Because they embrace continual improvement in all aspects of their business, Equipment World Inc. is celebrating their longevity with their 40th Anniversary in 2013. Following this Japanese mantra known as the “Kaizen principle,” Equipment World’s three Northern Ontario locations remain strong, offering diverse solutions for material handling, storage and packaging for industrial, mining, commercial and institutional applications.
1973, Equipment World Inc. began as a small, Northwestern Ontario company specializing in material handling, storage and packaging systems with a strong commitment to provide high-quality service to markets in need of practical solutions.
Today, Equipment World maintains its role as a material handling, storage and packaging systems specialist, but it has expanded its product offering and has established a very strong construction specialities division. It prides itself on its 40-year commitment to “great value and great service” to its ever growing client base across the province and throughout North America.
Equipment World was created by Peter Knudsen, who, after seeing similar facilities in other cities, recognized the potential for a local company specializing in material handling and warehousing products in Thunder Bay.
With the help of business partner Jim Sutton and some investors, Equipment World opened its doors on April 17, 1973, striving to provide better and safer ways to move, store and distribute materials. Six months later, the company had outgrown its first home and moved to a much larger location within the city.
Peter was born and raised on a farm in Pass Lake, Ontario, 50 kilometres east of Thunder Bay.
He moved to Thunder Bay at 15 years old for high school, and subsequently after graduation, worked at various jobs including becoming part of a lake freighter crew, a restaurant manager, then settling into the banking business.
Eventually, an opportunity arose to take a job with an industrial supply company. With his years of experience as an accounts manager with the financial institution and a decade of experience working with the company, Peter Knudsen ventured onto the entrepreneurial stage, opening the doors to Equipment World Inc. Eventually the company would grow beyond the borders of Northwestern Ontario and be able to service practically every industry, including mining companies and educational institutions.
“Obviously, there was a good market for it,” Lyle Knudsen says, pointing to the success the company has enjoyed over the past 40 years. Lyle is the president of the company and son of Peter.
“Peter saw that the material handling industry wasn’t as developed in Northern Ontario as in other centres and he changed that. Perhaps the most significant challenge the company faced during its initial stages was to convince customers that a need for specialists in the field of material handling existed,” he explains.
”A big part of the challenge was to educate the customers who were used to dealing with businesses that utilized material handling equipment as a sideline versus us, who promoted it as our main line.”
Once a small business in a 1,500-square-foot building, on a back street in Thunder Bay, Equipment World has outgrown its location twice and is now in a 20,000-square-foot facility in Thunder Bay’s industrial hub.
"We've now been 34 years in our current location," says Peter Knudsen, noting that his company was one of the first to move into the Intercity area of Thunder Bay. “We are used to outgrowing space; this current building once had four tenants, but Equipment World grew until we needed the whole facility and we have been doing expansions and renovations over the years to accommodate our growing number of employees,” Knudsen says. “We also now have off-site yard storage at each location. We have over 400 pieces of equipment in our rental inventory throughout Northern Ontario, so we need the extra space.”
After 13 years of success in the Northwest, Equipment World expanded into Northeastern Ontario by opening the doors to its second division in Sudbury in 1987.
The division in Sault Ste Marie was later established in 1990.
“As the two division locations expanded from humble beginnings, the need for more space eventually led us to purchase the buildings we are currently operating from. Sault Ste Marie moved to their existing location on Drive-In road in 2001 and in 2008, the Sudbury location moved to its current 17,000 square foot flagship facility on Lorne Street,” says Knudsen.
Now with over 50,000 square feet of combined full-service facilities in strategically placed hubs, Equipment World has a large footprint in Northern Ontario and is well positioned for continued growth and sustainability.
Equipment World currently employs 85 full time employees, which is 82 more than the company started out with. Despite the changes, Knudsen says Equipment World has never strayed from its focus.
“We’ve maintained our specialization philosophy, but we’ve since taken our solution selling approach to other areas and industries. We’ve evolved by addressing a full array of industries, geographical diversification and we’ve improved ourselves through the ongoing commitment to training for all our personnel”. Lyle attributes the success of the company to a team concept in all areas, and the ability to offer a full-service approach to give customers the most efficient and effective solutions to their requirements. “Diversification has been the cornerstone to success of the company.”
Peter, who is now enjoying semi-retirement, is proud of the highly-developed workforce within the company structure. As he now watches more from the sidelines, Peter is pleased to see his succession plan in action. The company continues to build momentum as his son Lyle now directs the company along with their team of department managers at each location. A few of the corporate managers include Lucy Belanger, Financial Controller; Ernie Ukrainec, Construction Division Manager; their division managers, Chris Fillator (Sudbury) and Aaron Wise (Sault Ste Marie); Corey Lair, Operations Manager (Sudbury); and Heather Syvitski, Corporate Marketing Director.
Along with their highly qualified team, Equipment World has established longstanding relationships with many of their vendors. Examples of this are TOYOTA which Equipment World has represented since 1976, Genie Industries since 1982, Rousseau Metal since 1983 and SCN Industrial/Tenaquip since 1982.
“The longstanding relationships we have with many of our vendors has led to friendships beyond just business," says Lyle. “Along with this, we have established a very strong network of fellow dealers from across North America who we can call upon as a resource or for assistance anytime.” It is the company’s ability to diversify from its grassroots heritage that allows Equipment World to continue to enjoy growth in a very challenging economy.
"Where we once specialized and focused primarily on the industrial sectors within Northern Ontario, we have since diversified into all sectors.” Equipment World offers Sales, Leasing, Rentals, Parts, Service and Training for the Forestry, Mining, Industrial, Farming, Freight and Material Handling industries.
They also provide turnkey Technical Construction Specialties for Commercial, Institutional and Educational Facilities. Knudsen summarizes, “Much has changed over the past few decades, but the predominant philosophy remains the same: innovative solutions, high-quality products, and knowledgeable service from purchase to performance.”