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Three Generations of Customer Service Focus

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It seems fitting that, on the 50th year of a locally-owned family business, it is in the midst of changing hands from father to son.
Valley Bearing and Auto Ltd. will soon transfer ownership to the third generation when Brandon Poole takes it over from Ron Poole, who has been with the business for approximately 40 years, and worked previously with his father-in-law, Irvin Johnson.
“I started here as a child just working with my brother and sister cleaning floors and putting away stock after school on weekends for extra money,” said Brandon Poole. “I started full-time here in 2008 and I’ve been here ever since.”
The now-37 year old Poole has had a few years of experience getting more into the business management and buying stock part of Valley Bearing and Auto, and is confidently settling into his role of running the legacy auto and parts business.
The business started in a smaller location in June of 1969, when it was located kitty-corner from the current day Swan River post office.
The present day location at 210 Main Street in Swan River was built between 1982 and 1983, with Ron Poole officially taking over the business from Johnson in 1989.
Although Brandon Poole naturally doesn’t have a lot of first hand knowledge of the early days of the business, he said that a lot of what is different now from then is the way business is conducted.
“When my dad was in his 20s and 30s, there was no online ordering and everything was faxed in,” he said. “It’s evolved so much that if you don’t have your computer system set up properly, you’ll get stuck pretty quickly.
“The mid- to late-2000s is when all the online ordering started.”
Poole explained that Valley Bearing and Auto is part of a buying group that stretches across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver.
“Now, we have five warehouses Canada-wide, but back in the ‘80s, all the stock was pulled out of the Barrie distribution centre.”
The expansion of the buying group also makes the local small business more capable.
“We deal with customers that just need an electrical piece or ball hitch, right to people that are ordering tens of thousands of litres of oil,” said Poole.
“We had a customer come in last year from Sunterra Horticulture in northwest Saskatchewan. He came in and needed 15,000 litres of hydraulic oil, next week, and with the ability that we have, we were able to supply him with what he needed in a timely fashion. It was three days and he had his product.”
Poole believes that the secret to longevity for the business is customer value.
“We value our customers very well here,” he said. “We know that, without them, this place wouldn’t be here. That is, people from farmers, to general public to employees working at the mills around here.
“And, they are very patient with us, because they understand that we can’t stock everything. I think it’s just the way that we value our customers that keeps them coming back.”
And, Valley Bearing and Auto doesn’t have a large payroll, often having just the Poole family and a few other employees greeting customers behind the counter. For many years, a familiar face behind the counter was Wayne Mitchell, who Poole said worked for his grandfather and half-way into his father’s tenure of ownership.
“He was a very big man and very outspoken,” said Poole. “He knew his product very well, and it would be nice to have another one of him.”
Another boost to the business is having great marketing, particularly with a radio jingle that lived far beyond its time played on locally-broadcast stations.
It was simple, just the business name and the number, but there are many people in the Swan Valley who still remember the phone number of Valley Bearing and Auto off by heart – 734·4508.
Although Poole was young when that jingle was hitting the airwaves, he explained that it was his mom, Michelle, who was instrumental in creating that tune.
“Ron and Michele had an older friend at GX94 and they were talking about making a jingle for Valley Bearing and Auto,” he said. “This was back in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s.
“He took it down to some radio executives that he knew, it somehow ended up in Nashville, Tenn., they wrote this jingle, and it fell into Michele’s lap.
“I remember listening to it for the first time, and I didn’t think that it was going to be as popular as it was back in the ‘90s,” Poole continued. “It grew very fast. They put it out there for the first six months, and the business started to grow very fast.”
Poole added that, even when the jingle was off the radio for years, people outside of the Valley would sing the tune if they noticed that Poole or his family was wearing Valley Bearing and Auto apparel.
While the jingle has reemerged in the more recent past on GX94 and on the Swan Valley-operated CJ 104, Poole hopes to leave it dormant for a little while longer before running it again, hoping that it will make a similar impact that it did in 1992.
Poole is hoping to transform the business in a similar way to how his father was able to grow it when he took over ownership. He said his plan is to renovate the interior and make the showroom a little more customer-friendly so that people can browse the available stock a bit easier.
“We need to show the people that we actually have this stuff in stock, because if they’re coming in to get one thing, and they don’t know what we have in the back, then we won’t be able to sell it,” said Poole.
What makes Poole proud to operate in the Swan Valley is seeing the great customer base and the great support from the local public, even when they are competing with big box stores that might be able to beat them on price or rapid delivery.
“It’s an awesome feeling when you can satisfy your customer and they keep coming back in,” said Poole. “That’s the number one thing I’m most proud of, is trying to keep the customers happy.
“This whole Valley is just awesome to be a part of.”

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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