Canadian Electrical Wholesaler

July 14, 2020
Louis BeaulieuBy Line Goyette

A little over a year ago I met Louis Beaulieu, Executive Director of Ouellet Canada, at Electro-Federation Canada’s annual conference in Quebec City. He spoke about the challenges facing the industry and its market segment.

It must be noted that with the unprecedented health crisis that we are experiencing, and which continues to change all business practices, the challenges that Louis Beaulieu has faced in recent months are not what he had anticipated. The company has had to deal with the closure of the markets and construction projects, and operate with limited staff. However, despite the unprecedented scale of challenges associated with the health crisis, the company has renewed itself, entered into important business partnerships with Dimplex and Convectair, and learned valuable lessons going forward.

Challenges, solutions, new partnerships

In retrospect, Louis Beaulieu can say that at the height of the crisis the pandemic was not just bad news for the company. Instead, a number of factors have worked in its favour.

“First, our supply chain is global, we source component parts everywhere — China, Eastern Europe, Mexico. We were very lucky during the global closure of the markets, as they closed at different times. Throughout the pandemic, we were able to make up for the supply of parts. Also, the fact that we are a relatively small family business with a very flexible business model has allowed us to adapt quickly to all situations. We have been successful with a very small team in continuing the assembly and responding to the emergencies and specific needs of the hospitals. We were able to count on employees who braved the pandemic, competent teams. At the end of the day, I can say that it was these employees who took on this exceptional challenge.

“We have not lost any customers or orders. When construction stopped in Quebec and Ontario, government programs helped us maintain confidence, rehire people, and with these government supports we are almost back to normal. We are keeping sanitary measures in place — we all know now that we are not immune to new closures. Having had to come up with solutions to an evolving crisis, we now have new practices and procedures that we can apply as needed in the future. For example, we now know that communications with our employees in times of crisis must be very strong and that we must give ourselves the means to sustain it. One way in which we have responded was to create a Facebook account for our employees. I post video messages there regularly. We talk about our expectations.

New partnerships, ways of operating, and opportunities

Rumours and discussions have been circulating that Dimplex was withdrawing from the Canadian wholesaler market. Discussions between the two family-owned businesses culminated on April 1 with Dimplex as Ouellet in support of its growth strategy expanded its customer base. Earlier this week the company announced the transfer of Convectair’s operations to Ouellet effective August 3, which will allow Ouellet to consolidate their position in heating products. Concluding such agreements in the midst of a pandemic? “Yes, we had time to sit in the office.”

This leads to a discussion of other changes implemented during the pandemic that will be integrated into new business practices. According to Louis Beaulieu, the most important change is telework. “We are a manufacturing plant. We never thought we could manage everything remotely. Decision-making has become faster, meetings can be convened unexpectedly, files can be shared. We recover a huge amount of time by no longer conducting so many face-to-face meetings, travelling, etc. Sales cycles have been significantly reduced. People will adapt to this new way of meeting, and not all meetings will be face to face. We thought in-person meetings were the only way to do business, now we know they’re not.”

Another consequence of the pandemic for the company: self-isolation has led to an important trend in home improvement involving personal comfort. Evolving heating and air conditioning technologies and products, such as infrared heating and high efficiency air source heat pumps, are capturing the interest of homeowners and increasing demand.

Recently, Louis Beaulieu also became a member of EFC’s Board of Directors. It is a meaningful commitment for him and EFC from several perspectives. Based in Quebec, he helps EFC ensure representation from this key region of the country, from family businesses that manufacture their products in Canada, and from the electric heating market segment.

Louis Beaulieu looks forward to helping address challenges that await the association in the coming months, (including once again retaining and expanding a skilled workforce), the electric heating industry, and Ouellet Canada as a market leader. Fortune favours the bold!

Line Goyette is Managing Editor of Kerrwil Publications’ Electrical Group; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

See a previous interview with Louis Beaulieu in English and French.

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