Armed with a tape recorder and a host of questions, I spoke with the leaders of this great Quebec company, Pierre Roy (President) and Christian Pelletier (Vice-President).
I wanted to know a little more about the creation of the company.
How long did you "incubate" the idea before it came to light?
- Pierre Roy: At the time, we were with a company that was offering different products, including a winch model. We came up with the idea to develop our own winch and create a small company that would sell this winch to the parent company. Seeing the potential, I realized that I would have to devote myself to that alone. It took about 9 months, somewhat like having a baby, before the first products were released.
- Christian Pelletier: But what you need to know is that it was all incubated by Pierre: I had nothing to do with the design of the product! [Laughs] That's important to note because it sounds like a simple story, but in reality it was pretty complicated. The reason I found myself in this adventure is that at that time, I was working for Pierre, I had followed Pierre to different companies over time. There had been ups and downs and all kinds of adventures. But when that idea sprang up, Pierre asked me if I wanted to be a partner. Me, no crazier than the next person, I said, “Yes!” You know the saying about being in the right place at the right time. When we founded Portable Winch, I wasn’t even on the company’s payroll; I took vacations from my other job to work there.
How did your loved ones react to the announcement of the start of the business?
- Pierre: Actually, when I decided to devote myself to it 100%, not everyone believed it! [Laughs] I started out working in my basement. The kick in all of this was that my wife went to work about 2 weeks after I started the project. That was perfect because there was not much money coming in! [Laughs] It was a relatively long time before we started selling, that doesn’t happen on its own either! Then without any fanfare, our sales gradually took off!
How long did it take the company to move from the basement to the factory?
- Pierre: Actually, from the basement to another space, it took almost a year and a half. We rented storage space from where we could prepare the orders and do the shipping. We also had a supplier where we were assembling the winches and producing accessories. After that the products were transferred to the warehouse. There was no physical factory!
- Christian: But to go back to the story of the reaction of our relatives. At the time, there was a TV series called Friends. In the series, there was this character, Chandler, nobody understood his job ... Well, it was a little like that for me! People knew that I was working in Tremblant because I had move to the Laurentians, but on the side I had a company. My mother didn’t really know what I was doing at first. And when I met my wife, I made jokes about it. Even today I meet people and they ask what I do in life and I say, "I sell Portable Winch" ...
- Pierre: Nobody has any idea what that is!
- Christian: We’ve been trying to educate the world on portable winches for 16 years now!
What is your sales pitch when you have to explain what you make?
- Christian: Well, now! We've worked that out… we've come up with a magic phrase: Portable Winch strives to DELIVER SIMPLE AND INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS TO PERFORM LABORIOUS TASKS.
How did you feel when you hired your first employee?
- Pierre: The first employee I hired is still working here. I had hired him as a trainee. Gabriel (David) was taking a course in international trade. He was an immigrant that had just arrived in Canada.
How long has he been working here?
- Pierre: Almost 14 years, and we are very proud of it!
We’ve talked a bit about the creation of the company, but now I would like to focus on its products.
How did you come up with the idea for Portable Winch?
- Christian: As we said at the beginning, the company sold a variety of equipment, especially for working in the woods. They were designed mainly for gentlemen foresters, guys going out to the woods to have fun on the weekend. Over time, we have sold different models of winches, such as winches installed on mechanical saws, which are still sold today, but have not changed at all.
- Pierre: Initially, the idea was to provide the other company with stock, but we quickly saw that there was a potential for international sales, and that the product had a lot of value. On a pallet, we could ship a lot of winches. It was obvious that we had to concentrate our efforts on that.
- Christian: In addition, what Pierre did differently is that instead of just making winches, he also thought about accessories to complement them. Because the problem with most companies selling winches is that they sell them and tell their customers "Good luck, you’re on your own now!" He already had the vision to say "I can also offer accessories, which could be helpful when using the winch, depending on what they are used for." When you're in front of a potential customer at a trade show, on hunting for example, who tells you they can foresee a specific type of use, we can immediately tell them that the company has the accessories that were specifically designed for that purpose, that will facilitate the work. That makes all the difference!
In 3 words, how would you describe the first prototype of Portable Winch?
- Pierre: The first one we tried, actually did not work.
- Christian: You see, I would have said "We almost got it right!"
- Pierre: Well, it was very close! We were disappointed that morning, [laughs] but then we made some external adjustments.
So it "did not work", "was close" from your accounts, and what else?
- Christian: I would say "encouraging." It's funny… that morning, the [prototype] drum wasn’t turning on the right side, so when we started pulling, it didn’t work. But still, from there, it wasn’t too complicated or too long before we were at the next stage.
- Pierre: But you know, we must remember that we expect things to work the first time, but it's rare that it does! That, I think would be really exceptional!
- Christian: I was just finishing reading Steve Jobs' biography, and realizing that even in the biggest companies, during launches, the product is never completely ready. Imagine, they have hundreds of employees! So, one person alone, can’t think of everything – that’s impossible. In the end, you hope you’ve not forgotten anything and you cross your fingers. But we can certainly say that it was a near success and encouraging!
If we look into the future, where do you see Portable Winch in 2023? (This would be the company's 20th anniversary.)
- Christian: In Sherbrooke! [Laughs]
- Pierre: We’re planning an expansion this spring, so we should, in principle, be around in 2023! We’ll be in the same place; and we hope we will have a lot of the same staff and a few more. We also think that our market in the United States and some Asian countries will be much more developed.
- Christian: The other aspect after that is perhaps a wave of partnerships. And, following the release of the battery-powered winch last fall, the evolution of products associated with that, and other opportunities will arise.
The rest of this interview, including some more personal information, will be released soon. Stay tuned by subscribing to our social networks and our newsletter!