Ocean Trailer’s history runs deep. Four decades deep.
Chuck Keay, a former police officer, had been successful selling Freuhauf trailers and lured away to work in trailer rental businesses. When his pay structure was about to be changed by one employer, though, he called up his largest customer.
Ocean Trailer was born.
The business was launched 40 years ago with a service hut large enough for a single trailer, and an office just big enough for immediate family.
“The world economy collapsed five minutes later,” says his son and current Ocean Trailer president Sid Keay. Sid’s plans to go backpacking in Australia were put on hold, and he joined his dad in the work.
“By far the worst recession I experienced,” he adds. Deals were struck to pay tire bills in installments. The family relined their own brake shoes, and even made a point of collecting free pens when they were offered.
But economic winds shift. By 1986 they were buying and selling equipment, and even began financing deals.
Today Ocean Trailer has a rental fleet of about 10,000 units, with 250 employees stretching from Winnipeg to B.C.
“The future’s looking pretty bright for us,” Keay says.
He and his brother Mike, Ocean’s vice-president, were more comfortable with expansion plans than their dad, though they were supported every step of the way. A first branch office opened in Edmonton. Others followed. By 1999, the two brothers were able to buy out their father.
A lot has changed. Their dad gave Sid a hard time when the company purchased its first fax and cell phone in 1986. (“Who do you think we are, MacMillan Bloedel?!” Sid recalls him saying.) But much is the same.
“It is a relationship business. It always has been, always will be, and I love that,” Keay says.
Successes can be rare in multi-generation businesses, but he stresses the brothers are tight. Each has different skills, and they’re equal partners. “We have an incredible team right across the country,” he adds.
They aren’t the last generation to be involved in the business.
His son Mack Keay manages the Winnipeg location, and is preparing to take on the role of sales and marketing manager. Daughter Sydney Olivia is managing Port Kells. Chris Morton is spearheading a location in Prince Rupert. Cousin Jamie Keay is running the shop and service in Nanaimo. Ed Genberg is the branch manager in Delta.
More expansion is on the horizon, but the focus remains in Western Canada.
“I really believe that the success of Nanaimo, in Prince Rupert, [B.C.] have shown us we should be in the smaller markets.”
The anniversary celebration will be somewhat muted because of Covid-19 this year. Food trucks will roll out to the branches. “Hopefully there’s going to be a day real soon where we can have a massive celebration again,” he says.
After all, they have reason to celebrate.