One Big Happy Family
by Lea Allen
Keeping it all in the family and maintaining a family-values approach to customer service has helped to make M & S Equipment Sales and Service of Caledonia, Ontario, one of Canada’s most successful independent assembly plants for the towing industry.
M&S is named for Maria and Salvatore Salamone, who launched the business in 1990. Maria and Salvatore originally came from Aragona, in Sicily. They began their careers in Australia, where Salvatore gained his skills as a mechanical engineer. In 1975 they moved to Canada, where other members of the Salamone clan had already established themselves.
Salvatore is a highly gifted mechanic – the kind who could make, on the spur of the moment, that part you needed to complete a job. Together, he and Maria started a service garage in Hamilton. In 1982, that grew into Direct Towing, with a fleet of 10 trucks that served the Hamilton area for 8 years.
In 1990, Maria and Salvatore decided it was time for another move, this time to Caledonia, Ontario, where they had owned a piece of land since 1984. It was there that they launched M & S Equipment Sales & Service. By 1997, with the help of their two sons Sal and Vince, the company was well on its way to becoming a successful tow truck assembly business.
As fate would have it, another family from the same little town of Aragona, Sicily had arrived in Ontario. Vince’s cousin, playing the part of cupid introduced Rose Gandolfo to Vince Salamone, they fell in love and the family and the business continues to grow together – literally.
The large duplex next to the business houses the entire extended family of the Salamones. The day Tow Canada visited the house preparations were underway for Maria and Salvatore’s 50th Anniversary.
Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Rose has taken her place in the family business as director of sales for M & S. It is a busy job she has somehow managed to combine with raising four boys, and making countless trips to the local hockey rink.
She admits that at times it can get a bit hectic balancing the duties of a mother and those of sales manager.
“The day after delivering my fourth son Michael, I remember getting a call from my brother-in-law Sal, wanting to know if I had finished doing the paper work on some equipment he was about to deliver,” she says. Without skipping a beat, she was back at work. Her boys, Sammy, 23; Fonzie, 19; Enzo, 16 and Michael, 9 are all very proud of the family business that they may some day help run.
The business traffic at M & S is roughly 80% new wrecker sales and assembly, and 20% repairs and upgrades. The product that M&S assembles is the Z50. It is an incredibly hard working and reliable wrecker. The Z50 wrecker comes in aluminum or steel bodies. They are custom made to fit the specifications of the customer’s cab and chassis.
M&S is also a distributor of Kilar Flatbeds and Full Boom wreckers. Kilar is also a family run business with a reputation for standing behind its products.
M & S has based their business plan on the family spirit of mutual trust, and support. Rose’s sales philosophy is, “Sell people what they really need, not just what they want.” She wants her customers to be successful, and especially wants to help them to make it through this tough economic downturn. M & S sold US$74,000 in dollies alone over the last 6 months, so the company is doing well despite the economic global conditions.
Rose says her strategy for moving forward is, ”Lets get through the next 2 months. This will let us plan into the summer, which is when we usually get busy building new trucks. If May and June go well, maybe then we will plan on growth, but not before.”
Their strategy for success has always been low overhead, word of mouth advertising from their good reputation. They also sponsor many local kids’ sports teams.
The family spirit extends to a warm, personal approach with customers. It is typified by Rose’s closing comment to a customer as she finishes off a sales call: “I promise that your favorite home made cookies will be here when you come to pick up your new truck.”