Toronto, Ontario — September 24, 2019 — In 1984, a 19-year-old Joey Gagne loaned $2,500 from his mother-in-law to start his own towing business. Now, Gagne, CEO of Abrams Towing Group, manages 200 employs at more than nine locations in Ontario.
Collision Repair sat down with Gagne — who even holds a place in the International Towing Museum’s hall of fame — to hear how broke into the business and built a successful towing company in today’s competitive market.
Collision Repair: How did you first get into the towing industry?
Joey Gagne: My parents owned a towing company, so I grew up around it and got hooked. When I was old enough to drive I drove a tow truck for them.
Once I met my wife, she kept saying, ‘you’re always talking about tow trucks, why don’t you buy a tow truck and start your own business?’ She came from a family of business owners and so did I, so it seemed logical to me, but I didn’t have any money.
So, her mother lent me $2,500 and I went out to find myself an old tow truck. I found one that no one was using and I pestered the owner for a few months before he eventually sold it to me for $1,500. After that, I was off to the races.
It took a lot of help from my wife, my family, but we did it. That was 36 years ago now.
CRM: How was it starting the business?
JG: I started kind of blind, really. I was 19 and, because I had been around towing, I thought I knew the business, so it took me a little while to realize what I didn’t know. I just went into it and did what I had to do. There was lots of trial and error. I didn’t work up to it at all — I quit my job in May 1984 and started the business the following September.
CRM: 1996 was a big year for Abrams Towing in terms of growth. Could you tell me a little more about that?
JG: We were really interested in diversifying the business and opening a mix of new locations. In early 1995 we opened a location in Mississauga, so that really got us into our initial diversification. We then had the capabilities to carry some of our relationships into different territories and it worked out very well for us.
Then the winter came and we started brainstorming for other cities and, slowly but surely, it all started coming together.
We’ve also had a lot of exclusive contracts with government agencies and police departments. In 1996 we had a contract with the Toronto police, which was a new type of business for us that helped us grow a bit more. We really just made sure we kept doing business with as many different people as we could.
CRM: What are some misconceptions in the industry?
JG: There’s a lot of confusion as to what we represent and who we are. We represent regular people — sometimes people have a misconception of this big, burly tow truck driver that lives on the shady side of life. But our guys are really nice; they go out there providing great service and protecting people from bad situations. Sometimes customers are surprised; the public hears a lot about negative experiences with tow truck drivers and they tend to generalize.
It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand good guys to one bad guy, we all get painted with the same brush. It’s not unusual for us to be misrepresented, but that’s not who most of us are.
CRM: Who or what was your biggest inspiration throughout your business development?
JG: My wife. She’s been my rock and my biggest supporter all the way through. She encouraged me to start my business and helped me through thick and thin. She really helped me elevate the business to a level I don’t think I would have been able to achieve without her.