Little Giants

Picking up speed: Specialty vehicle manufacturer Tri-Star Industries remains loyal to Yarmouth even as it moves into international markets

Tri-Star Industries in Yarmouth, N.S., started humbly enough as part of a GM car dealership. In the early 1970s, co-owner Keith Condon started converting some of the stock vans into funeral coaches and ambulances. He soon realized he had stumbled onto a niche market with vast international potential and incorporated Tri-Star in 1973. The company developed its engineering skills and acquired qualifications needed to build specialty vehicles. In 1979, Condon attended a vehicle trade show in Iraq and made his first international sale of ambulances.

“He saw the potential beyond Nova Scotia and beyond Canada,” says Colin Murphy, sales manager at Tri-Star.

Condon continued to attend international trade shows and stopped at other countries on the way back, drumming up more business. Tri-Star has now exported specialty vehicles to 43 countries, including Cuba, Panama, Jordan, Turkey, Iceland, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Russia.

Manufacturing ambulances accounts for more than 90 per cent of the business. Tri-Star provides all of Nova Scotia’s ambulances, plus 75 per cent of P.E.I.’s and Newfoundland and Labrador’s ambulances. It has expanded into building mobile medical coaches – mobile hospitals, blood clinics and labs – along with armoured vehicles, buses, hazmat and command units for export around the world.

In developing countries, pre-hospital emergency care is often non-existent, so Tri-Star helps with EMT training, dispatcher infrastructure and fleet management.

It employs between 60 and 70 people, all in Yarmouth, plus a few more at international offices in Central America and Europe.

Tri-Star also contributes locally to the Yarmouth Hospital Foundations via an annual golf tournament and owns the local Junior A team, the Yarmouth Mariners.

Murphy says Tri-Star has traditionally trained local people to do the work, but admits its growth plans will require recruiting external experts. “There are very highly specialized jobs we will have to bring some people in from the outside [to do] – the engineering positions as well as welders and machine operators,” he says. “As we advance in the industry and move forward with technology, we’re going to have to start recruiting [outside of Yarmouth].”

Condon still co-owns Tri-Star with Mitchell Bonnar and they are actively looking to grow the company while keeping it based in Yarmouth. In addition to the core vehicle business, it also has expanded to include several other businesses, such as Tri-Star International Marketing Services, Tri-Star Electronics, Tri-Star/Avid Media, Whelen Canada, EHSolutions International and Crystal Clear Water Services.

Given that Condon spends 40 per cent of his year exploring the Middle East, South America, Asia and the Caribbean for new business, Tri-Star seems to have a long and stable future ahead of it.

By Jon Tattrie

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