Productive, longlasting Komatsu equipment
Gilles Collet has always enjoyed equipment and aggregate. He was an operator for a time and also a farmer, but it was probably destiny that he would someday own a gravel business.
“In the early 1970s, my brother Andy and I bought some farmland that had some gravel on it,” Gilles recalled. “Then we bought more land and it also had some gravel. I had always liked operating and working with rock, and now the opportunity was there to do it for myself rather than somebody else. Initially, the gravel was just a supplement to farming, but over time, it became the primary business.”
Through the years, the brothers bought other businesses, as well as more land. Eventually, they decided to split their interests, with Gilles taking the gravel side. From his home base in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba, Gilles continued acquiring land and/or leases. Today, he and his son, Denis, run Collet Gravel, which has access to 15 pits and is a leading aggregate supplier in southwestern Manitoba.
“Our primary business is supplying sand and crushed gravel to contractors and governmental entities, largely Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation,” explained Denis, who recently took over as President of Collet Gravel (Gilles remains active and serves as Vice President). “Our customers are No. 1 with us. Our goal is to provide everything they expect — and then some. Whatever they need, whenever they call, we get right on it. As a result, we have a large amount of repeat business and customers who stay with us from year to year.”
“There are times when demand for our material is strong and other times when it’s not so strong,” observed Gilles. “Regardless of the economy, the key to success is to always provide top products, give outstanding service and treat customers fairly and honestly. At Collet Gravel, we make it a point to do all those things consistently, in good times and bad.”
Mobile crushing operation
For the most part, times have been good for Collet Gravel. The company has grown from a small, two-man firm to one that today employs 35 people. Collet Gravel produces about a million tons of material annually for use in concrete production and asphalt plants, as road base, and many other constructionrelated industries.
The company has also recently sought to expand its list of aggregate uses to include specialty products. For example, it’s working with a company called Eco Solutions to produce a wintertime anti-icing/de-icing sand product for roads that’s more effective and less corrosive than plain sand or salt.
“We also do custom crushing,” noted Denis. “If a customer has a pit on his property and needs some material crushed on site, we’re mobile — we can go to him, do the job and move on. In many cases, deposits in this region are getting depleted so what’s left is marginal gravel; it has too much sand and not enough rock. You have to know how to work those sites to pull the material out properly, and that’s what we do every day.”
Collet Gravel typically moves its crushing operations from pit to pit weekly, and sometimes more frequently, if necessary. “When our crusher is not on the road or being set up, it’s crushing 24 hours a day,” added Gilles. “We’re all about productivity.”
“In addition to productivity, transportation is a big contributor to the cost of gravel,” Denis added. “If we can reduce the distance between our customer and our product, it can save him a significant amount of money. That’s why we have pits centrally located throughout southwestern Manitoba. Being 20 miles closer to a job can make a big difference. Having pits all over the area makes us a more cost-effective option for our customers.”
A family affair
Having favourable pit locations is important, and so is having talented, veteran employees to work them.
“We are a family business, but everybody who works here is important,” said Gilles. “We don’t have much turnover. Obviously, we have many family members, but even those who aren’t related to us are like part of the family. Their work ethic and knowledge about our operations are what allow us to get the production we need to be successful.”
In addition to Gilles and Denis, other family members active in the business are Gilles’ wife, Lucille; Denis’ brother Claude, who “can do anything” and fills in as needed on a day-to-day basis, plus takes care of the farm; and a cousin, Don Collet, who is shop foreman.
“Lucille worked in the office, back in the early days,” noted Gilles. “We have six kids and they all worked for Gravier Collet at one time or another from the time they were youngsters.”
“I loaded my first gravel truck when I was seven years old,” Denis recalled. “All of us kids were always hanging around in the pit with Dad or uncle Andy. It was just natural to learn the business and pitch in and help. To this day, family members remain very ‘hands-on’ and involved with daily operations. I still get dirty, get out in the pits, make repairs. Our attitude is to do ‘whatever it takes’ and that applies to everybody who works here.”
Other key people at Collet Gravel include Office Manager Jocelyne Dalebozik and assistant Cindy Charette; Night Operations Manager Marty Roch; Truck Foreman Ray Dyck; and Daytime Operations Manager Derek Desrochers.
Productive, longlasting equipment
Collet Gravel runs a fleet of Komatsu machines to keep the crushing and pit operations running smoothly.
“We got started with Komatsu in 1986,” Gilles recalled. “They were new to Winnipeg at the time. We didn’t know much about them but we needed a new wheel loader so we demo’d a WA450 alongside a top competitor. We liked the Komatsu’s breakout force, plus it was fairly priced, so we decided to buy it. We liked it so much; we got another one later that year.”
“Amazingly, we still have those wheel loaders, which now have nearly 50,000 hours on them,” reported Denis. “We use them primarily as backups, but they still work well, and some of the components are original equipment. That kind of longevity has really sold us on Komatsu wheel loaders. We now use WA500s to feed our crushers and WA450s/470s to load trucks. Our first WA500 now has 34,000 hours and is still going strong.”
In addition to the wheel loaders, Collet Gravel also has a Komatsu PC270 hydraulic excavator used primarily for grubbing and stripping ahead of the crusher; and a GD655 motor grader to maintain roads for the trucks to get in and out of the pits.
“Since getting that first machine almost 25 years ago, we’ve used Komatsu and SMS extensively,” said Gilles. “I’m very fussy about my equipment. Obviously, the machines have worked well or we wouldn’t still be with them. Our Komatsus have been productive, reliable and longlasting. We take some of the credit for that because we pride ourselves on our maintenance program. We make sure we grease and service the machines regularly. We do some of our own repairs but also call on SMS as needed.”
“SMS has been a good partner,” confirmed Denis. “Our SMS salesman, Neil L’Heureux, has a long history with us. Before he became a salesman, he drove trucks and was frequently in and out of our pits, so we already had a relationship. If we have any problems, we know we can count on Neil to take care of us.”
Growing with SW Manitoba
As the company moves forward, it continues to look for opportunities to grow the business, whether that means additional pits or new applications for its rock products.
“We definitely want to continue growing — that’s the only way to remain a healthy business,” asserted Denis. “Southwestern Manitoba is growing all the time and we want to grow right along with it.”
“We’re optimistic about what lies ahead,” added Gilles. “We believe the quality of our product is second-to-none and we work very hard to keep our customers happy with our service. As long as we continue to do those things and our area continues to grow, we feel confident that we’ll be able to grow right along with it.”