Souris Valley Industries
Six years ago, Dustin Bell and father Don bought Souris Valley Industries, a Saskatchewan-based precast concrete company successfully in business since 1977. In these past six years, Souris Valley Industries has experienced growth every year—a testament to the commitment by Vice President Dustin Bell. This month, CBJ explores this tale of success and learns more about what makes Souris Valley Industries a recession-resistant business.
Precast concrete is an essential infrastructure component to virtually any built environment. From septic tanks, to water cisterns, to city manholes and catch basins, precast concrete products are part of the backbone of any built environment. Servicing predominantly the Regina area but also province-wide, Souris Valley Industries supplies both contractors and individuals with their precast concrete needs for any kind of project. From a single septic tank for a household, to major contracting orders for new housing developments, Souris Valley covers it all. “Basically it’s your essential infrastructure for all the new subdivisions and all the old stuff that they are replacing,” says Bell. “All the stuff that keeps everything moving.”
Souris Valley’s primary products includes septic tanks, as well as manholes and catch basins for the cities. “We also do meridian barriers mostly in the oil field. Those are just the standard eight-foot jersey barrier that you see on the side of the highway and for interstates. We build a lot of those barriers and they put them around the pump jack bases around here, just for safety. We do a lot of other specialty jobs for the oil field where they will want specialty blocks for piping and support stands. We build anything concrete, if we can build the forum, we can pour it.
Because the product range is serving the basic infrastructure an environmental requires, a successfully managed company can be virtually recession-proof. Souris Valley has clearly been successful given its continued growth during the recent economic downturn. “People working inside Saskatchewan, especially in our industry, have been quite steady and haven’t really slowed down,” says Bell, who attributes that to both location and industry.
Crucial connections: customers and contractors
Despite being in a relatively safe place, Souris Valley has grown every year simply because of its industry. “We have a really large contractor base where we have 90 per cent of the contractors who buy from us exclusively—and that is great.” It is that remarkably good relationship with its customers and contractors which keeps the business thriving. “Without our contractors we wouldn’t have a company,” states Bell.
“If they decide that they want to be somewhere else they can go. There are companies in Saskatoon and outside of the province that build the same products we do. It’s crucial that we keep those ties as best we can with all those guys.” Given the five-year growth pattern, it seems that Souris Valley has done just that.
Customer service is an integral part of the Souris Valley philosophy, something on which it places great pride. “I treat a $50 client like I would a $200,000 client,” says Bell. “It is how you have to do it. That’s how the work gets passed around and that’s how you stay in business.”
The supply chain challenge
The precast concrete industry in Saskatchewan is a highly seasonal business due to the extreme low temperatures of the province. During the cold winter months the ground is often frozen six or seven feet underground, so many contractors avoid doing any kind of work except the absolute necessary. “We barely move any product,” Bell explains of the winter season. “The only stuff we move is emergency replacements for septic tanks.” Saskatchewan, he explains, is a particular market compared to other places, and a large portion of the year is spent creating inventory.
“You do come into the year with a very large overhead and very large amount of stock out in the yard that has no home yet,” Bell explains. “April is always my biggest month for being concerned…there is a lot of stock out in the yard and you don’t see too much moving. But the last five years consistently rolling into May things get going and then by July or August you are running out of stock and building as fast as you can.” Keeping a close and critical eye on that cyclical supply and demand is an important part of keeping business fluid and keeping customers happy.
Naturally, business these days must consider environmental initiatives and it is becoming an increasingly large part of business. “Tanks are getting larger. They want more time for breakdown so that when it pumps out it is clear and cleaner water, so we are getting a lot more of an environmental push.”
This is just one of the many focuses for Souris Valley as it grows and enters the future. “We have always had things in our mind, different ideas such as getting into concrete pipes or different things, and there is no limit to what you can do with precast concrete.” As for now, Souris Valley is focusing on maintaining its current successes and keeping its client base satisfied.
“We have been catching up the last five years with the market so we don’t lose that—that is our main priority.”