The pandemic hit a short three months after Dave and Corina Hill decided to expand their truck and RV repair service just east of Cochrane, Alberta. Despite the challenges, their operation is now the only one in Western Canada to offer both truck and RV mechanical services at the same location.
Twelve years ago, the Hills operated a septic tank service. When sourcing reliable parts and services became difficult, in 2010, the couple decided to open a shop specializing in heavy vehicle maintenance. After Dave's parents expressed their frustration at finding good service options, they soon added RV and motorhome services.
Their original two-bay service area in a shared commercial space is now a state-of-the-art facility of four bays and a shop on a two-acre parcel of land. Services include complete repair and mechanical services for heavy trucks, buses, RVs and motorhomes, woodchippers and grinders, and horse and cargo trailers. Springbank Truck & RV Repair is also a licensed vehicle inspection facility, performing both commercial and out-of-province inspections.
"Our unwavering belief is that the customer is always right," says Dave when describing what contributes to their success. Current supply issues and delays in getting parts mean sometimes they need to tell customers their repair may take longer. "If you are upfront, to begin with, customers tolerate the delays. It's better to under-promise and over-deliver, and we go the extra mile whenever we can."
Dave is the shop manager and foreman, while Corina manages the financial end. Working as a husband and wife team involves extra effort not always required when a couple has different occupations. "Working together has drawn us closer as we've learned to communicate with each other. One of the biggest mistakes when owning a business is getting caught up in the business versus running the business. Assessing what makes money and what doesn't and then developing the ability to choose what makes money has been so important." Corina adds, "Dave's role is more forward-facing, whereas I work mostly in the background, but we make decisions together. When we take time to appreciate how far we've come together as a team, it inspires us both to keep working to build and grow together."
"The best piece of advice I live by is don't worry about the things you can't change and fix the things you can," shares Dave. "Saying no to a customer is the hardest thing for me, so we constantly work on dotting our i's and crossing our t's and work to become more efficient. We look outside the box to source parts, develop realistic timelines and pace our work accordingly."
An average of 10-15 vehicles are at the shop for repairs at any given time, increasing to 25 once the RV season starts.
When Corina and Dave decided to expand their operation plus offer an RV storage option, they needed help. After the bank turned them down, their business coach suggested Community Futures for financing support. "Community Futures Centre West has been wonderful to deal with," says Dave. "In addition to a bigger repair and maintenance area, we now offer RV storage onsite, plus have plans for offsite storage as well. We also intend to redevelop our website and offer an online store where customers sourcing parts can find what they need."
Corina says, "To be honest, it's been difficult at times for me to shift my perspective away from the stress we've been under for the past couple of years. It helps to pause and realize that despite our growing pains, we are, in fact, still growing. And I'm grateful for Community Futures and their mandate to help rural businesses grow because they really have made all the difference to help us move forward."