Onward Manufacturing Company got its start in Kitchener, Ontario back in 1906. From the beginning, it was the company’s aim to provide customers with quality products coupled with top service, and that founding philosophy is still core to the business’ operations to this day. In addition, the company remains family-owned and operated more than a century after it was founded.
In 1906 the company got its start selling fountain pens and manufacturing and distributing vacuums. In the 40s it expanded into appliance distribution and in the 70s, introduced its Broil King line of grills, manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. In the 1980s, the company launched the TA Appliances retail store.
TA Appliances & Barbecues has grown steadily over the decades and now enjoys a presence in six locations throughout Ontario, with Broil King being sold in over 40 countries. Seeing the rapid growth taking place in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and having worked with builders for over 10 years, the company launched its official Builder Division five years ago to meet the growing need for outfitting new developments with quality appliances.
“We wanted to be more involved with the builders in the community, so we went and knocked on doors and presented ourselves to grow our business on that side of things,” says Vice President Jay Kressler. “We did that to the point that we literally doubled our growth almost every year.” Today, the Builder Division is active throughout Ontario.
This arm of the company works directly with multi-unit residential builders, contractors, and property managers to choose appropriate appliance packages that suit the specific needs of each project. TA Builder Division’s expansive selection sets the company apart and ensures clients can find exactly what they want, working in tandem with the client every step of the way. “We probably have close to a hundred brands, so anything under the sun we have access to,” says Kressler.
When working with clients, the TA Builder Division delivers personalized service from “an account manager, an exclusive builder delivery team, certified installers, site management, and customer service personnel,” according to the company’s comprehensive website. Account managers support clients through the entirety of a project, assisting with the selection process and pricing, and answering any questions they might have. The Builder Delivery Team, meanwhile, has its own fleet with crews that deliver province-wide. The company takes a true cradle-to-grave approach, coordinating all logistics, installation, and follow-up service.
This holistic approach is key to what the TA Builder Division offers. “You don’t just get one person; you have a whole team that comes along when we are awarded projects,” Kressler says. From account managers and project coordinators to delivery crews, the TA Builder Division team has it all covered, so clients can breathe easy. “Anyone can throw a number on a piece of paper but we really back it up with our attention to detail, how quickly we get back to people, and the service we provide,” Kressler explains.
The team works together closely to deliver thorough and coordinated service. “We have a really tightknit crew,” Kressler says. “We’ve worked together for years. There’s not a lot of turnover… Everyone in our division has known each other for very long time,” and a positive and welcoming company culture entices employees to stay for the long term. “We do like to have some fun along the way,” Kressler says.
Employees who stay with the company tend to move up the ranks. “We’ve always promoted from within,” Kressler says. “So you may have started out in administration and then we promote within to Project Coordinator, Operations Manager. Being here from the beginning, I’ve gotten to see the growth of the entire team as they excel in their positions and then move up. It has just been fantastic.”
The team has had to be flexible and innovative to continue thriving through the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been a big challenge,” Kressler says. “We’ve learned to adapt. We’ve had to really change some of our business practices.” For starters, the team could no longer go out and meet with the builders directly. “You can’t just walk in and say, ‘hey I’m here, I would love to talk to you,’” Kressler says. “So we’ve had to be creative on how we can connect with people. We put out some good marketing videos and changed how we try to connect with people through Zoom and emails and so forth.”
The team successfully learned how to connect through virtual tours. “We were actually doing zoom appointments and walking around with our phones and tablets to show them product in our showroom when we were not allowed to have people in,” Kressler recalls. “It’s been interesting.”
Of course, the pandemic also led to some roadblocks in the supply chain. “There’s been a big supply disruption, so we kind of changed our whole practice,” Kressler says. This change included opening a 55,000 square foot warehouse, quadrupling the company’s inventory capacity. In addition, the new normal requires planning much farther in advance to ensure the team can get their hands on the needed product. “We’ve changed our ordering practices,” Kressler says. “Gone are the days of receiving product in seven to ten business days. We fight to get these delivery schedules and order six months to two years in advance.” Fortunately, “we are in a good position for forecasting,” he adds.
Despite the challenges, sales have remained strong throughout the pandemic. “We weren’t sure when this all started [how we were] going to be affected. Are we going to [sell anything]? And it’s actually been the complete opposite. We’ve had record years through all of this.”
Kressler credits some of the increased sales to the fact that a lot of people took on home improvement projects while stuck in their houses during quarantine. In addition, the company made a concerted effort to cultivate a social media campaign to boost business. “We are one of, if not the first, commercial appliance companies to really attack social media through LinkedIn and Instagram and tools like that,” Kressler says. “We try to promote our projects and our partners that we are working with through social media and I think it’s really created a big buzz.”
Moving forward, the team will maintain its strong focus on building and maintaining relationships. “We are trying to create partnerships for life,” Kressler says. “We want to be involved with the changing landscape of the communities and be part of their growth. That is very important to us.”
To be sure, the division has already made quite an impact locally. “You go back five years, you wouldn’t even recognize our city,” Kressler says. “We’re probably one of the fastest growing cities in all of Canada. So it’s really pleasing to be part of reshaping the city and working with these great partners of ours.”
A household name in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the company’s long-term plan is to continue growing the TA Builder Division throughout the GTA, Western, and Eastern Ontario. “We are currently doing projects from Windsor to Ottawa but we would like to continue that growth,” says Kressler. “We would like to be the leaders and the go-to appliance source for builders across Ontario. That’s our next goal.”
With over a century of success to build upon, this team should have no problem making that happen.