AGF Access, which is part of the scaffolding and access sector owned by AGF Group, a conglomerate of companies that are specializing in providing access solutions for construction projects. The product offering includes products such as scaffolding, scissor lifts, boom lifts, suspended scaffold, mast climbing work platform, waste chutes, and pretty much any product that allows people working to access work areas. AGF Group’ main business focuses are currently construction and industrial work.
Business Model and Acquisition Strategy
AGF Access’ business model originates from an acquisition strategy started a little over three years ago by the AGF Group. Mainly focused on the reinforcing steel business, the AGF Group started an incursion in the access sector via a small division that originally started to supply the company’s own needs. From there, AGF Group started acquiring a number of local businesses, a strategy that has been instrumental in its growth. Within the scaffold and access sector, AGF Group manages both a rental division and a manufacturing division. The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Thierry Lachapelle, Director of Strategic Sales and Marketing, about the business model and the company’s recent expansion, its niche in the marketplace, and plans for the future.
“We really focus on entrepreneurship in each of the areas of our business,” explains Lachapelle, who says this is a distinct competitive advantage for AGF Group. “We have the resources of a bigger company, the purchasing power and support staff such as engineering and marketing group, while each branch has the capacity to react and adapt to their local reality. Our subsidiaries are free to work and adjust their approach according to their local customer’s needs in order for the clients not to feel that they are dealing with a big corporation but with a local guy that can take initiatives and create tailor made solutions to their needs. And in fact they are dealing with a local guy, because we share services and benefits while keeping a significant level of independence.”
The integration process of bringing together many distinctive local entities, respecting and promoting their differences while setting up shared services and a common vision has presented obvious challenges for AGF Group. But Lachapelle assures that this is one of company’s main goals, and the company has been steadily working toward thorough integration. “That’s what we are working towards – building a unity between all those different business units. We need to keep a high level of independence on the operation and service side so that we don’t create a monster that can’t adapt rapidly. We want to make every branch more efficient.”
Apart from being present in many localities, the main strengths of the company lie in service and product offering. “We’re the only company that offers a full line of access products and we are proud to say that our sales team actually acts as an access solution consultant towards our customers,” says Lachapelle.
“Most renters are either involved in the scissor and boom lifts or in the scaffold and platform business. Being able to provide the whole line of products allows us to offer the optimal product for our customer’s specific needs.”
The company supplies solutions for the commercial, institutional, residential and industrial clients. “Our technical and engineering capacities allow us to be able to offer and deliver solutions for the most complex projects out there. We are able to offer more knowledge and know-how; our engineers provide thorough knowledge of customers’ need,” explains Lachapelle. “Access is often the last thing people think of on a project. We work with our customers and often realize that a lack of planning can be costly. Many times, everything on a project has been thought of when people come to adress the specific need to access the work area. We work with them and provide guidance on what needs to be done to be as efficient as possible.”
Going forward, Lachapelle would like to focus on improving the relationships with general contractors themselves and get involved in an earlier stage of the construction projects. “The general contractors could generate significant savings by having someone look at a specific project access needs as a whole, rather than having each sub-trade dealing with their independent needs. When we are involved earlier in the project we can often find solutions that would be better for everyone and save the general contractor money. That’s the area we would like to get more involved in, and we’re pushing it for larger scales projects.”
Lachapelle notes that general perception of the access industry represents another challenge for the business. “The challenge is that contactors often see access equipment as an expense and not an investment. In the scheme of a whole project, access costs often only seem to represent a very small fraction of the cost. With the level of competitiveness experienced in today’s market, small numbers can sometimes make a difference. Also, the impact of choosing the most efficient access solution is often reflected in many other aspects of the project like productivity, safety and downtime. For example, the use of mast climbing work platform and suspended scaffold instead of traditional scaffolding on a project can seem to have a higher initial cost but can prove to be much faster and safer. So in the end, contractors could sometimes save money by spending a bit more in the beginning.”
In some areas this is a widely accepted philosophy. AGF Access is dedicated to proactively service clients, change their perceptions, and work together effectively.
“We want to become partners with our customers and offer the service and support to really improve projects. That is the way for us to grow.”
For the future, AGF Group plans to continue their acquisition strategy and open new branches in new locations, taking over a greater share of the market. At the moment The company has branches throughout Canada through four brand names that are all under the AGF Access umbrella: AGF Du-For (Montreal (Que.), Quebec (Que.), Three Rivers(Que.), Steeplejack (Dartmouth (N.S.), Sarnia (Ont.), Windsor (Ont.), AGF Access (Oakville (Ont.), London (Ont.), New Hudson (Mich.) and Hydro West (Richmond (B.C.), Calgary (Alta.).
Expansion plans are most definitely on the horizon.
“We also plan to offer more products and become more efficient in each of the local areas,” says Lachapelle. “Think globally, act locally — we’re really putting this in place right now,” concluded Lachapelle, and this smart growth strategy will likely serve them well.