When Bruce Nowlan took on the business which would become Tri Province Enterprises, a versatile recycling, scrap yard and structural steel services company based in Moncton, New Brunswick, the bottom line was family.
“Originally I worked for the Bank of Montreal for a little over 25 years. Then I was due to be transferred either to Montreal or Toronto, specialising in commercial credit, and I decided that was not the line that I wanted to follow,” Nowlan says. “I had three boys in the school system and I decided I wanted to find something and stay in this area. I looked around and found a scrap business for sale, and here I am 26 years later, still in the scrap business.”
The Nowlans stuck together then, and continue to do so today with what has become a true family-run business. “My wife is the Secretary Treasurer, and then I have a son Craig, who is 45, another son Robert, who is 42, and another son Mark, 37. They’re all involved in the business and have strategic parts to play in it.”
We caught up with Nowlan to discuss acquiring, growing and maintaining Tri Province, the changing landscape of recycling in Canada and the company’s ever customer-centric vision for the years ahead.
Tri Province: The tentative years
Nowlan says that when he took on the business which became Tri Province as we know it today, it had existed for around 30 years and was focused on non-ferrous metals and beer bottles. These collectibles were quite the materials de jour at the time.
“They had a captive market in this area with Moosehead and Labatt breweries,” Nowlan explains. “When I bought this business, this contract came along from the beer companies to look after their beer bottles from South-eastern New Brunswick. This was quite a contract because basically it had a captive market, and much as there were some sub-dealers around this area, they all had to sell to us.”
The state of play in the market eventually changed after a recycling policy in New Brunswick developed, and under new laws these companies began to adopt different methods. While this represented a greater lean towards recycling for the overall industry, it also meant that the lucrative beer bottle contract disappeared. Nowlan says that the company was forced to look for different options which eventually resulted in the sizable range of materials Tri Province works with today. “It began with the bottles,” Nowlan says.
“With the breweries we were dealing in glass, and it was kind of a sideline with us.” However, that was before Moosehead breweries brought on around two-million-dozen of their new types of bottles, rendering their old ones obsolete overnight. “We were approached and we got into an area to try to dispose of 1.6 million-dozen. We got into glass recycling as a result of this deal with Moosehead breweries,” Nowlan explains.
“We ended up with quite a white elephant in so much as there was no market for this amber glass at that particular time. We went through about three years of adversity trying to get rid of this glass and eventually we got rid of it all. That was in 1986, and from there we got into general recycling in a larger way.” Venturing into other materials at this time singled Tri Province out from its counterparts and marked the beginning of the range of different sorts of services the company offers today.
Tri Province: Total recyclers
After observing a niche in the market for general recycling, Tri Province purchased a 22,000-square-foot warehouse on the outskirts of Moncton. It was there and then that the company embarked on recycling aluminium cans, plastic, newspapers, cardboard and other materials related to the general recycling market.
“We were a little before our time because nobody was into that particular type of recycling in this area. It was one of those periods where at first we got into and it didn’t prove to be that successful because markets were terrible, and no one was doing the recycling,” Nowlan says. “We’re total recyclers. We take everything that can be recycled-plastic and cardboard, newspaper and all of your basic items.”
Add to that the company’s environmental conscience and the shape of a truly special enterprise begins to emerge. “We run it off an electric motor, not diesel,” Nowlan says of Tri Province’s Sierra white goods baler machinery. “There’s no pollution whatsoever, and we bale all of our white goods into around 1,500-pound bales. These products are shipped by rail, so I think that’s very cost-efficient and environmentally friendly.”
In fact, Tri Province has integrated rail-based logistics into a large portion of their work. “In everything we do here we utilise rail for probably 90 per cent of our shipping whereas I think that most of our major competitors are dependent on trucks for their major form of transportation.”
Now as a diverse, full service family company, Tri Province is positioned to concentrate on its first and foremost concern for the future: an excellent client relationship.
Tri Province: Clients always come first
Nowlan says that the developing recycling industry in Canada has brought about some challenges and made some of the markets much more difficult to locate. “The major players have become very prominent and in Canada you’re probably down to only two or three major players in the industry,” he says.
“At one time you had lots of markets which were very competitive, and now you’re at the mercy of these major players. It makes it a lot tougher and you have to be shrewd in your dealings with them, and try to command top-dollar for your product.” Nowlan points out that like any other competitive marketplace, if you don’t keep an eye out in recycling, “you won’t be around for very long.”
“We have to be aggressive in the market place—you have to look after your customer base at present and you have to maintain your customers,” he explains. “If you don’t have a good relationship with them you make yourself available for the competition to move in and seize the marketplace, so I think your customer base is the first thing you have to look after.”
Nowlan also highlights the importance of local knowledge and keeping environmentally astute in the process. “You’ve got to be very conscious of what’s going on in your own back yard as to the environment,” he says. “You can’t have a yard where you’re contravening local regulations. You’ve got to be mindful of what’s happening relative to pollution and anything that’s detrimental to the particular industry.”
With 26 years of industry understanding, a close knit and committed family team and an eye on keeping environmentally-inclined, Tri Province exemplifies how to adapt and flourish in the developing recycling industry in Canada.