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Entrepreneur Mixes Passion for Automotive Mechanics with Emergency Services for Innovative Venture

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10-8 Equipment and Services

Growing up, Stirling native Ryan Laliberte was a bit of a gearhead. He was interested in cars and even did a little dirt track racing as a teenager. So it was no surprise when he decided he wanted to get into the mechanical trade. Fortunately, he had the foresight to understand that if you had skills and specialization that was rare, it would not only open up endless job opportunities, but also mean you could create a niche as a business owner.

Along the way, Laliberte developed an interested in emergency services, eventually becoming a volunteer firefighter in Quinte West and also adapting his career to follow this passion. So besides fixing cars, big tricks and coaches, he also began to dabble in repairing, maintaining and outfitting police, fire and EMS vehicles.

Bringing together his mechanical acumen, his desire to differentiate himself from the competition and a passion for emergency services, he started 10-8 Equipment and Services I 2016. For those in the know, 10-8 is the police radio code for in service and ready to take a call.

“The interest in emergency services vehicles came about when I had my first shop in Belleville. I got into that line of work because of my interest in fixing cars, but I knew that I didn’t want to become a regular automotive mechanic because the money is better working on big rigs and coaches. But it really got going in 2014 when I went to a trade show and I came across this booth that had the flashing lights and they really drew me in. At the time my partner and I were looking to expand our operation and getting into some fleet work. The Belleville Fire Department was right next door, so we started doing a little work for them,” Laliberte said.

Being a firefighter mean he had contacts with other fire services in the area, as well as with police and EMS. He began doing work with the Stirling-Rawdon Police Service as well the occasional one-off job for other departments.

By July 2016, after splitting with his business partner who wasn’t interested in the heavy truck and emergency vehicle side of the business, 10-8 Equipment and Service was born .

Laliberte and 10-8 have become the primary distributor for the high-tech vehicle warning systems (sirens, lights etc.) for the cutting edge American firm SoundOff Signal, with a focus on the company’s bluePRINT products.

“What that does is automate a lot of the emergency light systems and turns the vehicle into a tool. Their development is unique in the sense that the other companies and competitors, including Canadian ones, are wired in a more complex, error prone manner. With their products, all of the cables and wiring still have to come to a centralized control core which is generally located in the rear of the vehicle, as in the case of police cars. They will have an electronics board or a location where all the diodes, fuses and relays are located. The advantage with the SoundOff version is it’s made a little more modular where you can have up to five remote nodes on a system and these nodes can be located in the front, middle or rear of the vehicle,” Laliberte explained, adding that what this modular design allows for is easier installation, as you don’t have to run all sorts of extra wiring back to a central core. It also means that if some lights are failing and have been damaged, it’s easier to locate where the damage is and fix it without having to tear the vehicle completely apart – just the node that needs attention.

“The cost of the product is cheaper, but it also saves on maintenance costs over the long term. Where my company 10-8 takes it a step further is we use the bluePRINT system and then we integrate our own wiring harness in it, which I trademarked as SmartInstall. So this means you’re not going to have a systems failure due to corrosion, faults because of any wires pinching, excessive heat, coming loose because of vibration or abrasions – these failures are not going to happen with the design of the harness because of the way that we secure and seal and protect everything.”

The SoundOff products are just part of what 10-8 and its ambitious owner aspire to do. The company is also working to build a large roster of fire, police and EMS organizations for which it can be their go-to source for maintenance, repairs or even building vehicles. The second key component of Laliberte’s broader business model is a truck and trailer repair centre, which works on non-emergency services commercial trucks and trailers.

“I recently acquired a new facility in Trenton and it’s 20,000 square feet. I am going to be opening up the commercial truck and trailer repair centre. At the same time, 10-8 will handle fire, police and EMS maintenance and repairs as well as building fire apparatus and doing pump testing for fire services in Eastern Ontario. Right now in this part of the province there is no centralized service facility specializing in fire apparatus. There is literally nothing from Brampton to Ottawa. My intention is to specialize in fire apparatus and emergency vehicle outfitting and see where the industry grows. I do intend to get into a bit of manufacturing, fabrication and design of things like equipment consoles and cargo area cabinets. But that’s longer term – you have to crawl before you walk. I do have this long-term vision for the company and I know the industry can handle what I am going to be doing,” he said.

One of the challenges Laliberte has faced thus far in really making serious inroads into the emergency services sector as a vendor and service provider is his age and perceived inexperience.

“I am 31 but I look like I am 25 and a lot of people aren’t impressed with a young guy coming in with a fancy pick-up truck covered in lights. I tell them I have built 10 police vehicles, 25 fire vehicles and done lights for countless volunteer firefighters’ vehicles. But they think that’s not enough experience. What has given me the credibility is when they take a close look at my pick-up truck – my demonstration vehicle. I am not showing up to a fire hall in a Honda Civic with a few lights strapped on top. I have a fully outfitted demonstration vehicle that I can show, and from there the product really sells itself,” Laliberte said, adding that even once he squeezes in the door and impresses officials with his gear, budgetary restraints and a ‘what we have now is working just fine’ mentality often gets in the way.

“And I said, ‘you’re right. You’re getting by.’ And then I explain to them the issues they are causing now and in the future by just ‘getting by.’ So it’s breaking that outdated concept of the cost of ownership. Because operating budgets are higher than capital budgets, when they look at outfitting a vehicle they see what they think is a great price of $3,500 to $4,000 which includes transferring some of the old equipment over. What I show them is that in the course of that vehicle’s life, they will spend another $10,000 to $15,000 on repairs and stuff that goes wrong.”

The third challenge is actually finding enough qualified and experienced technicians to do what is highly specialized mechanical work. Not having enough staff means Laliberte has to log a lot of time on the road travelling to clients to do repair and maintenance work, which is taking away from sales and marketing work as well as all the other administrative labour that needs to be done.

“So one day I am the technician, the next day I am the bookkeeper, the following day I am the salesperson and then after that I am the marketing guy. And with my new facility I think it’s going to be my greatest challenge yet to find technicians, even for the regular truck, trailer and coach work because for that part of the industry, the good technicians are already taken and new ones get snapped up quickly. Although I think if you talk to most businesses, especially ones involved in any sort of new, leading-edge business, human resources usually is the biggest challenge.”

But it’s a challenge he has approached with the same kind of enthusiasm and intensity as he does when approached a roaring inferno. Once the new facility opens, new staff are trained, and Laliberte can focus on increasing partnerships with more and more emergency services organizations, there is little doubt that the name 10-8 will also mean ‘open for business’ throughout the Bay of Quinte Region and the rest of Eastern Ontario and beyond.

For more information, visit www.10-8eas.com.

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