Thirty Years Perfecting its Craft

Accent Stainless Steel

British Columbia, has, in recent years, built a justifiably impressive reputation as a craft beer and microbrewery enthusiast. The number of microbreweries producing specialist products in the province is enormous and still growing.

Conservative estimates of around 50 microbreweries creating around 266 different beer brands are strong testaments to the dedication and sophistication that comes from this territory. It is little surprise, therefore, that a local business that provides an example of a true modern day success story is somehow tied up with the craft beer industry. Originally set up as a brewing services company 25 years ago, a company which offered consultancy work and guidance, Accent Stainless Steel Manufacturing is now a global player in the brewery manufacturing and maintenance industry.

The company is a truly global player, serving clients in countries as diverse as South America, Australia, and Singapore. However, the company that stands today employs a vastly different model to the manifesto it started out with originally. As the level of expertise and experience grew, the desire to provide genuine quality brought with it a shift in direction.

A tale of two companies

Brad McQuhae is a graduate of Biochemistry and Microbiology from the University of Victoria. He is now a master brewer and has been involved in the design, installation, and commissioning of more than 150 brewery operations since 1984. However, when he set up the company, his experience in the field was less extensive and this had an enormous effect on the type of service that he could offer customers. “I originally set this company up as a brewery services company,” he explains. “A lot of what I did was just consulting work – helping small breweries start up and things like that. I was asked back then by customers of mine where to buy equipment and the type of equipment to get. So just by default I started getting into equipment side of it.”

It was not long after this that Brad discovered that the equipment side of the industry was a much more financially viable direction to take the business. However, at this time, a lack of expertise in the production of this equipment forced Accent Stainless Steel to look externally to fulfill this service. “Initially, what I did was contracting. I would hire a company to build for me. So I would do the design and engineering work and then contract someone to build it. This stuff was really simple, tin pot equipment. It was not fancy or extravagant.”

Nor was it expensive either. While Brad had recognized that providing specialist equipment was definitely a more progressive model than a consultancy role, he soon became frustrated by a lack of quality in the equipment being provided by contractors. This in turn led to the acquisition of Accent Stainless Steel. “There were quality issues. One was I didn’t own the company that was manufacturing for me. So, whenever we had a problem, the customer comes back to me; then I had to go back to the guys who built it and argue with them. My bar has always been very high when it came to quality, but most manufacturers that I dealt with at that time, their quality wasn’t. I ended up buying a company that I was contracted to called Accent Stainless.”

Until that time, Brad had been trading under the name Newlands Systems Inc. On purchasing Accent Stainless, he now had a decision to make regarding these two separate entities. “I bought Accent about twenty years ago,” he shares. “So I found myself with two companies, Newlands and Accent Stainless. What we did here for many years was inter-company build – Accent would build for Newlands and Accent would put the Newlands name on the equipment.” Any ambiguity between the two entities has long since evaporated. “Fast forward to today and I have more or less consolidated the companies. Accent manufactures the brand Newlands, so we have a Newlands Systems brand that is actually built by Accent Stainless.”

Employee led education

The development of Accent Stainless into its position as a quality provider of brewery equipment, while driven by Brad, has also been due to the high quality of product designed and manufactured by the company’s staff. Brad identifies this as a major link in the Accent Stainless chain, and one that has elevated the company to a level he could simply not have reached in the company’s early years on his own. “I have been taught by my employees, really… We ended up with some people who were really top notch. They really know what they are looking at; they are the ones that taught me more than anything else… Over time we ended up working for companies like Labatt’s and Coors, and they have very knowledgeable, smart people that work for them.”

This formative experience, working with a large organisation that demands the best results, has impacted Accent Stainless by enabling growth opportunities. After many years serving customers worldwide from its base in British Columbia, Accent Stainless is now setting up premises in the U.S. “Why are we are setting up in the U.S.? It’s simple: we are busy and have been busy for many years, and there is a strong ‘Buy American’ philosophy with our customers down in the States. We have lost a lot of work because we weren’t American. It had nothing to do with price, quality, or anything like that; they would easily buy from us if we were located in America. The other problem is where we are located, mainland British Columbia – you can’t get more expensive from a manufacturing point of view. Our cost of land here is exceedingly high… Also, I have had a standing order to hire fifteen people. We keep hiring people, but the talent pool is rather shallow in terms of getting the people we need. There are big government projects that are coming down the pipe and other things that are sucking the tradesmen that are here up. What that means is you have a few tradespeople with all these businesses grappling after them and the wages are just spiralling out of control.”

Next stop, the world

Having spent almost thirty years in the business, Brad is all too aware that events outside of his control can ultimately dictate the success of Accent Stainless in years to come. While he accepts that as part of modern business, he refuses to get overly worried by external possibilities. “It just depends on what happens globally. We don’t have any control over that.” However, with this enormous project – a 50,000 square foot building on nine acres of land due to open in the States early next year – the future is looking bright for Accent Stainless.

With this goal already in the company’s sights, Brad sees global expansion as the next logical step for Accent Stainless Steel. “We have a brand and there is nothing stopping us from launching that brand in other parts of the world,” he says. “We were over in India in the fall, we looked at the market over there. We think that five to seven years from now, there is going to be a very healthy market there.”

For more information about Accent Stainless Steel, please visit http://www.accentstainlesssteel.com

August 19, 2017, 2:43 PM EDT

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