Q&A with Scott Allen, co-owner of Gregg Distributors Ltd in Spirit River

From left: Scott Allen, Darlene Huber and Ken Howard

Gregg Distributors was founded in Edmonton, Alberta by Roy Gregg, and it’s been 100% Canadian owned right from the start. Today, the company distributes products across Western Canada to the industrial, agricultural, automotive and heavy truck sectors.

In 1957, Edmonton businessman and entrepreneur Roy Gregg began selling industrial cleaning products from the trunk of his car, and later from the family garage. By 1968, Roy moved his operation to a commercial facility as the business began to grow. Gregg Distributors then incorporated as a limited company with four people on staff.

In 1983, Roy’s son, Gary Gregg, took over the company. Shortly thereafter, operations expanded, and the company opened its first branch in Calgary. Since then, Gregg Distributors has grown to include 24 locations: 20 in Alberta, three in British Columbia, and one in Saskatchewan.

The Town of Spirit River hosts one of the Gregg Distributors locations. Co-owner Scott Allen and his team, along with the rest of the Gregg Distributors family, mark the company’s 50th anniversary this year. We sat down with Allen to learn a little bit more about Gregg Distributors.

Q: First of all, does the Gregg family own all the branches and partner with individuals such as yourself for each one?
A: Yes. In the Gregg Distributors’ world every store manager is also an owner – it’s how the franchise system works. So, myself and two others – Ken Howard and Darlene Huber – are majority partners in half of the business. We also have two staff who are junior partners now. The Gregg Corporation owns the other half. With Edmonton main, because it’s a limited partnership, 50% is owned by all the employees, and the other 50% by the Gregg family. I think that’s what makes us so special and what makes us work here. Also, all the small stores are owned by people who are already from the communities. I’m not a manager who was flown in from somewhere else because I was a good manager who crossed all the T’s and dotted all the I’s. I’m here because I live here, and I want to be here. I’m invested as much in this business as I am in this community. And that’s the philosophy of the whole company. That’s a big byline into how we sell shares to our employees – you buy into Greggs. It’s call the BIG Program, which stands for Buy into Greggs – not only into the company, but the culture and philosophy.

In what year was the Spirit River branch established?
The original business was started in 1997, where Cork n’ Grains is located now just east of Esso. This current building was built in the spring of 2006.

Have you been co-owner from the start?
No. I came over here in 1998 as an employee from Fairview because the people tapped to run it were having trouble. And then on September 11, 2001 – I’ll never forget that day for obvious reasons – that’s when the three of us all bought in and became partners.

What made you decide to join the Gregg Distributor partnership team?
I could see the opportunity. I had worked here as an employee, and I could see that there was so much more that the store could do and that I could do with it. I have some family who live here, so I was familiar with the area and had already lived here for a while myself. I just had to do it.

In what ways has Gregg Distributors grown in the time that you have been with them, both the parent company and the Spirit River branch?
When we started in 1998, I think there were only five, or seven, locations. Between then and now, we’ve grown to 24 locations. We were in a 5,000-square-foot little building, and this is 18,000. There were the three of us and one employee. Now, there are eight of us. Our success has been a mirror of the main company’s success. We’ve done nothing but grown and prospered through economic downturns. We have continued to grow through the boom and bust of Alberta.

What is your favourite part of your job? What excites you most?
The never-ending challenges. Never have I gone home and said I didn’t learn something today. Every day here is different – from new products and new techniques to the people, both customers and staff. Managing people has been a huge learning experience for me. I know a lot more about people now than I sure did, say, 10 years ago. You need to learn to enjoy the challenge because if you can’t enjoy it then it would be too much. So, I’ve learned to enjoy the challenges and the growth. I really enjoy the customers too. And I’m not just talking about Spirit River. I’m talking from the BC border to Tangent. I think we have as good a relationship with people from, say, Silver Valley, Eaglesham or Rycroft as we do with Spirit River. We are intrinsically linked with the whole Central Peace.

So, 2018 marks 50 years for Gregg Distributors. How has the company been celebrating this big event?
We have different things happening in our communities, so every location is left up to its own way of celebrating. There’s lots of promotional things going on. Our marketing department is so unique in its outlook. We don’t just print flyers and hand them out. Starting with Canada 150 last year, we ran 50 weeks of Canada flyers. We weren’t selling anything; we were just promoting neat facts about Canada and its people. This year, we did it again to celebrate our 50th with a series of pamphlets on Canadian trivia, such as things that happened in 1968 and what was life like in 1968. Lots of looking back on where we come from and really celebrate the fact that we are still Canadian, and we are still family-owned.

Specifically, for Spirit River, our biggest thing that will be coming up is Chepi Sepe Days. We do a customer appreciation BBQ every year to kick off Chepi Sepe Days on Friday, starting with the lovely young ladies from the Spirit River Regional Academy volleyball team who will be here to cook hamburgers and help with the kid’s games. An old friend is going to be coming to play bluegrass music as well. We’re just going to try and celebrate as best we can in the three short hours.

Where do you expect the business to go in the next 50 years? In what ways do you expect it to grow?
It’s going to change radically in the next 50 years. I don’t think we’ll recognize it. Will we survive in 50 years? I think if we can maintain the fundamentals that we have today, then absolutely because the spirit of what we do will allow us to always adapt and change. But the world will change, although we’ve changed along with it in the past 50. When they started in 1968, they were doing deliveries with a Chevy Vega. And when we started in 1998, we were doing deliveries out of a Jeep Cherokee. Now, we have two full-time delivery trucks on the road. So, we’ll adapt. In the 20 years that I have personally been involved, the things we deal with now – like Internet and cell phones – they completely changed how we are able to interact with and serve the people. So, I don’t know where we’ll be, but I do know it’s going to be very, very different.