Paramount Parts is helping keep trucks and trailers on the straight and narrow
Big wheels keep on turning
by Steve MacLeod
#45 on the Fast Growth 50
Industry: Wholesale and Retail Trade
2010 gross annual sales: $17,794,769
2008 gross annual sales: $14,413,325
Three keys to growth:
- Develop knowledge in all aspects of running a business
- Focus on customer service
- Diversify into different business lines
Photograph Greg Halinda
Brent Usick is the kind of guy that likes to do things for himself, which explains why after spending more than 20 years working in the auto parts industry he decided to open his own shop in 2002. He founded Paramount Parts that year in Fort McMurray and paired the NAPA Auto Parts store with Traction Heavy Duty Parts to serve both the auto and trucking industries. The 25,000-square-foot location (an average UAP franchise store is 7,000 square feet) was just the second outlet in Canada to combine the two franchises under one roof. Usick borrowed money to finance the venture and although he was a master when it came to vehicle parts, he was still an apprentice when it came to running a business. That lack of experience put a strain on the company and in its second year, the bank put Usick on credit watch. “It put the fear of God into me,” he says.
So, Usick put his effort into learning the mechanics of business and managing labour costs, product offerings, human resources, accounting and reporting to the bank. But perhaps most important of all was the emphasis he placed on delivering good customer service, something that he knew was important based on years of first-hand experience. “It’s a grudge purchase,” he says. “Someone might already be stressed, so we have to make the experience as pleasant as possible.”
That commitment to customer service has paid off. In its third year in business, Usick says sales took off and the company started to make a name for itself in the marketplace. Growth continued from there and Paramount Parts landed at the 45th spot of the most recent Alberta Venture Fast Growth 50 list after bringing in $17.8 million in revenue in 2010. With the parts business on solid ground and growing, Usick decided to invest some of the earnings into a new business, and launched ABC Trailers in 2005. The company sells trailers and is run out of the same location as the parts business, but instead of 53-foot trailers for semi-trucks ABC sells small trailers meant to hitch on the back of a passenger vehicle. The trailers are predominantly meant for hauling personal goods such as all-terrain vehicles. “It’s a real niche market up here and we’ve probably sold 1,000 of them in seven years,” Usick says.
Around the same time as ABC Trailers started up, Usick also partnered in Class 1 Collision Inc., an auto body repair shop in Fort McMurray.
“When we had all three companies rolling, we had a lot of synergies,” Usick says. He sold his half of Class 1 to his partner in 2010.
The diverse business lines helped Paramount when the economy slowed down. Another of Usick’s businesses, Paramount Holdings, came in handy when dealing with a customer who didn’t fare as well during the downturn. “We had an account that was not paying, so we traded the accounts receivable for a condo in Sylvan Lake,” Usick says. “We’ve had some ups and downs, so we try and be as considerate as possible.”
Paramount Holdings was started in 2009 and has a couple of warehouses in Fort McMurray in its portfolio. The holding company’s operations are run out of the office of the parts store in northern Alberta. As well as the same corporate office, the different businesses in the Paramount Group of Companies also share the same accounting department, payroll department and benefits program. Each business, however, is a separate entity. “If we want to sell one of the businesses, it makes it easier,” Usick says. “I need everyone to stand by themselves and make money.”
The latest money makers in the Paramount group are NAPA Auto Parts and Traction Heavy Duty Parts locations in Saskatchewan. Usick first moved east in the fall of 2010 and after negotiating with NAPA for 18 months, he secured the rights to one of each of the franchise brands in Saskatoon. “It was the first time [the franchisor] had relinquished control to an associate in a major urban centre,” Usick says. All told, the Paramount Group of Companies generated $26 million in sales in 2011.
Paramount expanded its Saskatchewan presence in November 2011, adding two more locations. The auto parts store and heavy-truck parts store in Nipawin were opened as part of a partnership. “One of our long-term employees wanted to go into business,” Usick says. “He found a place he wanted to move to in Saskatchewan and we partnered with him.”
The next step in Paramount’s evolution will be the completion of two new flagship locations, one in Fort McMurray and one in Saskatoon at 32,000 square feet and 31,000 square feet respectively. Once construction is finished and the new digs are broken in, Usick plans on continuing the company’s growth through acquisitions in 2013. But regardless of the type of business or its location, he’s adamant that customer service will be the most important part of any new operation. “The reason we do grow is we care about our customers,” Usick says. “Heavy truck parts have not been tapped into as a customer service business. We’re going to introduce it.”