By Peter Saunders
In 2008, when a global recession caused many businesses in Canada to plummet, the hard times may not have seemed ideal for venturing into a new business in a well-established industry. John Thomasen, however, saw an emerging opportunity in Alberta for servicing and maintaining signs and lighting. Not only did he feel the province’s market had remained fairly untouched so far, but he also sensed demand would never die out.
“When times are tough, most people don’t want to spend larger amounts of money for their advertising needs,” he explains. “They would rather use what they have and keep their name alive and bright, for the best possible exposure to their clients, for the lowest possible price.”
Inspired by the successful example of Chris’s Sign Service in Langley, B.C., which also combines indoor and outdoor sign manufacturing and lighting maintenance, Thomasen opened Westcan Sign & Lighting Service for business in 2009.
Thomasen has been friends with Chris Davies, the founder and owner of Chris’s Sign Service, for about 10 years, so when he started to look into the sign industry, it was only natural for them to work together.
“I sold a professional tools business after 13 years and his company intrigued me,” says Thomasen. “Chris had gone from two or three bucket trucks to 10 or 11 within British Columbia and was looking to expand into Alberta. He asked if I would be interested in this contract and I didn’t think twice. I already saw how good the business was and how there was a lot of opportunity in Alberta.”
Thomasen and Davies incorporated the sister company under the Westcan name, with the goal of expanding eastward from the Rockies, starting in Calgary.
“We bid on work for national accounts that were happy with what Chris was doing in B.C.,” Thomasen explains. “We worked together because these customers don’t want to have to deal with 15 different companies all across the country. I flew a lot between B.C. and Alberta and did what it took to get the business going. We eventually bought a warehouse in Calgary and then another in Edmonton.”
Despite all of the travelling, however, Thomasen remained based at corporate headquarters (HQ) in Langley, housing Westcan alongside Chris’s Sign Service. As the business grew, he simply added more employees within Alberta and managed them remotely.
“It has grown from one office administrator to include estimators, dispatchers and technicians,” says Wes Eggink, Westcan’s Calgary-based business development manager. “Our fleet includes two boom trucks, 14 bucket trucks, four scissor lifts and 18 fully trained full-time service technicians. When I started, everything was solely managed from B.C. Today, the work orders go there and then we get job lists e-mailed to us. We all have smart phones, so we just get the work done as it comes through.”
“We’re on our third telecommunications provider,” says Thomasen. “I feel like the ship would sink if I ever lost my phone!”