Western Star, Freightliner Dealer Earns Automotive Business of the Year Award
VICTORIA – A great team and a pair of top-end brands drove P&R Truck Centre to the Automotive Business of the Year title at the recent MNP LLP Vancouver Island Business Excellence Awards in Victoria.
The fact they sell and service Western Star and Freightliner trucks – which hold 50 percent of the Vancouver Island market – and the 130 employees at their six locations: Saanichton, Langford, Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo and Campbell River, make all the difference, owner Dave Polack states.
“We were thrilled with the honor, but what it means most to me is really and truly the people that work in our dealerships,” Polack states. “You don’t win this because the owner is a great guy or has a great personality. We have the respect and trust of our customers, and I was thrilled for the recognition, but it was because of our people. We are a customer-driven organization, and that’s how we measure ourselves.”
The locally owned Vancouver Island company was started in Saanichton in 1979 by Pat McConnell and Russ Mitcham (the P and the R in the name) as a mechanical and repair service for the construction and transportation industry. In 1984 they became the Western Star truck dealer, adding their full line of trucks, parts and service.
Mitcham retired in 2001 and McConnell became sole owner, and the dealership added Sterling and Mitsubishi Fuso trucks to the lineup. McConnell moved towards retirement in 2014, and Polack purchased the P&R organization on January 1, 2014, bringing with him years of experience as a Western Star dealer and General Manager.
P&R has also become Doepker Trailer and Trail King Industries dealers for Vancouver Island.
“The P&R Truck Centre vision is to give our employees and our customers the business environment where excellence and quality is fostered in every aspect of our business,” he states. “Our mission is to lead the Vancouver Island marketplace as the number one provider of trucks, trailers, and services to the transportation industry. We are a truck dealership that encompasses selling new trucks and trailers, repairing them and selling parts.”
Expansion of their locations has been steady, as their P&R Truck Centre on Millstream in Langford opened in 2017 and their Nanaimo location in 2019. 2019 also marked the addition of their Campbell River location through acquisition, Bailey Western Star Ltd.
Polack noted that although challenging, P&R Truck Centre managed to navigate the Covid Pandemic fairly smoothly due to the fact that trucking was deemed an essential service.
“For most of our locations, they are well established businesses, and business picked up because they were essential services,” he recalls. “Customers were able to get their trucks fixed, and we kept working straight through. We worked with the provincial government regulations and WorkSafe BC, putting in necessary protocols, and we just carried on. Our ability to pivot and manage the constant changing needs in a dynamic environment assisted us with our goal.
“Our Nanaimo operation was a bit different, as these challenges were felt a bit harder in Nanaimo. When we started in 2020, the industry was coming out of the forestry strike here on Vancouver Island, and less than a month after the strike ended, Covid was declared. When the pandemic hit, people went into a shell. They bought groceries, but nobody was looking for anything new. They weren’t comfortable.
“And for a new business like ours that was not even a year old, people weren’t interested in trying anything new. But we persevered. We stayed open and kept doing our business the old fashioned way with good old customer service and fair pricing, and slowly, more people decided to try us.”
Polack noted the strength of the Western Star and Freightliner products has been a major boost, as together, they represent a market share of over 50 percent.
“Our customers running up and down Vancouver Island can have their trucks serviced anywhere from Campbell River to Victoria by the same company, and that’s a pretty strong value proposition,” Polack says. “Knowing they can get good service from people they trust has helped us, particularly in Nanaimo.”
Although gas-powered vehicles have become increasingly efficient over the years, electric vehicles are becoming popular. Freightliner now has electric vehicles (EVs) in medium duty products, delivery vans and smaller trucks, and Cascadia tractors and trailers are also powered by electricity.
“There are all kinds of alternative products on the way, including hydrogen cells,” Polack notes. “For the trucking industry, EV’s work great, but the batteries are heavy and can take up to half the payload, which makes the trucks fairly inefficient.
“One of the alternative fuels we look after in Nanaimo and Victoria is CNG (Compressed Natural Gas). It is clean burning. The City of Nanaimo’s garbage trucks are CNG powered, and most of the newer transit buses in Nanaimo are as well. We’re very much involved in that type of technology now.”
Polack recalls that one of the reasons McConnell agreed to sell P&R to him was because they shared the same values concerning teamwork and their commitment to serving their customers.
“Winning an award like the Automotive Business of the Year shows that we are doing things right. We are proud to share the market with some other fantastic dealerships on the Island,” he states. “We are very grateful, and we can never say thank you enough to our customers. We’ve been successful on Vancouver Island. Our staff are Vancouver Island people and live and work in the communities they serve, and their dedication to our customers shows.”
By Mark MacDonald