Carlson Body Shop Supply, the one-stop body shop specialists, celebrates 60 this year. When founder Bill Carlson launched the brand in 1959, the Auto Pact was not yet in force. This meant Canadian manufactured cars like the Mercury Meteor, the Oldsmobile Futuramic, and the Manic GT were on the roads. Flash forward six decades and we have a Tesla supercharger station in Edmonton, ELA (Electric Autonomous Shuttle) doing a test run in Beaumont, and several electrical/gas hybrid models in Edmonton. The constant during these years of rapid change in the vehicle industry is Carlson Body Shop Supply, which was ahead of its time from the moment Bill opened the doors.
Maintaining the business in the heart of Truck Country when vehicles, parts and products are changing faster than the price of a barrel of oil is no mean feat. But Carlson is not your average supply shop. It has diversified to become a leader in the distribution of collision repair products in Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as a supplier of industrial finishing products. Carlson’s training center provides the most updated lessons on refinishing products, equipment, and business management. Additional services include the industry leading KUBE inventory management system, Color Compass University, performance analytics, business tools and more. The company also supplies industrial coatings that are used in the manufacturing, fleet, transport, energy, sign, architectural, marine and aviation industries.
A company of this type and size could not grow without clear vision from the top levels of management, and loyalty and expertise among the team, which Carlson has always had.
“Bill exited the business in the early 70s,” explains Dave Swenson, general manager. “He sold it to his son, Ron. Ron was involved until 1987 when he sold it to Color Compass Corporation. I was part of one of the acquisitions along the way, starting with in the business in 1976 – and I’m not the employee with the longest history in the group! We’ve always been a family business or had the feeling of a small family business. We have certainly grown into a much larger company, but we still have the same core values and have retained the original vision of the founder.”
Carlson grew steadily from the onset, experiencing its first expansion into Calgary in 1965. This was followed by an entrance into Red Deer (this location has since closed) as well as being acquired by the Color Compass Corporation and most recently, joining the Wesco Group. The company that opened with under five employees now is a part of a group with more than 270 across Canada.
“Our people and the longevity of our staff are major contributors to Carlson Body Shop Supply’s success,” says Dave. We say if we can retain someone for two years, they never leave – and it’s basically true! We have also retained our customer base. Some have been with us since the 60s and we are pleased to now be serving their children and grandchildren.”
The strength of the customer base was tested in 1988 when Carlson switched from DuPont paint to BASF. A major move like this, Dave confirms, is rare in the industry. However, Carlson retained 100 per cent of its customers, who were impressed with the new paint line and weren’t about to leave thanks to the outstanding service they had always received.
Yet, it isn’t all smooth sailing. Happy customers and staff make for good business, but factors outside of the company’s control are always at play.
“Technology and the speed in which vehicles today are changing, and an aging work force,” Dave cites as challenges to the business. We try to work with our shops to mitigate the effects it has on them.”
Remember, when Bill started the company 60 years ago, the super sporty Manic GT had 105 horsepower. Today, a sensible Ford Flex has 287 horsepower. The cars Bill’s customers worked on were fixed with hand tools and common sense. Today’s models are fixed with computers and colour matching technology. In order to remain relevant, Carlson’s had to move with the times, and now those times are moving even faster.
Dave has no qualms about their ability to keep up.
“What I like about our industry is the fact that competitors can sit down and discuss our challenges and come up with solutions that benefit the industry as a whole,” he says, then adds, ”Our focus is through our training programs to help our customers continue to grow in the ever changing business and remain profitable so that our industry continues to be successful. We have four training centres: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Coquitlam and Calgary. We are the only independently owned company with training centres like this in the West. Training is so vital right now with the technology changes within the vehicles that these training centres are continuously busy. We are very proud to have these centres and give back to the industry.”
Never one to shy away from the products and processes that keep the industry moving forward, Carlson has recently embraced BETAG technology.
“It’s for repairing panels,” Dave explains. “It helps us save the vehicle’s original panels and create a repair that is superior to replacement.”
Carlson is also proud of its continued partnership with BASF.
“Their technology is second to none and provides the best colour match for vehicles and products anywhere in the world,” praises Dave.
BASF’s products are used in many industries and the leadership of the company ensures its customers remain ahead of their competition. BASF Refinish has more OEM approvals than any other paint manufacturer in the business, along with their proprietary Vision+ Expert Analysis, which provides unique networking and support for its partners.
It’s not just the industry that Carlson Body Shop Supply supports. It is also very invested in the community.
“We support many charities and causes locally and across Canada, including Edmonton’s Food Bank, The Salvation Army, golf tournaments, and events that support children’s hospitals,” Dave notes.
Carlson Body Shop Supply has been recognized numerous times over the past 60 years but one award that stands out for Dave is when the company was named as the number 1 distributor of Pro Spot Welding products in North America.
On behalf of the entire team of Carlson Body Shop Supply, Dave expresses deep gratitude for everyone that has helped the company get to where it is today including Bill the founder, the past and present team, suppliers and partners, and all the clients that have relied on Carlson Body Shop for six decades.
“BASF is one of our major partners, as is Caruk & Associates and Saint-Gobain,” acknowledges Dave. “Where would we be without them?”
As he looks back on Carlson’s long and successful time in the automotive industry, Dave comments with a smile, “A lot of people don’t realize we have been around for as long as we have.” Indeed, Carlson has always been in the background providing superior products and services, supporting an industry that seems to move at the speed of light, and improving that industry no matter how fast and how far those changes come. There is no big celebration to mark the 60th anniversary. It’s business as usual because for Dave and the team, humbly serving clients and investing in the industry and the community every day is all the celebration they need.
Dave concludes, “It’s been an honour to serve for 60 years and we look forward to serving for the next 60. We will stay abreast of changes in the industry to remain a leader.”
Learn more about Carlson Body Shop by visiting carlsonbodyshopsupply.com online, @color_compass on Instagram, @carlsonbodyshopsupply on Facebook, Carlson Body Shop Supply Ltd. on LinkedIn, and @Carlson_Auto on Twitter.