By Mike Pickford
Bonnyville, Alberta -- September 1, 2016 -- “All it takes is a little hard work and dedication.”
That’s the big secret behind operating a successful shop according to Joe Dechaine, an old-school collision repairer from Alberta. Starting from the very bottom back in the 1960’s, Dechaine scratched and clawed his way right to the very top and today finds himself on the cusp of celebrating a special milestone.
JD Collision has been operating out of the Bonnyville – Cold Lake region for decades and later this month the now second generation family-owned business will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Speaking to Collision Repair magazine on Aug. 31, Dechaine detailed the storied rise of his business from the typical ‘back alley’ operation to one of the most advanced bodyshop enterprises north of Edmonton.
It all started way back in 1967 when a fresh-faced Dechaine finished up at high school and decided he wanted to forge a career in the automotive industry. Following a near four-year internship of sorts, building his skills at a variety of bodyshops in Vegreville, AB and Edmonton, Dechaine returned home to Bonnyville with one thing on his mind.
“When I finally got back to Bonnyville, I took a position with a local dealership, but I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to get out and start a business of my own,” Dechaine said.
And so in 1976, after spending a further five years honing his craft, Dechaine, with the assistance of his wife Rose Marie, opened JD Collision. He started out small, renting a 4,800 sq. ft. building from his former employer and bringing in five entry-level employees, but it wasn’t long before business really started to boom.
“The first couple of years were a little trying, but I had a good group of guys on board and I was determined to establish the shop in Bonnyville, so I started going out and looking for customers, doing my best to find some work,” Dechaine said. “That’s what took me to Grande Centre (today known as Cold Lake). It was a 30-minute drive and that community was extremely underserviced as it relates to collision repair, so I started bringing work in from there.”
For months the steady flow of work from Cold Lake coupled with the jobs that were coming in as a result of his growing reputation in the region helped to establish JD Collision as one of the largest collision repairers in Bonnyville. In 1980, following four years of progression, Dechaine took what appeared to be the obvious step in opening up a second location in Cold Lake.
While he initially tried to maintain control of both locations himself, Dechaine quickly learned he’d need to bring in additional help if he was to keep up with and sustain the growth of his business.
“It’s a funny thing… When you have two locations you can almost guarantee there are going to be problems. You’ll be over at one shop putting out a fire and another would spring up at the other shop. I realized I needed help, so I brought in a manager for the Cold Lake store and an assistant manager for the Bonnyville store. That really opened up doors for us and we were doing more business than ever.”
As they moved on into the 80s Dechaine really put an emphasis on reinvesting some of the money he’d earned thus far back into the business. He bought new frame repair technology and installed down draft paint rooms at both locations, while also adopting the fairly new technique of basecoat/clear coat refinishing.
By 1986, with JD Collision on the verge of celebrating its 10th anniversary, the second generation of Dechaines was starting to filter through into the business. First was the eldest Luc, who at the age of 14 starting hanging around the shop and harassing his dad for work. Pat and the youngest Joel soon followed suit.
“Collision repair was always something that interested me,” Pat recalled. “I used to spend hours standing around and watching the guys fixing up bumpers, spraying the cars. It was something I think I was always going to get into.”
As we approached the new millennium each of Dechaine’s three sons were well on their way to establishing themselves as skilled collision repairers in their own right. With Luc, Pat and Joel taking on positions within the company, Joe decided it was time to give his business a facelift, carrying out complete renovations of the Bonnyville shop in 1997. Similar upgrades were implemented in Cold Lake five years later, bringing each facility up to a mammoth 13,000 sq. ft.
As the years progressed the elder Dechaine, now approaching his 60th birthday, decided he wanted to take a step back and so proposed that his three sons, along with his son in law Paul Ouellette, take over the day-to-day operations of JD Collision. In 2007 the quartet each agreed to purchase a 20 percent stake in the business.
The brothers’ first port of call was ensuring they maintained their father’s tradition of investing in all the cutting-edge technology that was making its way into the industry. A second down draft spray booth was installed in both Bonnyville and Cold Lake, while each shop was equipped with wedge clamp systems, measuring and straightening systems for unibody repair, spot resistance welding equipment and brand new aluminum repair stations.
“One of the great things about the collision repair industry is that it’s always changing, there’s always a need to invest and almost reinvigorate the way you do things. As such buying the latest equipment, training your employees is of the utmost importance,” Joel told Collision Repair magazine. He later confirmed that each of JD Collision’s locations were well on their way to earning I-CAR Gold Class status.
Today, the company is still going strong. Such is the reality of living in Canada’s notorious ‘boom and bust’ province, Pat says they have noticed a “slight downturn” in recent months, thanks in large part to the incredible crash of the oil industry over the past 18 months. Despite that, he moved quickly to reassure that the company had no intentions of slowing down.
“We’ve got a number of projects lined up over the coming months. We’re in the process of carrying out massive external renovations to our Bonnyville store and we’ll be doing the same with our Cold Lake location next year,” Pat said. “Moving forward we just want to continue the fine work that our dad started and has been carrying out for the past 40 years. We want to see the business succeed and we will continue investing in our people and in our shops to ensure we stay ahead of the curve and remain at the forefront of this industry.”
The organization is hosting a special community celebration on Sept. 16 to formally acknowledge its 40th birthday. For the Dechaines though, it’s enough for them to simply sit back and reflect favourably on four decades of success in collision repair all while knowing they stuck to their guns and did business “the right way.”
“I think the thing that sticks with me the most is that we’ve managed to thrive as much as we have all while sticking with our beliefs on how a community business should be run,” Joel said. “We’re actively involved in several community events… We’re committed to our employees. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve put our people ahead of profits. But that’s what we do.”
Joel also wanted to go on record to thank several long-time employees that have stuck with JD Collision over the years. Bernard Laforce, the manager in Cold Lake, has been with the company for 38 years, while Gary Nicholson has been there for 32 years. Administrator Delores Hewlett has also dedicated 28 years to the collision repairer.
Pat added, “We’re one giant family here at JD Collision. We strongly believe in and absolutely strive to be the best employers and the best neighbours we can be.”
The final word goes out to the man that started it all almost 40-years ago as he admits it’s difficult to describe exactly how it feels to see his ‘baby’ reach such a landmark milestone.
“There’s absolutely no question that it makes me extremely proud to look back and see what I’ve built. JD Collision was a vision I had for improving collision repair services in the Bonnyville and Cold Lake region… I think it’s safe to say we’ve managed to achieve that,” Joe said. “Now, it’s nice for me to be able to step away and leave this in the very capable hands of my boys as they look to expand the horizons and take JD Collision forward into a new era.”
For more information on JD Collision, visit jdcollision2007ltd.ca.