B.J. Coghlin opened a blacksmith shop in Montreal in 1858. That shop grew and advanced with the tech of the times, manufacturing parts for carriages and eventually railcars. The name “Wajax” was conceived after almost a century of continuous business, when Coghlin’s company acquired Watson Jack & Co. Ltd., its first mobile equipment subsidiary.
Today, the company is one of Canada’s largest suppliers of industrial products and services. It operates over a hundred stores throughout the country, with clients in forestry, oil, construction and more. David Reid, regional vice president of service operations, explains that the best way to get a sense of the company’s rich history is to listen to its workforce.
“As you travel across the region and meet different people, you run into people with deep expert knowledge in a variety of segments. It’s very impressive,” he says. “When you interact with that, you really get an understanding: this team are experts, they know what they’re doing.”
Reid adds that growing through acquisitions, as Wajax has, can be a complex and sensitive process. Often, skilled associates with their own habits and codes are learning something like a new language. But, he says, “the common thread is that these people are professionals and are all striving towards delivering a great experience for our customers.”
Since 1978, the Wajax name had really governed three businesses: one for materials handling equipment, one for power systems, and one for industrial parts supply. This created some confusion in the marketplace. In 2016, the company reorganized this structure through an initiative called One Wajax. Today it operates as a unified enterprise.
“Anyone who’s been through a reorganization will tell you it’s a difficult process – a lot of things will occur that you didn’t foresee. As a result of this transformation we’ve improved what we can bring to the table for our customers and our employees.”
Now that teams are aligned across departments and regions, they can develop a more complete view of customer needs. The customer, meanwhile, only sees one sales contact and one invoice.
The company’s next opportunity is to sell its own scope. Many customers interact with only a small segment of the company, when another segment might well serve their additional needs. The business has a great opportunity to grow its customer base from within, and that depends on an excellent sales force.
“We’ve been making large investments in training our sales force, giving them a well-documented process to learn from,” says Reid. It’s a massive undertaking, thanks to the company’s size; standardization is key.
“Branch to branch, region to region, across the country the customer’s experience of our company is consistent, and it’s consistently great; that’s what we’re looking to achieve.”
Wajax, like every other employer in the equipment industry, continues to compete for scarce skilled labor. It’s an ongoing challenge to attract, retain and develop the right people. But Reid points out that the scope of the company offers a wide variety of opportunities.
“We’re a very unique player in our business,” he explains. “I think that’s something that attracts people to us. They can work with a wide variety of products, industries, people and vendors that they won’t get exposed to anywhere else.”
That’s exciting from a professional development perspective, but Wajax is going further in its commitment to employee health and safety. They launched a wellness initiative in 2017 to support their employees’ whole health; meanwhile, they continue to make improvements in workplace safety. Wajax’s overall TRIF (total reportable incident frequency) in 2017 was 1.45; through June of 2018, it’s 1.15, with a target of 1.00 for the year.
“Having a safe place to work is paramount.” says Reid.