SPI Health and Safety Inc.
Founded in 1972, SPI Health and Safety Inc. specializes in occupational health and safety products, solutions and services. Based in Blainville, Quebec, with 30 branches across Canada, SPI serves clients in high-risk industries such as forestry, oil and gas production, mining and construction.
“We’re very strong in the fire services business and in anything related to health and safety in high-risk areas,” says Robert Courteau, president and CEO of SPI. In the southern reaches of the country, SPI has expanded its market to include manufacturing, telecom, food industry and infrastructure clients.
SPI’s litany of health and safety products includes environmental, eye and face, fire and hearing protection as well as first aid, instrumentation and protective clothing. The company’s solutions and services side includes respiratory, confined spaces, lockout/tagout and fall protection, hygiene and emergency planning consultation, making SPI a one-stop shop for both safety products and expertise.
After starting out on the commodity side of the business, SPI is increasingly shifting its core focus to providing health and safety solutions and services. “Companies are asking us to help reinforce that health and safety culture in their business and we’re playing more and more of a role in training, webinars, on-site training and a mobile services unit that goes right to the mine or worksite, so the more we invest in our services business the closer we get to our customers,” says Courteau.
Guided by the motto “leadership in health and safety through people and innovation,” SPI has grown largely through acquisitions, absorbing more than 18 companies over its 40-year history. “We want to be leaders in everything we do as we transform the business from product distribution to a solutions services business,” says Courteau. “Making acquisitions based on that ensures that we have the highest level of expertise.”
Sparking growth through acquisition
SPI started out as a small regional fire prevention company serving customers throughout Quebec from its headquarters in Jonquière. Founded by Paul Tremblay, the company expanded its footprint across the province, opening up new offices in Quebec through the ‘80s and ‘90s before making its first major acquisition in 1999.
Acquisitions have been a major part of the growth plan for SPI. Over the last 15 years, such acquisitions have allowed the company to expand its expertise and offer new specialty products, such as custom-manufactured clothing, hazardous materials cleanup, confined spaces, lockout and fire alarms and security systems for high-rise construction.
By 2008, SPI opened its 17th branch in Quebec, effectively becoming the largest health and safety product, service and solution provider in the province, but it had it sights set higher still. In 2011, SPI acquired Superior Safety, vastly expanding the company’s presence throughout Canada. “That was pretty big for us,” says Courteau. “They have 10 branches across Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan so it really gave us a platform for growth. That’s what it’s all about; making sure you have something to build on.”
Just last fall, SPI announced the acquisition of Mar-Gas Monitors Ltd., an Alberta-based company specializing in the rental, sale and service of gas detection and surveillance equipment. The acquisition will allow SPI to better serve construction clients, as well as oil, gas and transportation services.
While mergers and acquisitions have been a major driver of growth for SPI, they are not without their challenges. “The most important thing in mergers and acquisitions is the cultural fit. If you don’t have that within 12 to 24 months, then you need to reorganize,” says Courteau. “Buying technology and products is one thing, but if you’re integrating people, you need to make sure they have the same culture and values.”
The 2013 acquisition of a Quebec-based company with its own engineering group paid quick dividends when SPI was able to leverage the expertise of the newly acquired employees to help Weir Oil and Gas develop a new product for securely accessing wellheads. The product earned the Dwight Bowhay Memorial award, given by the IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) Alberta Association to innovations that improve workplace health and safety.
“Recognition like this is important for us,” Courteau says. SPI was also recognized as a Triple Diamond distributor in 2014 by fire suppression equipment manufacturer Ansul and was one of only three companies in Canada to earn the recognition.
In fall 2015, SPI acquired Industrial Solutions Management Inc., a health and safety company serving the railway, construction, mining and manufacturing sectors. With offices in both Ontario and Wisconsin, the acquisition will allow SPI to start exploring the U.S. market for the first time.
An investment in education fuels success
Courteau says there are several challenges facing the health and safety industry on both the product side of the business and the solutions and services end, with technology leading the way. “We understand that customers want Web access and the ability to order on the Web, so we’re investing in that but we’re very careful not to overinvest because it can be a big black hole and we have to make sure that every tool we put in place, the customer sees the value and is ready to pay for it,” he says.
Ultimately the challenge that most concerns Courteau is setting SPI apart from the competition by offering superior services, products and expertise. “There are a lot of players in the health and safety market, so we have to make sure we differentiate ourselves and invest in training and staff so that customers have no doubt there is a clear difference in what we do,” says Courteau.
Continuing investment in employee education is a major focus for SPI, which invested 2.5 percent of its revenues toward such training last year. “We’re really serious about training from both the management standpoint and the knowledge standpoint and our customers appreciate that,” he says.
Employee education and empowerment is one of the key performance indicators for SPI. “We want to listen to them, develop them and empower them,” says Courteau. Employee empowerment is especially important when it comes to a company whose 350-plus employees are spread out at 30 locations across the country. “When you’re nationwide, it’s important that you empower your people,” says Courteau.
SPI also measures success based on customer satisfaction, where the business has maintained an 84 percent favorable rate. The continuing profitability and liquidity of SPI is another key indicator of success at the company. “We want to make sure we are very disciplined in reimbursing our long-term debt so we can continue to make acquisitions and grow,” says Courteau.
Where competition is concerned, SPI sees itself as standing alone at the top of the health and safety product, solutions and service industry. “One of our employees is chair of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Z259.13 committee on fall protection, so when we compare ourselves to competitors who say they are experts because they followed a two-hour course and we have people who actually wrote the standards, we’re not on an even playing field,” notes Courteau.
As a privately held company, Courteau says SPI has more freedom than many of its competitors. “We don’t have any pressures on artificial revenue growth, so we take our time and that’s the way we like it,” he says.
Courteau sees continued expansion on the horizon, specifically through continued acquisition and innovation. “As we go forward, innovation plays a very important role in everything we do, from our engineering group to HR practices to private label products that we develop in response to customer needs,” he says.
As the company continues to shift its focus from health and safety products into more of a solutions and services role and expands across Canada, SPI Health and Safety Inc. will remain a leader in the market, ensuring that workers remain educated and protected.