Looking Boldly Beyond
This Surrey, B.C.-based company has a similar story to any other manufacturing outfit these days: “Things were going well, then the pandemic hit.” But Allied Blower has achieved a key expansion milestone: expansion into the United States.
“People often ask, how long before we go back? But the only answer is, longer than I thought,” spokesman for the air-system manufacturer Bruce Wendel says. “But the U.S. was a big growth area; it was so good to reach that goal, then [the pandemic] happened and we got locked out.”
Allied Blower has been providing services in the areas of dust control, industrial ventilation, and pneumatic conveyance since 1974. The company also supplies filter bags and parts, gas cleaning and volatile organic compound (VOC) control. The company deals in combustible dust removal, wood pellets and biomass and spark detection and arrest.
It’s an impressive list of services and features. As well, Wendel says, Allied’s management have done everything that could be done to minimize economic effects of the coronavirus. The result is that Allied was in the fortunate position to do more for employees than some other companies.
“When the pandemic was becoming an issue in March, we were proactive about it,” Wendel says. “We had people tracking themselves, we quickly downsized, had people working at home – some on reduced salary – rather than put them on layoff. Our goal was to balance Allied’s financial viability with people’s needs as individuals – we didn’t want to lay everyone off, but it was tough.”
And, several months later?
“We’re hanging on. Business isn’t really coming back fully yet and the business that is coming back is being run in a way that you can tell – people aren’t really certain about how COVID will impact it.”
Help by strategic partnership
“You have to assume there’s going to be some type of pent-up demand, or a surge, but it is difficult to tell,” Wendel says. “We’re in a position that no one has been in, so it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. When there’s a vaccine, it’ll come back to normal, and I think that’s what has to happen, but normal won’t be normal for a long time!”
When industry does open up some more, Allied Blower intends to follow the success formula it created through strategic partnerships, which have been an important part of operations. The company is partnered with other companies, such as Air Cure Incorporated, to complement its own products and services.
Air Cure is a baghouse filter technology company that supplies proprietary parts for baghouses. Then there are others, such as Albarrie, which manufactures non-woven filter fabrics and bags used in baghouse filters, and Fargus GreCon, which supplies spark detection and extinguishing systems used to prevent silo dust explosions and fires.
Strategic partnerships are very important to Allied, according to Wendel. “We wanted to make it better for us and for our clients, and some things you can’t do in-house,” he says. “We found quality, reliable partners, and we developed relationships with those partners.”
Steadying the revenue stream
These partnerships go a long way toward providing a steady and more substantial revenue stream, as well as ensuring the success of the other companies.
In deciding which ones to partner with, Allied looks at which companies it already works with in some capacity, whether in providing services or purchasing products. Wendel says that if Allied only deals with a company once a year, there’s no point.
“But if we use them more frequently, or a vendor’s goods are mission critical we recognize the opportunity and we’ll approach them,” he says. “There are actually one or two we’re looking at now, but we haven’t really made a decision. I don’t think we’ll get there soon – because right now everyone is hunkered down – but we have hope for the future.”
Allied also operates a number of service centres, which Wendel says are an important aspect of business.
“The idea is to be close to our customers and to support those service centres with a larger manufacturing centre,” he says. “The centres provide a high level of customer service and they can support larger projects with manpower and manufacturing resources.”
Building on training
A big part of looking to the future is the training and facilitation of the workforce. Allied outsources a lot of its training – whether for apprenticeships or management positions – to local educational facilities. To encourage personal growth, the company shoulders the cost of training when employees want to further their careers.
Wendel and the rest of the Allied Blower team are noticeably proud that a would-be tradesperson can join the staff as a 20-year-old apprentice and work up to a management position in his or her 30s or 40s, with company-provided help along the way.
“It’s important to us to make sure there are career paths for our people,” he says. “We want people to find a way to stay within the organization and fulfill their career goals. Some end up being a foreman, some might move into the office, but with different training programs.”
Wendel explains the different training paths and programs for different positions. This is a direct result of the company developing specific training programs for each specific skill, tool, software, or estimating technique. And employees who are ear-marked for management positions are sent to a university for leadership courses and project management training.
It’s all about attracting and keeping good people who will guide Allied Blower into the future.
And of course, safety is paramount. Allied Blower trains all employees in the relevant safety protocols and environments, like working underground, at height, or working with chemicals. It keeps track of safety statistics and near misses. Wendel said it’s more than just dropping a book of safe practices in front of a worker and expecting him or her to read it.
“We all need to have the same mindset. No one is in too big a hurry, or no job is too skinny on margin, to be safe. It effects how we view owning this business, no one in management wants to send someone home with injuries.”
Situated in British Columbia, Allied is well able to attract workers in the field. Gone are the days when education meant university-only to young people just starting out. Thanks to a fair proportion of the economy in Western Canada relying on resource extraction, Western Canadian governments have developed the education systems for those who wish to become skilled tradespersons – it hasn’t been uncool to seek work in the trades for a number of years, and companies like Allied are able to reap the benefits.
Wendel said operations relating to pneumatic conveyance are probably busiest because so many industries make use pneumatic conveyance. As a result of that, dust control gets busy as well.
“Those two go together like toast and butter. What happens is a company’s process will generate dust or residual material, it is collected and pneumatically conveyed to a dust collector – and then have to convey it somewhere else,” Wendel says. “Filter bags support dust collection; each thing we do makes the next thing we do busier. It works well.”
To the future
But that’s when times are normal. And just as when times are normal, Allied has some long-term goals.
“I think we’ll double our size by replicating our Canadian footprint in the U.S.,” he says.
But moving forward with everyone healthy, physically and financially, is the ultimate goal given what’s happening right now, Wendel says in conclusion.
For more information, visit Allied Blower at its web page, Alliedblower.com.