To quote a familiar show-business saying, this is an overnight success that has taken only 17 years to happen. That might describe Chad Tolonen’s career in the heavy equipment repair business in Timmins.
Tolonen is the president of Timmins Mechanical Solutions (TMS) which is opening a large new $4 million indoor repair shop to serve a growing business in that city.
“Seven years ago I decided to go on my own,” Tolonen recalled in a recent interview at the TMS property on Highway 101 West. He had already spent 10 years earning his heavy duty equipment credentials with a major mining equipment company previous to that. A short time after setting out on his own with TMS, he said, he won a maintenance contract with McEwen Mining in nearby Matheson.
“I guess from there things kind of took off and it grew.”
He said TMS is now working with every major mining operation in Timmins and the surrounding region except one, the Kidd Operation.
Eddy Lamontagne, TMS director of sales and development, said part of the company success has to do with the lack of skilled tradespersons qualified to work on the highly technical heavy equipment that is part of every big mining operation these days.
“What we saw was a demand for advanced technicians – not just a wrench puller or a hose changer – we needed high-tech people who could work with software and computer diagnostic equipment.
“We found a niche to attract the high level technicians and retain them,” said Lamontagne.
Tolonen said one of the key selling points for TMS is the ability to respond to any mine site or any remote mining location to trouble shoot and repair pretty well any brand of equipment.
“The OEM technicians are tied to their own machines, that one product,” said Tolonen. “You might go out to a mine site. You go underground and there might be five different kinds of equipment.” He rhymed off the names of several well-known mining equipment companies.
“Basically we can come in and provide you with a solution for all five machines. Better bang for your buck,” said Tolonen.
Lamontagne said a good part of the business is directly related to Tolonen’s experience as a Red Seal heavy equipment technician. He said the company will bid on repair contracts, but a larger part of the business is word-of-mouth by customers who are happy with previous TMS contracts.
Tolonen gave an example of a company having a problem with its LHD scoops. The problem was a series of failed transmission casings. The equipment manufacturer would provide a whole new transmission, which was costly. He said his technicians were able to locate a supplier in the U.S. to provide new transmission housings, which enabled them to rebuild the entire unit. He said the savings were more than 60 per cent. It amounted to tens of thousands of dollars in lower costs for the customer.
“That’s why we say we have full solutions. We provide proper solutions and the best solution for the client,” said Lamontagne.
“Our philosophy is just to replace what needs to be replaced. At the end of the day it is a big saving for the client,” said Lamontagne.
The new 12,000 square-foot shop and administrative building is a welcome change. The old shop facility allowed for three pieces of heavy equipment. Tolonen said the new building will handle up to 10 pieces of mobile equipment with the assistance of two 10 tonne overhead cranes, which can work in tandem.
“We know there is a demand for business,” said Lamontagne. “Up to now we have been holding back on sales because we only had the small shop in the back here.”
Despite that, Lamontagne said TMS had repair contracts across Northeastern Ontario and Northwestern Quebec. He said some mobile equipment had been sent for repairs from Moosonee on the James Bay Coast, where it was shipped out by train. Other machinery had been shipped in from Rouyn-Noranda, he said.
The new building is designed to be expandable, said Lamontagne, but added there are no precise plans for that at the moment.
Tolonen said if anything happens in the way of expansion at the moment, it might be to create a specialized parts department for mobile equipment. He said there is a demand since a lot of mining companies don’t carry parts inventory.
Lamontagne said it is also a regular part of business to find ways to make the job enjoyable and interesting for the TMS employees. He said the main thing for dealing with employees is respect.
“That’s our key word. We respect our employees and they respect us,” said Lamontagne.
He said that also spills over to the way TMS regards its clientele. He said the company is a strong contributor to the local economy, it has fair competitive pricing, it has highly-trained technical staff to provide the best service and follow up support as well as being able to loan workers to the customer’s maintenance operation.
Tolonen said a lot of manufacturers claim they have good warranty service but said that doesn’t wash when those companies can’t provide the service when something goes wrong.
“We have boots on the ground and we can respond right away,” he said.