How a Richmond company grew from a one-car garage to becoming a leader in safety and PPE products

(The home office and warehouse facilities of AF Pollution Abatement Systems and shopSafety.ca in Richmond, Ontario. Photo: Google Maps)

Have you heard of AF Pollution Abatement Systems Inc. or  shopSafety.ca located in Richmond, Ontario? Stittsville Central got in touch with Erwin Gerrits the Marketing and Product Development Representative at shopSafety to find out more in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The business provides PPE safety equipment and training seminars on safety measures to various Canadian companies, fire stations, hydro and municipalities. Erwin shared the history behind AF Pollution — of how a local one product, one-car garage company grew into a multi-faceted health and safety business with a reputation of being a leader in the field. Here is Part 1 of the story as Erwin tells it….

Ronald Myers started AF Pollution Abatement Systems Inc. in 1981 based on one product: Oclansorb, a peat-based oil absorbent, mined in Newfoundland. Originally the only Canadian authorized dealer, Ron drove up and down the province of Ontario demonstrating the product to fire departments, municipalities, hydro and car plants. The product was unique in terms of the way it was treated so that it would absorb hydrocarbons, but not water, therefore ideally suited to pick up oil spills on water. At the time, we were renting a small one-car garage unit on Colonnade road and managed to operate a business of bringing and shipping out truckloads of goods.

(AF Pollution Abatement Systems train during this demo of spill clean-up using Oclansorb and Gap Seal. Photo: AF Pollution)

After the first few years, we added 3M as one of our suppliers, which opened the access to other oil absorbents such as booms and pads. From this new line of absorbents, Ron and his son Mike and daughter Joanne, developed one of Canada’s first Oil Spill Kits. They weren’t available at all at the time, and with the Spill Kits came the Spill Response Plans and Management. We would visit a site, recommend the type of spill kits needed, provide them the spill kits and a refill service later based on the frequency of use.

(Emergency showers sold for use when employees, firefighters or hydro crews have been exposed to injurious corrosive materials. Photo: AF Pollution.)

In the early nineties, Hydro linesman and fire departments started asking us if we sold gloves, and so we added a few glove manufacturers to our lineup of goods.

In the mid nineties Ron retired, and Mike and Joanne took over the business as equal partners.

Then, in 1998, the ice storm hit. Hydro One was desperate: the ice storm had downed power lines and transformers everywhere were crashing down and leaking oil. We had many a trip down the 401 in the middle of the night delivering Oclansorb to these sometimes remote sites.

During SARS and H1N1 we expanded our lineup of goods to include safety gear and first aid supplies, lots of barrier gowns and masks.

      

(KN95 masks and pleated disposable masks sold by shopSafety.ca)

   

(Various types of gloves, face shields and hand sanitizer are available on the shopSafety.ca website for sale and reasonably priced)

(This KN95 Particulate Respirator #GB2626-2006 sold by shopSafety.ca is the only KN95 mask that has met the N95 Health Canada standard that is required in Canada.)

Around 2000, I came on board as the shipper/receiver. I had a programming background in computers, and at the time AF Pollution wasn’t on the internet at all. Most orders came in through the fax machine or over the phone. To this day, most of our customers call us with their orders, and a very few still fax them in. I pushed them into getting a domain name and set up our first crummy website and a single email address. Mike and Joanne were still operating with paper files dealing with customers, so I wrote a few database programs and gradually moved the salesmen onto computers.

Gradually, over the years we diversified and are now carrying over 500,000 different products, from spill response products, to material handling & storage, to safety and janitorial products, all available with just-in-time shipping at the touch of a button. It is truly amazing.

While http://afpollution.com was a corporate website, useful, but not helpful getting us sales, I set up shopSafety.ca around 2010, a website dedicated to sales alone and selling to Canadians. First self-hosted, we later moved to the Shopify platform, making it more secure and flexible. The move to Shopify freed me up to spend more time on marketing and product development. We have over 150,000 products for sale on shopSafety.ca.

AF Pollution and shopSafety.ca are located at 3570 Twin Elm Road in Richmond, you can contact them at 1-800-465-7672 or visit their website at the links in the article.


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