Lecours Motor Sales

Big enough to serve you. Small enough to care

Lecours Motor Sales is a family-owned Ford dealership based in Hearst, Ont., serving its customers of Northern Ontario for some 60 years, with the second and third generation of the Lecours family working together today. Through its history, the dealership has gone through several expansions, recently finished the construction of a brand new building, expanded with a second branch in Kapuskasing, and started providing additional automotive services in order to remain competitive in a very challenging business environment.

the Canadian Business Journal spoke with Jean Lecours about the challenges of operating a car dealership in Northern Ontario, where logging is the bread and butter of the local economy, and how this small business has managed to diversify in order to remain relevant and profitable.

The company has been working on some major construction projects in recent times. Ford Motor Co. has required their dealers to renovate their dealerships to meet the new brand standard, so the main location had moved to a new building, and the Kapuskasing branch had to be renovated in order to meet the requirements of the Ford Image Program. “We went from an 80-year old building to a brand new facility and it allowed us to hire more people – we did not have the room before – so now we can provide more services to our customers,” says Lecours. Hearst is quite an isolated town of only 5,000 people with only three dealerships, so the actual construction has had a positive impact on the town itself. “The logging industry has been going through challenges, so this construction came about the worst of the logging industry shrinkage, and the construction did help the town to get by.” With two locations, the dealer has had more success in attracting more customers from the surrounding region, where its combined inventories are more comparable to a larger urban dealer, which is a significant advantage against other neighbouring dealerships.

But let’s look a little closer at the challenges of a small community which relies on a single resource industry: Lecours notes that the logging industry has been struggling for 30 years now, so these challenges are not new, but the industry is still the major employer in the community, and when times are tough they are tough on everyone. Interestingly enough, the industry does not move just in macro industry cycles, but also locally, and they both weigh on the local economy. Today, for example, the potential tariffs on softwood lumber could result in harder times. Besides that, there are three main local logging companies working under a single union contract.

“This contract is up for negotiation in 2018, and it brings uncertainty, and people tend to wait with purchases – such as a new car – for after the contract negotiation is finalized—in case of a strike. However, once the contract is signed, customers would expect us to have 100 vehicles ready for purchase the next morning,” smiles Lecours. “So, this makes our business cyclical, and that’s why we are focusing on customer service, repairs, and new business opportunities to bring some business stability.”

Operating solely as a dealership in such a small market and a shrinking industry is a hard proposition, so to balance these external cycles and help the business through these cycles, Lecours expanded the business, and started to provide vehicle modifications for customers and fleets. The company is now a certified automotive installer and modifier, and can modify a vehicle, or buy an empty frame truck and engineer and build a design according to the customer specifications and needs.

“The new building with the additional space was key for us to be able to do this. Now we add many different modifications to the trucks such as high rails for road-rail vehicles, modified bodies, air compressors, and others. We are able to create and install any form of modification. It’s a turnkey solution. Also, being in a small town, we really need to provide a quality service with great attention to detail. And because it is a turnkey solution, we are also able to serve large fleets outside our district,” says Lecours.

To broaden the business base further, Lecours launched LMS Rail Services that rents specialized road-rail vehicles, and partnered with two other dealers in Kapuskasing and opened an auto body shop to serve the community.

Expecting downturns and living through them is a way of life in the resource-driven economies of Northern Ontario, and the small size of the population changes the dynamics of a community; so, while a business needs to provide customers with quality service at every instance, the customers also have limitations as to where to acquire the service, making the relationships that much more important; so it is no surprise that Lecours plans to maintain the focus on providing a small-town customer experience, and remain faithful to the company motto “big enough to serve you, small enough to care.”