Selected by a panel of industry experts, each year, Jobber News considers many nominations for Jobber of the Year. This time around, the honour went to Steve Van Kessel and Susan Peacock, both managing partners at Parry Automotive in Orillia, Ont.
This is their story.
In 1956, Peter Van Kessel, 17 at the time, found himself working at Parry Automotive.
Back then, Parry’s was an automotive machine shop, owned by husband and wife duo John and Edith Parry, who, despite the times, worked alongside her husband rebuilding engines.
“Edith was right in there with John, managing the machine shop,” Peter, now 81, recalled.
For Peter, the gig at Parry’s was supposed to be a summer job, where one day blurred into the next through running deliveries and working in the stock room. But as the days grew shorter and autumn crept around the corner, rather than head back to school, the Parry’s asked him to stay on. He accepted their offer and six years later became the manager of the store.
In 1977, Edith passed away suddenly from a stroke. At that time, Peter and Edith were partners. Over the years he had acquired 49 per cent of the business. Now without a partner, Peter decided to purchase the remaining 51 per cent share of the company, and by doing so, became the sole owner of Parry Automotive.
Susan Peacock, Peter Van Kessel, and Steve Van Kessel.
A family business
Fast-forward more than four decades later, Parry Automotive has transformed into a family business, where Peter’s son, Steve Van Kessel, and daughter, Susan Peacock, are now joint partners of Parry’s Automotive.
Having grown up working weekends, holidays, and summers at Parry Automotive, Steve always knew he would eventually want to come back and join the family business, which he did in 1994.
Like Steve, Susan also worked at Parry Automotive in the summers and holidays throughout high school and university and it was always her goal to eventually return to the family business.
“I started my career at Parry Automotive in May of 1989,” Susan recalled. “In the following years, I worked throughout various departments to learn all aspects of the business.”
Their mother, Sharon Van Kessel, also worked in an administrative role from 1977 to 1992.
Now, Susan and Steve have since transformed the business to focus primarily on parts, where, alongside the automotive industry, they provide parts for the agricultural, marine, industrial, commercial, and recreational vehicle markets.
“So much of our success is because of our team. We really believe that; it’s the culture here,” Steve Van Kessel says, seen here, sharing a laugh with his father and sister.
“To the Parry’s, parts were just a necessary evil that you needed to rebuild engines,” Peter recalled fondly.
And, while the business model may have shifted, the core values and backbone of Parry Automotive remains unchanged, even during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Jobber of the Year
It’s the work ethic, sense of family, and dedication to their customers that led Parry Automotive, located in Orillia, Ontario, to be this year’s Jobber of the Year.
Selected by a panelist of industry experts, this win for Parry Automotive is a tremendous honour, Peter, Steve, and Susan say, especially given the state of the economy as the world continues to battle the coronavirus crisis.
Like many industries in Canada, the automotive sector was hit hard by COVID-19.
Although business had quieted down, the safety, health, and comfort of their entire staff remained top of mind for Susan and Steve, who were forced to self-isolate the first two weeks of the pandemic, having just returned from the U.S. the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enacted the 14-day quarantine order for any citizens returning to Canada.
“So much of our success is because of our team. We really believe that; it’s the culture here,” Steve Van Kessel added. “This was like nothing we had ever seen in the past. Generally, there’s always something you can refer to as the go-to; this was as difficult as can be to figure out how we were going to proceed and keep our staff feeling one hundred per cent safe, while giving the best level of service that we could give.”
During the onset of the pandemic, Parry Automotive quickly took action to ensure their team felt safe.
Unable to enter the shop, both Steve and Susan sprung into action, holding virtual team meetings, and constantly checking in, but ultimately, leaving the business in their staff’s hands at the height of the crisis.
For the first nine weeks of the pandemic, Parry Automotive shifted to a curbside-only model for their retail business. They maintained curbside delivery service to their wholesale clients as well.
Plexiglass screens were set up at the checkout counter, and social distancing signage was placed around the dealership. No more than three customers were permitted to enter the store, and the team managed to create a makeshift section in the machine shop that was allocated for shipping and receiving.
“There were concerns and we were very mindful of that,” Susan said. “We had a few staff members who were very anxious about it.”
As a result of both partners’ commitment to their staff’s health and safety and enacting several contingency plans, Parry Automotive managed to retain almost all its employees, despite mass layoffs happening across the country and throughout the industry.
Wayne Forrester, the parts and operations manager, just celebrated his 40th anniversary with Parry Automotive last year.
“I can’t say enough about our team,” Steve said. “I think that things could have been a lot more challenging if everyone wasn’t as awesome as they were. Everybody kicked in and gave one hundred per cent right from the start, and they all had buy-in as to what the best procedures were going to be going forward.”
“I also can’t say enough about our clientele,” Steve added. “They were so patient; right from the get-go until today. The world had to slow down. We’re in an industry where if something’s broken on a car, they [the customer] needed that part five minutes before they called us, and they needed it as quick as possible. Every now and then we’d get the odd situation that seemed a little bit outside the realistic realm, but 99.9 per cent of everything else was great.”
Investing in relationships
Backed by a loyal clientele and staff, another success for the company amidst COVID-19 was the relationship with other jobbers, Steve said.
Jobbers aside, it’s the internal relationships between staff, and that sense of family that kept everyone motivated, despite tough times brought on by the pandemic.
Parry Automotive currently has 27 parts professionals on its employee roster, five of whom have been with the company for more than 20 years.
Wayne Forrester, the parts and operations manager, just celebrated his 40th anniversary last year.
“When you have different departments under one roof, working cohesively to achieve a common goal isn’t always an easy environment to manage,” Steve said. “But our team works exceptionally well together to ensure that we get the job done together.”
Whether it’s training new sales and customer service reps on product knowledge, or providing technical training, marketing and business support for key clients, Parry Automotive is committed to offering the very best solution to their customers.
“The foundation of our culture is exhibiting the utmost professionalism while enjoying each day with each other and with our clients,” Steve said. “They have really pulled together in these trying times with all of the challenges of the pandemic. Not all things can always be handled on the spot, so when things do need to escalate, we always have immediate management support, guidance, or mentorship to help bring resolve as quickly as possible. The quicker things get looked after, the more success we all have together.”