COLEMAN, P.E.I. - Like many new businesses, P.E.I.’s Trout River Industries went through some tough times in the beginning.
There were times when founder Harvey Stewart wasn’t sure if the business in Coleman would continue.
But, Stewart believed in the product – the live bottom trailer.
He also built Trout River Industries, in part, due to a simple strategy – he answered the phone.
“People don’t answer the phone anymore, and that’s the worst thing you can do,” said Stewart, president of Trout River Industries.
“The biggest thing you can do is get someone to call you. Once you get them to call you, if you answer the phone and you can help, you help. If you can’t, then you say no.”
Originally from West Point, P.E.I., Stewart was recently named one of Atlantic Business magazine’s top-50 CEOs for 2018.
Stewart started the business in 1999 with four to five employees. Since then, the staff has grown to 115 people and the company produces about 270 live bottom trailers a year.
Trout River Industries has also expanded to a facility in Bloomfield where parts are manufactured.
“There’s good people in the accounting side, in shipping – everybody knows that they have to add value. Most of the people work for the shelf. You don’t have to run and look to find out what has to be built. Just keep the shelf full (with parts or bolts) for the next person.”
A dump truck is great for hauling gravel, Stewart explained, but compared to the live bottom trailer it has its limitations. For instance, the live bottom trailer can operate year-round and handle a range of loads, from asphalt to municipal waste. As well, given that it discharges its load with a conveyor system, it can be backed inside a building and dump its contents with limited space above.
Safety is another advantage — the trailer can work on uneven ground and not have to worry about tipping over (as a dump truck might with its box raised).
But it’s the trailer’s versatility that stands out.
“If (one) job is done today, we can go do something different tomorrow. And, they can back down into holes and run rock off into sewer lines and things like that, where you can’t do that with a dump trailer. It has to be up and it has to be level,” said Stewart.
Recently, the business has developed a catapult attachment for the trailers that can shoot material up to 40 feet or can connect with another trailer to load or unload material.
Stewart said bringing in Darrin Mitchell to help with marketing allowed the business to grow sales from the Maritimes to Ontario, across Canada and now globally.
Stewart isn’t the typical company president. You’re just as likely to find him on the shop floor overseeing the daily manufacturing tasks than anywhere else. He explained that it is important to “put good people” in positions and let them do their job, such as the management team that looks ahead to the next six months or the next year or two.
“That’s what they should focus on, not the everyday thing,” he said.
Harvey added that employees are expected to add value and “keep the shelf full.”
“There’s good people in the accounting side, in shipping – everybody knows that they have to add value,” he said.
“Most of the people work for the shelf. You don’t have to run and look to find out what has to be built. Just keep the shelf full (with parts or bolts) for the next person.”
In 2016, Western Canada’s Maxim Truck and Trailer acquired a controlling interest in the company. The acquisition and partnership allowed Trout River Industries to break into the western market.
Stewart said it was tough to give up controlling ownership of the business he started from scratch. But it was important to make the company grow.
“We want to service the customer out there, and this was a good way of doing it,” he said.
Besides expanding to western Canada and the U.S., especially the eastern seaboard, the business has become global with clients in the Netherlands, the U.K. and the Middle East.
Stewart recalled once travelling near the Iraq and Syria boarder and seeing a live bottom trailer drive by on an overpass.
“That was pretty cool.”