A Saskatchewan Success Story
The S3 group of companies traces its history back to 1966, when Frank and Helen Rempel launched the farm equipment manufacturing business REM Manufacturing Ltd. The team eagerly embraced the innovation sweeping the industry, contributing their own firsts to chaff saving technologies and specializing in seeding/harvesting equipment for research stations around the globe.
In addition to designing and producing proprietary products, the company also provided customized components to other manufacturers.
The current incarnation of the company continues to build on this spirit of innovation, bringing insight and value to the agricultural equipment industry.
S3’s market leading solutions include several key product lines as well as customized components for other manufacturers.
The company’s Custom Wireform Solutions deliver top quality precision forms to manufacturers who are looking for value. “We don’t do war over pricing – we pursue the best solution to a need,” asserts Leann Messer, S3’s Director of Marketing. “In addition to the forms themselves, we are experienced and skilled at sub-assembling and packaging specifically to suit the client’s stage at the receiving end of the shipment.”
S3’s Custom Pneumatic Systems deliver advanced, tailor-made pneumatic technology and expertise. “Our design process and capabilities enable us to drastically reduce expensive R&D and testing phases, getting our client into real test environments within weeks – not months,” says Ms. Messer. “In the field, we hook onto the customer’s system with our unique mobile test unit which evaluates on the fly, so that by the time we leave the field our client knows exactly what’s happening with the current system and what we can do next.”
The Delta Flexible Harrow is a terrain grooming tool with multiple applications. “In an age where equipment is increasingly complex, this simple, modular and customizable mechanical product is trouble free and basic to anyone who deals with land,” Ms. Messer explains. “While we certainly have competitors who look very similar, independent metallurgical examinations have proven that our product is produced from top quality material and with unequalled craftsmanship. We have deliberately stuck to providing a quality that is perhaps exceeding expectations, simply because we love to make a good thing. And because we have also been willing to pull out all the stops when a customer has a last minute and urgent requirement, we have won the reputation of reliability and the long term satisfaction of the best customers in the industry.”
A New Start
In February 2012, S3 ownership passed from the founders to their son-in-law, Bob Sonntag, who had held the role of General Manager for 27 years. Richelle Titemore moved into the General Manager role the following year, and the two leaders soon decided it was time to revamp the company. They recognized that the team had developed a wealth of specialty knowledge over the years, creating new opportunities on which to focus. “Our company went through a pretty big transition a couple of years ago,” Ms. Titemore recalls. “We were going to be very, very specific about the work that we were going to do. We were not going to be everything to everyone; instead we were going to be very good at the very few things we wanted to accomplish.”
Transitioning to more specialized work meant downsizing the company in order to narrow the focus. “We took a very big company and we sold some of its product lines and we pared it down into small business units,” Ms. Titemore explains. Within two years, the company had sold its last REM branded product – the GrainVac – and established five new S3 branded business units out of the original corporation: S3 Delta Harrows, S3 Wireform, S3 Blowers, S3 Enterprises, and S3 Manufacturing.
The new, narrowed focus “allowed us to be very good in the market sectors we chose to participate in,” Ms. Titemore remarks. “We really looked at how to do those well and add value to our customer. Not value like swag or gadgets or knick-knacky stuff, but taking our experience and helping our customers be successful – growing their businesses because that is how we can grow ours. We are continually looking for practical ways to improve our customers’ business like passing on leads and feedback, helping to integrate systems, or to bridge internal gaps. Being small gives us the opportunity to do that and do it well.”
While S3’s business model has changed dramatically, its core values have not. “This is such an important piece of our organization,” says Ms. Titemore. Frank Rempel established these values 50 years ago, as soon as the company opened its doors. “This is how he built his business. Lots of products came and went, lots of people came and went, but the business he was building was built on values. When he looked at transitioning his company to the next generation of owners, it was something that he was very adamant about; we had to have our values, we had to have them written down. In the years before he retired, Frank spent a lot of time and effort training the management team on how to make values-based decisions.”
These values can be summarized in four words: integrity, character, honour, and joy. “Those aren’t just buzz words that we use,” Ms. Titemore insists. “That is actually how we make decisions. And sometimes that has real consequences to the bottom line, where doing the right things for the long term can cost money, can cost resources, but that is the business that we want to be.”
Ms. Messer adds, “Our corporate culture stems from our prairie roots and simple faith. We have identified that a life of joy comes from solid values and requires intentional commitment to acting with integrity, challenging each other to grow in character, and actively honouring the Lord out of gratitude for our lives, our abilities, our work.”
These values can be seen in the company’s operations as well as in the behaviour of individual staff members. “Because of the values base, we have people who are motivated within themselves, people who are driven for excellence,” Ms. Titemore remarks. “We want to be proud of the work that we’ve done and we want to be proud of each other. I just can’t say enough about the teams that we have been building in our organization and the internal motivation that they have to be successful.”
Challenges and Opportunities
Based in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, S3 has close ties to the community and an appreciation for the region. “I don’t think a business like ours could be successful anywhere but Saskatchewan,” Ms. Titemore says. “You have to be hardy to live in this part of the world and be successful. And I think that is where a lot of our employees’ internal drive comes from.” The political climate is also good for business, she adds. “We are blessed with an incredible political environment. Our Government right now in Saskatchewan is excited about industry.” A range of industries thrive throughout the province, from mining and construction to oil & gas and manufacturing. “All of them are really robust, with depth as well as breadth.”
The province has a strong history of manufacturing, particularly with products related to farming. “It is amazing how many world class manufacturers come from Saskatchewan,” Ms. Titemore points out. Among manufacturers specializing in farm equipment, “the best names in the world have roots in Saskatchewan. Companies like Schulte Morris, Case-New Holland, Flexi-Coil, Seed Hawk, Seed Master. It is incredible to be standing shoulder to shoulder with some of these companies. Saskatchewan really has it going on when it comes to doing business and doing it well.”
The salt-of-the-earth, rural lifestyle in Saskatchewan is part of the draw for S3 and neighbouring businesses. “Commutes in Swift Current are no longer than 12 minutes,” says Ms. Messer. “Our community is big enough to have a full range of sports and activities, radio stations, and shopping, but small enough to enjoy the sky, to know your neighbours and ultimately, to really make a difference.”
Not everyone is convinced of Saskatchewan’s charms, however, and finding enough skilled workers can be a challenge. “It is difficult to attract a workforce to our location,” Ms. Titemore admits. “The smaller communities especially find it difficult. The Canadian workforce is not that mobile, and it is a pretty big leap to come to a very small [community].”
As a result, it can be tough for Saskatchewan businesses to find the right talent, especially for companies such as S3 that are committed to maintaining a values-based company culture. “Our biggest challenge is finding the right people,” Ms. Titemore says, “finding skilled people, finding motivated people that fit into our culture. I think that rings true for every position in every one of our companies.”
S3 has met the challenge head on, creating training programs to prepare local workers for manufacturing careers. “Over the last two years we have partnered with our local college, bringing in hands-on classroom training for our welders and for others. We did blueprint reading training; we’ve trained people in office positions how to weld.” Management is committed to giving every employee an opportunity to advance through education. “We offer educational allowances to all our employees,” Ms. Titemore reports. “We have made good use of the Canada-Saskatchewan Job Grant.” The team has eagerly brought newcomers on board who otherwise might not have a chance to break into skilled labour. “Our company was the first in southwest Saskatchewan to bring Filipino immigrants into the workforce. We have had such great fortune brining in some pretty incredible people from other countries.”
S3 is still actively recruiting motivated, skilled workers who will fit into the company culture. “The bottom line is we still need more good people,” Ms. Titemore shares. “We continue to look for people who would consider Swift Current as a good place to live and work. And we continue to work with educational organizations to grow our current staff. And we continue to work with the City of Swift Current to make it a great place to live.”
As S3 continues to move forward, the company depends on its people to carry on its values, as well as to produce market-leading products. “It doesn’t matter how robust your systems are, it is really good people who make good business happen,” Ms. Titemore summarizes. “At S3, we have a core of incredible people who bring common sense and insight into every situation. This is the kind of team we want to grow. This is the kind of business we want to do.”