stores plus the manufacturing division in the late 1970s. The company now has a corporate office, twelve branch locations throughout Canada, and six affiliate locations in British Columbia.

“The affiliate stores are operated as a separate organizational division of Fort Garry,” says Kell. “They carry the name of CBS Parts and Canadian Truck and Trailer Repair, as they are operated under a separate company.”

The combined companies employ over 400 people in locations throughout Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Each location, including the corporate offices, handles a variety of the tasks.

“The ability of each location to handle a variety of business activities helps us to serve a very large geographic area of Canada,” Kell says. “Our signature activities, the sale of heavy-duty truck and trailer parts, trailer sales, and the sales of truck mounted equipment, are carried out at each of our locations.”

Supermarket-Style Aftermarket Parts

Fort Garry is first and foremost a heavy-duty truck and trailer parts distributor. “We carry everything that can hang from an engine or a truck,” says Ron Hansen, Alberta regional manager, who is responsible for four Alberta branches as well as the trailer and equipment office in Langley, British Columbia.

Each parts sales facility is approximately 12,000 square feet. Fort Garry utilizes a free-standing building for each store, with the exception of the snow and ice installation group in Edmonton. These buildings use a “supermarket-walk through” design, complete with grocery-style or larger carts that encourage a self-serve atmosphere. Hansen believes Fort Garry was the leader in bringing this concept into Canada, especially by using the large scale of facility that has become a signature mark for the company.

“The design of the stores places almost every item within the customer's grasp,” Hansen says. “Everything is in view of the customer. Nothing is held in the back of the store. Every part is shelved in the front of the store.”

Customers apparently enjoy the freedom of finding and picking their own parts. Gerry Schmidt, general manager of On-Deck Transport Services, Emerald Park, Saskatoon, is typical of the customer attracted to Fort Garry. He says, “When I have to replace a tail light lens on one of our trailers, I can go in, pick it up, and not have to wait at a counter. I can take the assembly in if necessary, and find what fits. That saves our company needless trips back to the parts store.”

Winnipeg is another busy location in the company's aftermarket parts business. “Winnipeg was the trucking capital of Canada for many years,” says Ken Stewart, Winnipeg's branch manager. “That has somewhat shifted due to consolidations in the Canadian trucking industry. However, we chose to expand our aftermarket parts business based upon anticipated growth in the number of large and medium-duty trucks and general business growth.”

In Winnipeg, the expansion took the form of building a completely new facility for the company. Opened in 1998, the company's headquarters has more than 82,000 square feet on 22 acres of land. Although much of the facility houses executive, manufacturing, and body installation operations, 15,000 square feet is used for the supermarket parts concept.

“We sell to all types of customers,” says Dale Anderson, aftermarket manager in the Winnipeg branch. “Because of the style of business in Canada, we have to be similar to a department store in our ability to handle lots of different products that a customer might want. Our philosophy has been to gain the economies of scale to become a one-stop distributor for our customers,” says Anderson.

“We carry well over 30,000 parts numbers on a daily basis. That means it's in our best interest to find the most efficient way to get the parts directly into the hands of the end user.”

Every Body Imaginable

Having one of the largest parts distributorship businesses in your selling territory also helps to promote the sales of truck-mounted equipment. And Fort Garry uses this advantage as leverage for the sales of truck bodies.

However, in the Edmonton location, Fort Garry has also separated some of the body installation activities by using locations away from the branch. For example, the company uses a specialized installation facility, as well as specially trained installation technicians, for installing snow and ice control equipment.

Fort Garry has done everything possible to make the Edmonton, Alberta, Truck Equipment installation shop a showcase of talent when it comes to understanding the tools necessary for fighting winter's wrath. That facility is currently under siege, as it is every year at this time.

“We're keeping up, but it's not always easy,” says Glenn Bornes, branch manager of truck-mounted equipment installation at Edmonton's 154th street location. “This is the busy time of year for us. Many of our customers have specific performance dates that their snow and ice removal equipment must be ready for deployment. They can face non-performance penalties if the equipment isn't operable at the specified time.”

Like many distributors, Fort Garry faces the constant battle against the clock when it comes to installing customer's equipment. The old adage, ‘I need it yesterday’ is heard almost every day when a new chassis is outfitted with snow and ice removal equipment.

Fort Garry has been responding to many of the snow and ice removal contractors' demands for equipment in several provinces, including Alberta, which privatized much of the removal activities.

Alberta's privatization of road maintenance work began six years ago. A second round of issuing the contract work has just recently taken place. Once the contracts have been awarded, the contractors usually purchase new equipment to handle the expanded workload.

“Because of the stipulations in the contracts concerning the age of the trucks and the penalties for non-performance, a lot of attention is given to purchasing new equipment and performing any necessary equipment maintenance,” says Bornes.

But snow and ice removal equipment isn't the only body installation work that Fort Garry handles. In the branch locations, the company installs cement mixers, waste removal equipment, gravel and grain bodies, service bodies, stake and delivery bodies, street sweeping equipment, wrecker bodies, as well as many other types of distributor related products.

In some cases, all of the western provinces of Canada won't support a specialized body distributor. Bornes says, “If a company that uses waste removal equipment needs a service body with a crane, we can take care of that need without any problem. That's what we are building our reputation on.”

An important standard followed by many Canadian upfitters is the National Safety Mark (NSM). Fort Garry promotes the use of NSM, a requirement from Transport Canada. All second stage manufacturers are required by law to recertify any CMVSS that they have altered on a new truck or trailer. “Many companies are not aware or choose to ignore this law. Because these are safety issues, we feel that it is important to comply even though at times this has caused us to lose business. We are committed to building a safe and road worthy vehicle,” says Kell.

Trailers in Canada

Fort Garry is one of the leading suppliers of trailers in western Canada. The company provides an organized distribution channel for Canadian and American trailer manufacturers.

A characteristic that sets Fort Garry apart from other new trailer dealers is the diversity of trailers that the company markets. Because of its vast marketing territory, the company inventories everything from agricultural grain and rural logging trailers, to inner city based refrigerated trailers.

“We cover an effective area that extends from the eastern-most border of Ontario, all the way to the Pacific Ocean,” says Kell. Fort Garry markets a vast array of agricultural trailers, dump trailers and pups, drop decks and platforms, grain trailers, logging trailers, machinery carriers, dry and refrigerated van trailers, and several other types of trailers.

Repair service is a key ingredient of the Fort Garry arsenal. “In some cases, we have the only technicians who are trained by the manufacturers to work on the complicated computer and hydraulic controlled equipment that we operate,” says Kell. “Bosch hydraulic systems would be a good example.”

Kell says that the service department stays current with the improvements in the truck equipment business. “Fort Garry recently hosted a seminar for installers who work on TENCO products. The training school was attended by about 50 technicians, including employees from Fort Garry and competing distributors from the US and Canada.” TENCO Machinery Ltd is an international manufacturer of snow and ice control equipment.

Once a company has attracted quality technicians, an attractive work environment and the needed equipment for servicing modern truck-mounted equipment are necessary to retain them, says Kell.

“Technicians like to work in a shop that keeps the workflow moving. Because all of the Fort Garry facilities are parts distributorships, our technicians can get what they need to perform the repair. They don't have to wait or hold a repair while waiting for a parts shipment. The result is a faster turn around for the customer.”

Quick Response

Fort Garry is a diversified manufacturer that produces emergency response equipment and rubber products, two very divergent activities. The emergency response division manufactures all types of emergency vehicles. “We build fire pumper trucks, ladder trucks, fire tankers, rescue units, and anything else that would be involved in the fire and emergency response business,” says Rick Suche, vice president of Fort Garry Industries.

More than 35,000 square feet is dedicated to vehicle manufacturing as part of the Winnipeg corporate headquarters building. The Fire Truck Division obtained its ISO 9002 registration in 1994 and upgraded to ISO 9001 in the fall of 2000. Twenty stalls are outfitted with all of the necessary tooling for the construction of completed vehicles.

“One of the major components to building a completed vehicle is the engineering department,” says Suche. “Because each unit is customized for the customer, there is an intense amount of engineering work that has to go into the unit. You don't just start hanging pumps and gauges on the side of the truck. Each unit has to be crafted by technicians following precise plans from the engineering department.”

Fort Garry uses a stall build system to manufacture the vehicles. The chassis are placed into an assembly bay where the technicians begin the preparation work.

Vigorous Inspections

George Trachilis, Director of Engineering, explains that Fort Garry Fire Trucks are manufactured with an unusual first step. “The chassis is put through a vigorous test inspection before any work is begun on the unit. That doesn't sound unusual; however, our testing of the chassis includes a full band vibration test. Vibration is one of the main reasons for customer complaints after the equipment has been delivered. We can virtually eliminate vibration by understanding what causes it, testing for it, and by adding product that won't cause a harmonic imbalance to the finished truck.

“We also test all of the electrical systems and the physical characteristics of the chassis,” says Trachilis. “Those items can be tested very easily when the chassis is fresh from the factory, which allows us to control the quality of the finished product.”

As in other typical manufacturing environments, Fort Garry has all of the necessary tooling to handle the complicated work of building a truck. Some interesting items stand out: the technique used for plasma cutting, the new press brake with a 400-ton capacity, the 10,000-gallon recirculating water system, and the paint finish process.

“We run our L-TEC, CM-250 plasma cutter on a 10-foot by 20-foot cutting bed,” Trachilis says. “Because we use a lot of the stainless and high-shine checker-plate, we don't use water in the bed when we are cutting. We want to keep the area around the cut as clean as possible. A powerful suction device removes the smoke and other impurities from the air.”

When necessary, materials such as the checkered plate are shaped by an AccuPress 400-ton back gauge CNC-control press. The press brake has a 16-foot bed. The machine was purchased three years ago for the opening of the corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility.

Along with a complete battery of tests, a specific test is enacted for the water pumping and plumbing system of every unit that is manufactured or refurbished. That requires a special series of testing devices, plus a recirculating 10,000-gallon underground water storage system.

“This is very important for us,” Trachilis says. “We don't just install the pump, plumbing, and electrical system and assume everything will perform. Every part of the system is tested under stress.”

The testing gauges measure the amount and the pressure of water being pumped out of the truck. On pumper units, the test is conducted over a period of eight hours. “This ensures that the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and chassis are working at the top of their game,” says Trachilis.

A quality control and load test is conducted by Fort Garry. An Underwriters Laboratory representative oversees the test to ensure complete compliance with the recommended specifications for emergency vehicles.

“Under the load test, we can push different systems to their full capacity,” says Trachilis. “For example, we can set the truck's electrical load to run a separate amperage test to ensure that the load shedding control is operating correctly.”

Many fire response vehicles are equipped with a special circuitry that allows selective shut-off of unnecessary electrical items, if the alternator is unable to keep up with the load, Trachilis says. Engaging the high-idle option may take care of the problem. If it doesn't work, the trucks are equipped with a device that will preselectively shut down non-essential amperage draining devices.

Non-essential items include heated mirrors, interior cab lights, and other devices that are not critical for fighting the fire. This “load shedding” is done on a selected basis, with items preselected by the customer.

“Our finish work on the emergency units might follow a different path than some manufacturers of truck bodies,” Trachilis says. “Our process is to first prime, paint, and seal everything on the unit. Then we go back and add the high-shine checkered plate material.”

This helps to ensure that the entire truck retains a brilliance that customers notice upon delivery, Trachilis says. “These units go to fire departments and organizations that have a tremendous pride of ownership. When they take delivery, an inspection typically lasts one to two days. An emergency response vehicle has to be perfect for them to take home.”

In addition to the manufacturing of emergency response equipment, Fort Garry produces rubber products that have various applications.

Rolling into History

The mainstay product for the rubber-manufacturing group is the refurbishment of rubber roller assemblies. These assemblies are used in larger production machinery for the graphic arts, newspaper printing, packaging, animal skin tanning, and other allied industries.

Fort Garry also manufactures tank liners, rubber molding, forklift wheels, including the process of lining the inside of pipes and manifolds.

“The actual rubber parts that we make are all derived from custom and compression rubber molding,” says Tony Brelis, rubber products division manager. “The rest of our work is based upon understanding the rubber processes and how to apply them to insulating or coating another product.

“For just about each of the processes and products that we work with, we start with raw rubber. The process is completed by using the rubber and either molding it to customer specifications, or getting it to adhere to something that the customer wants coated.”

The history of Fort Garry has followed the growth of the automotive industry throughout the years. Fred Sicinski founded the company in 1919. His shop, located between Fort and Garry streets in downtown Winnipeg, took the name Fort Garry Tire and Vulcanizing Company.

Sicinski was interested in not only selling and repairing tires, but in the sales of automotive parts, general repairs, and the distribution and manufacturing of the very earliest truck body and trailer components for a very young trucking industry.

By the 1930s, the company was called the Fort Garry Tire and Service Company. In a move that would become a hallmark for the company, a need for a larger building soon emerged. By the mid-1930s, Fort Garry had taken over the entire block on the corner of Fort and St Mary streets.

During the early growth period of the 1960s, the company absorbed another Canadian group named Brakes and Wheels Sales and Service with locations in Regina and Saskatoon. The company changed its name to Fort Garry Automotive Industries Ltd. An additional location at the Lakehead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, was opened. That facility later grew to a much larger facility in 1966.

In 1967, Fort Garry Winnipeg operations moved to a much larger facility on McPhillips Street, where the company branched into manufacturing with a product line that included sand spreaders, fifth wheel sliders, gravel boxes, and service bodies. The company was actively looking for opportunities to manufacture products, as well as adding capacity to the parts business. From there the company continued to open stores in the 1970s beginning with a branch in Calgary in 1973.

When the company was purchased and privatized in 1976 by the current owners, they changed the name to Fort Garry Industries Ltd. Two years later Fort Garry began using customer self-service format for heavy-duty parts customers at the Saskatoon location under the management of Barry Burton, Saskatchewan region manager. “That move revolutionized the parts distribution business in Canada. We hadn't seen that anywhere.”

The company has continued its pattern of growth throughout the western Canadian provinces. A 1996 merger and acquisition of Canadian Brake Supply, now known as CBS Parts, was a major step in broadening Fort Garry's reach into British Columbia.

In true form to the company's heritage of being a parts distributor and a service provider, the parts showroom and service areas were placed closest to the main entrance. These are the first impressions of customers who visit any of the Fort Garry locations.

About the Author

John Nahas