Fast and Furious – Exclusive

Presented by Atlantic Business Magazine in partnership with PROFIT

They are the ultimate adrenalin-junkies—fuelled by an insatiable hunger to do more, better, faster, more profitably. Right NOW. No, make that yesterday.

Whizzing past, these aggressive industrial drivers don’t appear to have anything in common. In Atlantic Canada, the fastest-growing company builds garages, decks and homes; number two sells hockey gear online; and number three is a cranberry farm.

But freeze frame for a second, and you’ll be able to pick out features they share. Like the power of unrestrained passion behind the wheel.

“The one unifying factor we see is the entrepreneurial drive of the CEO. These are people who devote their heart and soul to their business,” confirms Deborah Aarts, senior editor at PROFIT Magazine. Her publication surveyed firms across Canada, interviewed each contender and verified their financial statements to build a cross-industry ranking of the hottest companies.

Other commonalities that emerged include: a talent for spotting growth markets and capitalizing on them; dedication to maximum fuel efficiency (keeping costs down as sales go up); and a superior ability to maximize marketing and catch big accounts.

In a survey of the top 200 fastest-growing companies last year, only two were from Atlantic Canada. This year, 15 of the top 500 were from the region (to view the complete list, visit www.PROFIT500.com). That’s a jump from one per cent to three per cent. Aarts cautions the number could be partially due to PROFIT’s increased outreach and growing awareness of the program combining to attract more entrants.

Still, the top Atlantic Canadian company is 23rd nationally, which Aarts says “is higher than we’ve seen in the past.” The top companies nationally averaged a five-year growth rate of 710 per cent; Atlantic Canada sits a little back of that at 649 per cent growth.

Asked if she noted any similar challenges referenced across the board, Aarts points to HR. “It’s a constant in our survey results: these companies are starving for talent,” she says. Those at the top overcome that with innovative recruiting strategies and compelling compensation packages that keep talent onboard.

Another clear trend is the ability to successfully navigate the complex export market. Nationally, 63 per cent of the top growers export. In Atlantic Canada, the figure drops to 33.3 per cent. To really ratchet up revenue growth, most companies have to grow internationally. That can be difficult for small or mid-sized businesses that lack the knowledge and connections to make that leap. Those that find a way often do so by establishing subsidiaries in foreign markets and going on international trade missions to build connections.

Aarts notes another puzzle is social media. “Everyone feels they should be using social media for marketing, recruitment or sales, but people don’t always know what to do and how to do it,” she says. Learning how to use social media to join conversations with potential clients, create buzz and close sales is an important tool for many of these top performers.

MERCER’S BEST BUILT STRUCTURES
Dartmouth, N.S.
2,353% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 22

Jeremy Mercer started Mercer’s Best Built Structures in 2006 after a 20- year military career. He recently divided operations into two divisions: Mercer’s Lifelong Homes, which focuses on new-home construction, and Best Built Structures, which specializes in garages, home additions and renovations.

Mercer is expecting rapid growth in the home construction side. Mercer, an industrial engineer, says work growth has been steady, while revenue growth has been exponential. “The next big thing that we’re waiting for is to possibly see an explosion with the shipbuilding contract,” he adds.

HOCKEYSHOT (SKILLMASTER SHOOTING RANGE INC.)
Scoudouc, N.B.
1,635% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 31

Founded in 2006, Hockeyshot is the online destination for hockey training products and videos. Vice-president Jean-Pierre Brun uses Facebook and YouTube to attract young hockey players, their parents and coaches to their free, skill-sharing website.

The videos show the techniques and the site sells the products. President Paul Brun operates the growing business with his son. “You have to invest in your online store just like a physical store, but it is not recognized as an asset. I think an online store should be of more value,” Brun says. “With the internet, you need to compete with everyone around the globe.”

TERRA BEATA FARMS
Heckman’s Island, N.S.
1,337% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 48

David Ernst watched the fishing industry enter a period of uncertainty in the 1990s and decided his future lay in a different direction. He started Terra Beata Farms in 1998.

Today, it grows 12 acres of cranberries and processes fruit from 20 other Atlantic Canadian farms. Ernst believes growing the industry cooperatively is key. “Good suppliers are the palm of your hand, and good customers the fingers. You can lose a customer and you don’t lose your business; but if you lose the palm of your hand, you lose all your customers, as well,” he says.

PREMIERE MORTGAGE CENTRE
Halifax, N.S.
1,018% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 69

Premiere Mortgage Centre opened its doors in 2006. President Don MacVicar had worked with the big banks in Toronto, but he and his brother Dave wanted to start their own firm. He credits the “entrepreneurial spirit” of the east coast for the high quality employees he attracts. He competes with banks for those employees, and for customers. “We don’t want to be the largest, but the most effective,” he says.

They’ve expanded into New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario. Core to that growth has been MacVicar’s own leadership and he invests in workshops and seminars to keep his skills sharp.

JEWELPOP
Dartmouth, N.S.
903% growth over five • PROFIT 500 ranking: 79

Robert Smith had worked in the jewelry business for years when he had a big idea. Why not design interchangeable jewelry, so the wearer could use one ring and swap out different jewels to match outfits?

He founded JewelPop in 2006. He says the appeal is its “fun factor” and collectability. He uses email, phones and a Facebook page with 24,000 fans to foster regular communications between his company, customers and sales team. “It’s so important to make sure that everybody who has a stake in this business understands what head office is doing, or is about to do,” he says.

PARTNER SEAFOOD
Shediac, N.B.
747% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 96

Paul Farrah wanted a career that would take him travelling for international business. “I grew up in Shediac, N.B., so fishing was here. I saw people having trouble moving their stock and I got the idea and started the company,” he says.

Partner Seafood buys stock from fishermen in 10 countries and sells to distributers in 37 countries. It has offices in Canada, the U.S., France and will soon add Asia. Farrah says hard work and face-to-face networking built the business. The key to continued prosperity is to keep a sharp eye on global markets and respond nimbly to changes.

PARSONS TRUCKING
Southern Harbour, N.L.
409% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 161

Lindy Parsons bought a dump truck in 1973 to create work for himself, and later for his family. Today, Parsons Trucking is thriving under the leadership of his son, Kevin. It rents and runs construction equipment, heavy equipment, long haul transportation, cranes and boom trucks. It has 65 full-time employees and is available around the clock, seven days a week.

“We’ve been in the business for 40 years now and every time we’ve seen an opportunity to grow and diversify, we have,” Parsons says. With the Hebron project just starting, the biggest challenge these days is finding enough certified operators for all the work.

SOURCE SECURITY & INVESTIGATIONS INC.
Halifax, N.S.
313% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 207

Ronald Lovett was a nightclub bouncer in 2002 when he realized his skills were in high demand. He founded Source Security & Investigations Inc. which today operates across the country. It works mainly with corporations, but also handles concerts and festivals.

“We are realistic and we deliver by servicing our clients better than anyone in the industry. We have a rock-star company culture that is unusual in the security industry,” Lovett says.

By tailoring services to each client’s needs, it grows by offering a “one-stop shop” for all physical and technological security needs.

STI TECHNOLOGIES LTD.
Halifax, N.S.
297% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 216

STI Technologies Ltd. spent eight years trying to change the way the pharmaceutical industry does drug sampling. “We self-funded it through its first year, and then the three founders went out and did an investment round with over 100 individual investors in Nova Scotia,” says CEO Steve Nicolle.

Three years ago it moved from alternative sampling to patient benefit/patient assistance programs; that fired the rockets and the company took off. The programs are used by patients at pharmacies across Canada. Nicolle says the swift growth has allowed them to attract top health-care talent to Nova Scotia, setting the stage to soar even higher.

DHX MEDIA
Halifax, N.S.
180% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 301

In May 2013, Halifax’s DHX Media landed one of 30 partnerships with YouTube for the video site’s experiment with paid subscription channels. For $2.99 a month, you’ll be able to enjoy selections from DHX’s library of more than 8,000 kids’ shows like Care Bears, Inspector Gadget and Caillou.

“There is an insatiable appetite for kids content in the digital universe and DHX Media is positioned, with our extensive library of evergreen favorites, to satisfy that demand,” says executive chairman Michael Hirsh.

Hirsh says TV is no longer about sitting down when your show is on, but about your multi-platform shows being on anywhere, anytime you want them.

WHITESTONE
Lakeside, N.S
155% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 332

Whitestone Developments started in 1995 when CEO Tamara Barker Watson met her future husband, Andrew Watson. She was a real estate agent and he owned a construction company. They partnered in business and life to build energy efficient homes.

Barker Watson says people understand it will save energy and money in the long run. “People are becoming more educated about energy efficiency in homes,” she says.

A recent diversification into commercial construction and the renovation market has protected them against slumps in the home market and broadened their base. The big challenge now is finding enough skilled workers to do the job.

SAFETY FIRST-SFC
Dartmouth, N.S.
119% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 375

Safety First-SFC is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. The largest trafficcontrol company in Atlantic Canada teaches 50 safety courses (such as H2S Alive, Confined Space, Fall Protection) in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland as well as online.

James MacDonald and Ed Hennessey started the company “because we needed a job.” SFC proceeded to land contracts with Newfoundland Power before spreading across the Atlantic region. Success comes from seeking new opportunities anywhere they can do business.

“We’re pretty good at picking what’s good for our company,” MacDonald explains. “It starts off with intuition, and then turns into wisdom and experience.”

PQA TESTING
Fredericton, N.B.
97% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 418

Founded in 1997, this softwaretesting firm has concentrated on expanding across Canada while staying headquartered in New Brunswick.

“We grew our Vancouver office from four to 25 people in a year, so that growth was exciting,” says CEO Keith McIntosh.

The founder is a programmer and tester himself and says testers are now also software architects and designers. He works in a digital world, which is a two-sided coin. He’s competing with companies around the world, which can make pricing a challenge, but he can also work anywhere in the world without leaving Fredericton.

MEDICHAIR/AML (APOLLO MEDICAL LTD.)
Saint John, N.B.
90% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 437

Medichair/Apollo Medical sells canes, crutches, mobile chairs for stairs and other mobility devices to seniors who need assistance and to people undergoing rehab.

President James (Randy) McLaughlin says his company also works with occupational therapists and hospitals. It has grown primarily through acquisition. “There is still a reasonable amount of competition, but in New Brunswick, we are now probably the largest supplier,” he says.

He’s constantly introducing new products to meet new needs and as Canada’s population ages, looks set to be entering some bright years. He has advice for newcomers. “Be educated, be smart and work hard. Don’t stop thirsting for knowledge about your business.”

CSL SERVICES
Southern Harbour, N.L.
75% growth over five years • PROFIT 500 ranking: 451

CSL Services president Michael Parsons modestly credits “luck” with getting him started in the civil construction and labour supply business, but hard work grew his company. “Once we started supplying labour to the North Atlantic Refinery, whenever subcontractors came on site we would approach them and try to get their work,” he explains.

Today, CSL provides unionized tradespeople for the refinery at Come By Chance, the Hebron project and others.

With the massive Hebron project getting started and Newfoundland’s economy booming, CSL is heading into some potentially lucrative years.

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Though nominations for the 2014 PROFIT 500 won’t be open until December, companies should complete an online form now to ensure they receive a ballot www.PROFIT500.com/enter

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About Jon Tattrie

Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and writer based in Halifax. He's a board member of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and regularly speaks to universities, colleges and schools on journalism and writing. His debut novel, Black Snow, was published by Pottersfield Press in April 2009. His first non-fiction book, The Hermit of Africville, was released in the summer of 2010.

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