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Engineering a comeback Add to ...

Faced with a 70 per cent drop in business revenues at the height of the recession, some entrepreneurs might be tempted to abandon ship. But that's not how Brian Will deals with setbacks.

Instead, the president of Calgary-based BRC Engineering, who calls himself "a stubborn contrarian," decided to forge ahead and invest in his company.

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Today, the precision manufacturing and mechanical design firm is seeing the early signs of a turnaround and is ready to tackle new growth.

Like many Western Canadian companies largely dependent on the turbulent oil and gas industry, BRC Engineering has endured a dramatic decrease in demand for its services, such as computer-aided design and equipment manufacturing. But Will has remained convinced that action is a better business strategy than inertia.

"I took advantage of the extra time I had on my hands to make a 'wish list' of initiatives that would bring long-term rewards for my company," says Will, who runs the 13-year-old firm with his two sons, Carter and Riley.

For example, BRC Engineering has taken advantage of the recession to improve operational efficiency by decreasing waste to boost profits. The company is currently working with BDC Consulting to implement lean manufacturing practices. "That goes beyond the shop floor and covers every process in our company - from how we manufacture to how we recycle," Will says. "Lean manufacturing ensures checks and balances for quality control. It has also given us the opportunity to interview every single person in the company. This way, we've been able to assess the role of each employee and whether or not we need to rethink our organizational structure."

The firm is also working to achieve American Petroleum Institute (API) certification with the help of BDC Consulting. "API is based on ISO 9001 but includes supplemental requirements specific to the oil and gas industry," Will says. "This will sharpen our competitive edge and improve our exporting potential."

R&D investments related to innovative gas production are also a major priority for the company. "Maybe skeptics would say: Why would you invest right now, when the gas industry is at an all-time low? But you have to realize that the market will change," Will says. "The next big thing is finding cheaper and faster ways to produce gas. And we want to be ready to take advantage of skyrocketing consumption from superpowers such as China and India."

For Will, being prepared for potentially explosive growth means avoiding layoffs of highly specialized employees, such as engineers and designers. Earlier this year, the company was obliged to let go of 20 shop employees, but then BRC Engineering quickly got aboard a federal job-sharing program to avoid further cuts. "This has helped us lower costs while business begins to pick up and, at the same time, retain employees."

With the region's tough recruitment market, the company has also set up an in-house training centre, which provides employees with learning modules to develop their skills. "This investment was a key for us, because we still have to retain our best employees and attract new ones. Again, it's all about being able to meet the demand when the market inevitably changes."

Will's optimism inspires him to keep his company strong and growing. "I still anticipate doubling our growth in the next four to five years. We're confident that business is beginning to take off."

Lessons learned

  • Invest in your company's value and long-term growth
  • Decrease waste in your company to increase profitability
  • Improve quality standards to give your company a competitive edge
  • Continue to innovate with new products and services, and explore new markets
  • Invest in employee development to become an employer of choice
  • Take advantage of federal job-sharing initiatives to avoid layoffs and safeguard your company's knowledge

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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