Robert K. Buzzell credits employees, customers and suppliers for helping the Moncton institution mark 100 years in businessBy Kristen Lipscombe
This month features several important milestones for Atlantic Canadian automotive and engine industry staple Bob Buzzell and his family.
On Sept. 20, 2020, his Moncton-based company Robert K. Buzzell Limited will mark the day that the fourth-generation business first opened its doors to customers an impressive 100 years ago. Another milestone for Bob this year, is 45 years of marriage to his wife Paulette. That’s almost as long as Bob has been committed to the family business, where he has worked for more than 50 years!
“From going from a carded system to managing inventory on computers; it was so different back then,” Bob remarked of how he has seen business operations change over more than five decades. “The automotive industry has changed a fair amount also – they’re building better products which don’t break as often, so the parts business has got to get caught up, and now the electric equipment is going to change the market.”
Simply put, Bob said, “if you don’t change with the times, you’re going to be left behind,” which is why Robert K. Buzzell Limited has always managed to stay at the forefront of this ever-changing industry.
Bob followed in the footsteps of his father Leslie Buzzell and his namesake grandfather Robert K Buzzell, who first opened up as an electrical and carburetor repair shop in Moncton, with the business quickly growing into 10 branches throughout Atlantic Canada that distributed automotive parts across the east coast region for several decades.
“It’s definitely a family affair,” Bob told Auto and Trucking Atlantic. “My grandfather started it in 1920.
My father and his brother Robert worked in the business and my brother Howard worked in the business until he decided he wanted to sell to my daughter, Jennifer, who bought his shares out.”
Bob got into the business immediately after graduating high school because he didn’t really know what else he wanted to do for his career; he just knew he “liked working on cars.”
“Like any young kid, I knew that I needed to get a job so that I could buy a car … and I took an interest in the automotive business,” he explained. He’s since taken several commerce and marketing courses but believes “common sense and the interest” are true keys to business success.
Bob, now serves as president, while daughters Jennifer Buzzell, and Lindsay Hart, are the company’s vice-presidents. Jennifer manages inventory control and major product lines while Lindsay leads marketing and sales.
Jennifer received her post-secondary education from Oulton College in Moncton, specializing in business, while Lindsay received a commerce degree in busines administration from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
The business has become a smaller operation over the past several years, with the family making the tough decision to sell the automotive division in January 2013 to concentrate specifically on Atlantic Air Cooled Engines, a division which has been operating since 1935, as the Buzzells considered the future of the industry and what was best for the family overall.
“It’s very male-dominated,” Bob said of the automotive business. “Some of the customers … were very reluctant to deal with women … They’re not all like that but you get some of them, so when I looked at the future I said, ‘Look, if we get out of the automotive business and just focus on our small engine business, we can make a good living doing that.’ “
While Jennifer and Lindsay will eventually take over the family business, and perhaps one day his “four lovely granddaughters,” who range in age from two to 10 years old (girl power!), Bob’s not quite ready to retire just yet. “I’m still having fun,” Bob said, “so we’ll wait and see.”
In the meantime, though, ”we moved into our new building at 254 Horsman Road in September 2013 and began a new chapter in our business,” the Atlantic Air Cooled Engines website reads. The newer location is nestled in Moncton West Industrial Park.
“Our goal is to continue to expand by introducing new and innovative products, as well as to exceed our customers’ expectations in quality, delivery and costs, through continuous improvement and customer interaction.”
As Bob explained further, “we distribute parts for items like generators and snow blowers and lawn mowers … (and) we’re also in the forestry industry, so we sell bars and chains to the people that go into harvesting.”
“We do warehouse some automotive lines,” he added. “We’re a fee warehouse for Dayco Rubber supplies and … Dixie Auto Electric, which are starters and alternators.” “Our distribution covers the four Atlantic provinces and we have a couple of guys that are on the road, full-time travelling, calling on service dealers, checking in on any warranty issues or any outstanding issues that they can look after.”
Bob said that the business went from “about 112 employees down to about 16, so it’s quite a bit smaller operation than what we had but it’s a lot easier (to manage) and still competitive like every other business.” Nevertheless, past employees remain important to the family, with about 75 expected to join current staff at a dinner party in early September to celebrate the 100th anniversary.
“Because of COVID-19, we had to scale it down, but what we’re going to have is basically a cocktail hour, a dinner, we’re going to have a comedian coming in and then we’re just going to have to wind it down,” Bob said. “You’ve got to watch what you’re doing and social distance, so it’s going to be a much smaller party than we anticipated a year ago.” The company has also been open as an essential service since the start of the pandemic. “We sell power generators and Harvester Chain and Bars for the Harvester Industry, so we have to be open.”
“COVID has been different,” Bob admitted. “We’ve had to prepare for it by outfitting our retail counter with plexiglass and hand sanitizers, but as far as sales, we really haven’t been too affected,” Bob said. “Our salespeople are equipped with masks and shields and sanitizers and everything else they need.”
Despite the obstacles of dealing with a global pandemic, this smaller 100th anniversary celebration will no doubt be just as meaningful. “This is a fourth generation family-owned business and there are not very many businesses in Atlantic Canada, and for that matter across Canada that can really say that,” Bob said.
The reasons Robert K. Buzzell Limited has stood the test of time – a full century – is because of the strong sense of business ethics passed on through the generations, Bob believes.
“The success of your business is based on how good your people are,” Bob said. “I always say people buy from people. They don’t buy from a company; they buy from people. If you have the right people, you’ll be successful.”
It’s also vital to treat your customers and clients as you would expect to be treated. “We treat our customers with respect,” Bob said. “We want to understand our customers and get to know them a little bit.” “They’re your bread and butter and you want to make them feel as important as they are.” The same goes for building positive relationships with suppliers. “It’s just like a clock; it all goes around.” For Robert K. Buzzell Limited, that clock has been going ’round for 100 years, with valuing employees, suppliers and customers alike paying off for a business that has certainly stood the test of time. “My grandfather … (and ) my father – he’s been gone for 10 years now – if those guys could see that we’re still going, and we’re still plugging away, and the fourth generation is in there, they’d be pretty proud.”