When Duane Demeria set up shop in Red Deer 32 years ago, that shop was on wheels.
The longtime owner-operator of Red Deer Forklift Sales & Service recalls how he operated out of a Datsun pickup before leasing and eventually buying shop space.
He’ll soon be on the move again, after closing a deal on Tuesday to sell out to Leavitt Machinery. Demeria will remain for a period of time to help with the transition, but the 61-year-old said he’s already bid farewell to the business.
Red Deer Forklift, which sold, rented and serviced lift trucks, came into being after Demeria — a Calgary forklift mechanic — decided to strike out on his own.
“I was fighting with my service manager in Calgary and I said, ‘I think I’m just going to see if I can start my own little thing in Red Deer and see if I can keep it.”
He and his wife Marguerite went on to build a thriving business with 50-plus forklift sales a year and a payroll that’s been as high as 14.
Demeria remembers, however, how worried he was after buying and rebuilding his first used forklift.
“But then the ALCB (Alberta Liquor Control Board) rented it for 16 months.
“So I bought another one, and away we went.”
Used forklifts have accounted for about 80 per cent of Red Deer Forklift’s sales over the years. Demeria sourced equipment from all over North America, with Marguerite looking after the paperwork.
In August, they brought in a 55,565-kg Hyster from Michigan for Bilton Welding & Manufacturing Ltd. at Innisfail. The massive machine had been used at a General Motors plant.
Much of his business’s success, said Demeria, resulted from ensuring that used equipment always left his shop in tip-top condition. That often included a fresh coat of paint — the result of a valuable bit of advice from a Vancouver dealer.
Also important, said Demeria, has been service. Look after your customers, he explained, and you’ll ensure your own future.
In fact, during the recent recession when many businesses were cutting staff, Red Deer Forklift hired someone to contact clients and make sure their needs were being met. Good customers, said Demeria, have been the reason for Red Deer Forklift’s longevity.
“It was the customers that put us here and kept us here,” he said, praising businesses like Red Deer Bottling for their ongoing support.
In addition to Red Deer Forklift, Demeria was a partner in Calgary’s Bugle Forklift Sales & Rentals Ltd. for about five years.
Some Leavitt signage is already in evidence at Red Deer Forklift’s 4,500-square-foot building at 4617 62nd St.
“We’re branch 17, I think,” said Demeria of the new owner’s network that extends across Alberta, British Columbia and Washington.
Brian Wynnyk will be Leavitt’s local branch manager.
When it comes to new forklifts, the business will now carry Cat equipment rather than the Hyster line that Red Deer Forklift represented. But it will also offer an expanded range of products, like man lifts and scissor lifts, said Demeria.
“They have a wider variety of product that we do.”