When husband-and-wife business partners Melanie and Lloyd Antoine launched A.P.E. Maintenance Ltd. in 2008, they immediately met with less-than-welcoming market conditions. The economy, which was tanking all over the country, was pummeling commerce in rural areas like Fort McMurray, Alberta, where the two had lived for 15 years and were trying to put down business roots.
Even though they only operated A.P.E. Maintenance on a part-time basis, Melanie remembers how tough it was to stay positive. Lloyd already worked in the millwright field, and the two wanted to bring the service to their region, where they saw a clear need for such services.
“As a new start-up business, we couldn’t land anything in terms of contracts,” she says. “We rode it out for the next two years, and as easy as most people said it was going to be, it wasn’t. The most difficult time we had was getting clients to believe in us and give us that first opportunity to prove ourselves within the industrial sector.”
As a Millwright service, A.P.E. supplies industrial mechanical work for their clients—equipment maintenance, repair, scheduled shutdowns, and pump alignments, all performed on-site. The company’s specialty, Melanie says, is pump maintenance for tailing pumps and SADG systems, which are frequently used in the industrial sector.
After two years of patience, A.P.E. finally landed its first contract with ConocoPhillips Canada. “When we did get that first client to give us a first chance, we were determined not to let them down,” Melanie recalls. “Small companies such as ourselves need that first commitment from clients, that first chance to prove themselves. It’s the most important part of starting a successful business—and if you can maintain that quality in your business, you can succeed.”
The company’s partnership with ConocoPhillips Canada, which it had waited so long for, proved to be a crucial launching pad for A.P.E. What had started as a part-time service, made up of just the Antoines, grew quickly to a stable company that now employs between five and eight full-time employees. Over the next three years, the company would like to be employing 15 full-time employees.
Melanie credits A.P.E.’s success and loyal client base with its ability to seek solutions on a constant schedule, monitoring its own quality with obsessive diligence. It checks in with its clients regularly to make sure operations are still running smoothly, and to see what can be done to improve service. “We monitor our quality by constantly staying in contact with our clients to give them a chance to provide feedback, which in turn improves us as a whole,” Melanie explains. “A.P.E. Maintenance does not reject any type of feedback, whether it be good or bad. We take all the feedback we receive and turn it into a positive, to improve our services and systems for the clients.”
When A.P.E. found, for instance, that the time it took for third parties to transport A.P.E’s equipment to clients was holding up its service speed, it developed an entirely new expediting branch as a compliment to its millwright work. The freight service enabled the company to take on more projects in the winter months, clearing the way for cargo trips to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, where both Melanie and Lloyd grew up.
Their ability to develop creative solutions for smoother business functions keeps the Antoines confident that A.P.E. can reach its five-year goals. In addition to obtaining more employees, they’d like to take on aboriginal apprenticeships in the region, further bolstering their commitment to the aboriginal community. They’d also like to obtain ISO certification, and build a shop to base their work out of.
Diligence, Melanie says, will continue to be A.P.E.’s key business strategy. “We plan to attain these goals through hard work and consistency, and continue to prove that we are capable of maintaining quality workmanship.”