Al Boughton founded Trailcon Leasing. Now he’s stepping down. (Trailcon photo)
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — It’s next to impossible to mention Trailcon without speaking of its outspoken founder, Al Boughton. His name is virtually synonymous with the trailer leasing empire he established some 26 years ago.
But on Jan. 31, the company announced that senior vice-president and general manager Jerry Brown would take over as president, marking the end of an era with Boughton at the helm.
Trailcon started from humble beginnings in October 1992, just after Boughton himself left as president of Provincial Trailer Rental.
“Was I scared? Yeah. I didn’t know what a panic attack was until that first morning in 1992,” he says. “It was easy to summarize Trailcon that day. One employee, me. No trailers. No revenue…I had a wife at home, and a five-year-old and 9-year-old. So yeah, it was a pretty scary time.”
Today, Trailcon has five locations across the country, a fleet of 8,500 trailers, 150 employees, and 85 technicians, with sales hitting $100 million per year.
Boughton’s larger-than-life personality has played a role in the company’s direction. He’s an exuberant straight-shooter who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, and refuses to sit back in his office while business goes on as usual.
Boughton personally meets with all new hires, and has gained the respect of his technicians and office staff because he knows how to turn a wrench (he’s an avid car collector) and because he’s been in their shoes.
“There are no jobs at my company that I haven’t done,” he says. “I’ve cleaned the washrooms, I’ve checked the trailers in, I’ve changed the tires, I’ve gone out to customers to try and sell trailers. I’ve done it all.”
Boughton recalls several times when he would hire what is known internally as a “yard ape” – a staff member who checks the trailers in and out.
“So when I’d meet with them, I’d ask, ‘So how anxious are you to assume your career as a yard ape?’ and they’d really be taken aback by it. You could see it in their face. And I’d ask, ‘You know why I can say that?’ And they’d say, ‘No’. And I’d say, ‘Because that’s where I started.’…I’d tell them, ‘There is a path way from that job right to my office. And anyone can do it, the only person stopping yourself is you. Because if you’re good and work hard, I’ll be there pushing you forward.’”
Boughton’s own business instincts have left their mark on Trailcon’s success as well.
“The first customer is a customer we still have today, Atripco,” he says. “Account retention is probably the key to success. It takes so much energy and money to bring in new customers, that once you’ve got them that worst thing in the world to do is lose them…I think consistency and the way we approach the customer with honesty is why we’ve been so fortunate.”
He’s also been committed to ensuring that Trailcon chases its customers rather than the other way around.
“We know who we want to do business with,” he said. “We don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring and Billy Bob Trucking calls. We target the accounts we want to do business with. They are accounts that are sustainable and appreciate the work we do and know we’re going to be a part of their solution down the road. It’s why we have Walmart from coast to coast, it’s why we’re the provider for Canadian Tire…because we want to deal with them.”
Even though he’s no longer at the helm of the business, Boughton says he’ll still be involved in some capacity going forward.
“I tell my staff I’m not going to stay beyond my best-before date,” he said, adding that Trailcon hopes to open five more branches in the next five years.
“And we’re going to stay in the trailer business,” he added. “We’re not going to be selling trailers. We rent, lease, and do fleet management, and we are going to stick to that and keep doing what we’re great at.”