ESS celebrates 75 years of serving Canadian construction, mining and forestry

Left to right: ESS board of directors Peter Willis, Morgan Cronin, Meghan Paton, Arlene Willis, Michael Willis, Simon Willis and Jodie Willis.

In 1945, Bill Willis recognized the business potential heavy equipment distributors would have supplying to a booming post-war Canadian economy.

At the time, Willis was working for one of the earliest and largest heavy equipment dealers in Ontario. With his insight and business vision in mind, he parted ways with that company and on April 6, 1946, founded Equipment Sales & Service (ESS). 

ESS founder Bill Willis

With an automotive garage on Queen Street E. in Toronto serving at its headquarters, Willis started his legacy distributing Lima shovels. The company’s mantra was simple: hire the best, most experienced people in the industry to sell and support the highest quality products available.

Bill Deuel was hired in 1951 and became a key player in the company’s early growth and subsequent success, ultimately rising to become president of ESS. That same year, ESS was appointed the exclusive distributor for Link-Belt cranes and shovels in Ontario. The late Dan Wood joined ESS in 1960 and would also become one of the most well-known industry characters in the business, contributing immensely to the company’s successes for 60 years.

In 1962, ESS purchased its first large property from the Reichmann brothers and moved into it at 1030 Martin Grove Rd., Toronto.

This location remains the company’s headquarters today.

“ESS thanks all its loyal customers, suppliers and employees for their confidence in, and unwavering commitment to ESS over the past three quarters of a century,” the company said in a news release. “We look forward to forging many more prosperous partnerships for the next 75 years.”

The growth strategy proved to be sound, creating an early niche for ESS and building for future generations. The strategy offered customers a unique one-stop-shop for aftermarket parts and service solutions for all makes and all models of equipment, in addition to representing their OEM machinery lines.

Now, 75 years later, ESS is in its third generation and operates 12 branches across Canada, representing multiple OEM lines supporting the construction, mining, forestry, foundation and drilling industries.

RELATED: ESS acquires Belcher Machinery Parts in Quebec

As well, ESS is a Platinum Member of the Canada’s Best Managed Companies award program, having retained this designation for 10 consecutive years.

After the passing of Bill Willis in 1973, his sons Michael and Peter continued in his footsteps establishing strong relationships with equipment manufacturers both in North America and abroad.

They spurred company growth by securing OEM distribution contracts from manufacturers, as well as by acquiring distribution rights via well-timed acquisitions of established heavy equipment and parts dealers across Canada.

The company’s geographic foot-print expanded into Western Canada in the late 1970’s. The company acquired Esco wear parts in 1978, through the acquisition of W.E. Bolt, the then Esco dealer in Alberta and South East British Columbia and ESS then opened branches in Edmonton and Calgary.

In 1890, ESS acquired W.J. Knox, the dealer for Esco wear parts in Southern Ontario.

Mike Smith was hired in 1984 to run the Western division and became vice president of ESS as he solidified ESS’s status as a distributor of Link-Belt and Esco wear parts to the booming energy, construction and mining markets of Western Canada. Later on, Berco undercarriage distribution was added.

Aftermarket parts expert George Parps was hired in 1993, and with him the company’s all-important appointment to distribute Berco undercarriages.

In 2001, Komatsu Ltd. was seeking dealership stability and asked ESS to become its OEM distributor.

Morgan Cronin was hired as president in 2012, bringing his wealth of knowledge and guidance to the ESS table, having had more than 30 years of experience in the industry.

Recent expansion ventures include acquiring Selix Equipment Inc. in 2018, adding Soilmec foundation, Sandvik and Geax drilling equipment lines to ESS’s diverse OEM lineup. As well, the company purchased Belcher Machinery Parts further expanding its Quebec aftermarket parts presence.

Today, the third-generation successors — consisting of Michael Willis’s daughter Meghan, her husband Drew Paton, as well as Peter Willis’s two sons Simon and Jodie, are poised to continue the Willis family legacy.

ESS milestones

  • ESS is the longest acting distributor of Link-Belt equipment in the world. 
  • ESS is one of the largest aftermarket suppliers of construction parts in Canada. 
  • ESS is the largest Esco wear parts dealer in North America. 
  • ESS is the largest Berco dealer in Canada. 
  • 2021 marks the 20th anniversary for ESS as the exclusive Komatsu construction equipment distributor for Southern Ontario, which coincides with Komatsu celebrating its 100-year company anniversary as a world class equipment manufacturer.