The difference between Ritchie Bros. and other auction companies was just night and day.
With his brother Brent, Ted Carlson oversees one of the largest aggregate companies in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia: Surrey-based Mainland Sand and Gravel. When their father Laurie purchased the company with his brother Mel Carlson in 1971, it was just "one man, one loader and one pile of sand," says Ted. When the Ritchie brothers opened an auction site just down the road in the late 1970s, Laurie rented out the yard to them for auction-day parking.
Today, Mainland Sand and Gravel employs 100 people full-time, including a couple of third-generation Carlsons. Laurie is still working at the age of 74. "He says he'll retire next year, but he's been retiring ‘next year' for the past 10 years!" laughs Ted.
Ted admits that he and his brother have worked "long and hard" to grow the business, but credits his dad for their success. An accountant by trade, Laurie was also "a visionary and an entrepreneur," says Ted. He knew that Mainland could not rival its more established competitors unless they owned a large waterfront quarry and could barge a wide range of aggregate products at low cost to Vancouver. The Carlsons realized that goal in the mid-1980s when they purchased the Cox Station quarry on the banks of the Fraser River in Abbotsford.
Getting the quarry up and running required a major investment in equipment. The Carlsons turned to Ritchie Bros. auctions in Vancouver and Edmonton to meet their needs. "The difference between Ritchie Bros. and other auction companies was just night and day," says Ted.
"Ritchie Bros. was absolutely straight; every auction was unreserved, as advertised; they were firm, fair and transparent. That hasn't changed in all the years I've been a customer."
The Carlsons have purchased millions of dollars of equipment for their business from Ritchie Bros. auctions since then – including a hopper they bought in 1985 and still use at the Cox Station quarry. They also sell most of their surplus equipment through Ritchie Bros. auctions.
"We have a great level of comfort with Ritchie Bros.," explains Ted. "We know that their advertising capability and worldwide exposure get us fair market value for our equipment. Ritchie Bros. brings in people from everywhere and makes the world seem small."
Ted attributes his loyalty to Ritchie Bros. to something else as well: homegrown pride.
"All of us working in construction in B.C. have a significant feeling of ownership towards Ritchie Bros.," he says. "They started as a small family company and now they're all over the world, the biggest in their industry by far. We take huge pride in the fact that this is the home of Ritchie Bros."
That success, says Ted, comes from two things: a commitment to unreserved auctions – "the real thing" – and the honesty, integrity and personal approach of Ritchie Bros. co-founder Dave Ritchie. "You can't replace a Dave Ritchie but you can remember what makes him unique and try to maintain the culture that he established," says Ted. "I think Ritchie Bros. has been able to do that; they have a tremendous group of good people on staff."
Thanks to Laurie's vision and strong financial background, Mainland Sand and Gravel is well positioned to not only weather the anticipated economic slowdown but to continue growing. But Ted has a Plan B.
"I love what I do but I've always said, if I had to work somewhere else, it would be Ritchie Bros.," he smiles. "It's just such a great company."
Written and published: 2008