Founded in New Brunswick in 1946, Hub Equipment is now a fourth-generation business
By Bill Tremblay
Hub Equipment has, quite literally, followed a historic journey.
Established in 1946 in Moncton, New Brunswick, this year Hub Equipment celebrates 75 years of providing machinery to the Canadian construction industry.
“It’s a feat just to still be in business,” said Tom Stevenson, president of Hub Equipment.
“It’s a novel feeling, we’ve never been at this juncture. The time sure goes by quickly. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were celebrating our 50th anniversary.”
In the years following the Second World War, the potential for renting construction equipment began to emerge in North America and Europe.
In New Brunswick, Stevenson’s grandfather, T.H. Stevenson, also noticed an opportunity to turn idle construction equipment into a business opportunity.
“My grandfather was a contractor, and he saw there was surplus equipment between projects. So, he thought it would make sense to try to rent the equipment,” Stevenson said.
As Moncton is known as “the Hub of the Maritimes,” the company earned its name from its location.
“The name always just sort of stuck,” Stevenson said.
In the 1950s, Canada began construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway — a number of canals and locks that form navigable channels from Montreal to Port Colborne, Ontario.
In order to serve the massive project, T.H. Stevenson’s son, Verne, moved Hub Equipment to Brockville and Cornwall, Ontario.
At its new home base in Ontario, Hub Equipment began to focus on buying and selling used equipment, as well as the growing rental industry.
Hub would eventually migrate to Toronto in 1957.
“It’s the capital city of Ontario and a place where a lot more activity was happening after the Saint Lawrence Seaway was started,” Stevenson said, who joined the family business in 1988.
Today, Hub Equipment’s headquarters is located in Toronto’s west end in Etobicoke. Tom Stevenson’s son, Alex, has also joined the sales and marketing team, marking the fourth generation of the family to join the company.
While Stevenson notes it’s gratifying to know that four generations of his family have worked at Hub Equipment, remaining focused on the business is key to survival.
“You always have to remain commercially viable. You can’t get too nostalgic about it and lose sight,“ Stevenson explained. “You have to keep that in focus, or you can become a casualty rather quickly.”
He added that previous success is not an indication of what the future holds.
“It’s nice to celebrate these milestones, but we need to remain focused on the future. At the end of the day, you’re still running a business,” Stevenson said.
Flexibility is key
Since relocating to Ontario, flexibility has remained key to Hub Equipment’s success.
“It’s one reason we’re still going,” Stevenson said. “We’ve always been able to sort of move around to different markets, but there’s such an infrastructure deficit in Canada. There’s so much work to do and so much work underway.”
For example, in the energy sector, Hub provided the equipment needed to build wind and solar farms during Ontario’s renewable energy boom.
As well, in Edmonton, Hub Equipment has formed strategic alliances to provide equipment to pipeline construction projects across Western Canada.
“At any given time, we might have 25 to 30 per cent of our rental fleet out there working on pipelines,” Stevenson said, adding he’s always had an affinity towards pipeline projects.
“They’re encountering a lot of environmental and social opposition. Not everybody appreciates the importance of fossil fuels to the Canadian economy.”
“Best in class”
Flexibility also applies to the heavy equipment brands that Hub sells and rents. Their fleet is comprised of a variety of equipment from Sullair air compressors to Caterpillar pipelayers.
As Hub Equipment has no formal dealership agreements with specific manufacturers, they’re able to carry the machines they believe are the best fit for the job.
“Our philosophy has always been ‘best in class.’ And by being independent you can always pick the best equipment in any given class,” Stevenson said.
“We’re always looking for value. Obviously used equipment is a different value proposition than new. Right now, you have a lot of high priced new equipment due to the high cost of Tier 4 Final technology, and a weaker Canadian dollar.”
In recent years, Stevenson noted the industry has come full circle, as digital entrepreneurs look to establish a foothold in the equipment rental business, much like his grandfather did in the 1940s.
However, the required knowledge of heavy equipment, as well as knowing the best machine for the job is difficult to digitize.
“You need to know the machine, you need to be familiar with it,” Stevenson explained.
“What happens if there’s a service issue? Product support is everything in the rental industry.”
Alongside knowledgeable staff, Hub Equipment’s in-house shop, technicians and service trucks ensure their fleet is in excellent condition.
“If you’re just renting a serial number, you’re not going to be able to rectify the service issue the same way,” Stevenson explained. “That’s why I think we can withstand the uberization of the rental industry.”