It was a humble beginning for Arctic Crane Service Ltd. in the early days. Just two men, two cranes and not a whole lot of business ~ Rob Cloutier
“It was just little,” said Rob Cloutier, one of the founders, who brought his 1979 Link Belt crane to start the company with Rick Carey in 1996.
“We rented a two-bay shop, we didn’t have an office. My wife did the billing and Rick’s wife did the dispatching once in a while,” he says.
Now a director at the company, Cloutier reels off the company’s latest statistics. Today Arctic Crane has over 50 employees and two branches. It serves a huge area that includes Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Saskatchewan. They own 21 cranes ranging from 35 ton to 270 ton, including two $2 million, 270-ton Liebherr All-Terrain cranes.
“When we started we thought if we ever broke a million dollars a year it would sure be something. Now we’re doing up to $3 million a month,” says Cloutier.
In 1997, Jim Meeres purchased a crane and joined Arctic Crane as an owner operator.
Cloutier, Carey and Meeres originally met in the mid-1980s working for Adam Crane – a company owned by the father of Arctic Crane’s present general manager, Shane Fraser. The relationships at Arctic Crane go back for decades. Jerry Boudreault, Arctic Crane’s account executive of marketing/dispatch, also worked at Adam Crane all those years ago.
Back to 1996 – rig moving was Arctic Crane’s specialty when it started, a field it excels in to this day. Cloutier and Carey already had years’ experience moving drilling rigs across Alberta and British Columbia when they started their company.
“It was our bread and butter.” says Cloutier. “Still is.”
Today Arctic Crane is one of the busiest crane companies in the business. Their success can be traced back to the early days when you’d find three guys working late into the night, fixing a crane together.
“It wasn’t easy back when we started out.”
“We worked 24/7,” says Meeres, who started running cranes in 1990. “We’d work all day and fix crane all night. We couldn’t afford to hire a mechanic so we did everything ourselves. If one guy had an issue with his crane, we’d all get at ‘er to get it running again.”
“It was a lot of hard work. Lots of cold days and nights,” says Carey, who moved to Edson, AB in 2006 to run Arctic Crane’s new branch there.
It was a different time for crane owner/operators. The demand wasn’t nearly as high as today. Owning a crane also meant taking possession of a lot of uncertainty.
“It wasn’t easy back then when we started out,” says Meeres. “The work wasn’t there. We were always saving money, worrying about hard times coming.”
“It wasn’t like it is now,” says Cloutier. “In 1996 there were only about seven or eight cranes in the area. Now there are probably 60 cranes in Grande Prairie.”
Despite the tough market, it’s a time that the company founders look back on with satisfaction. “It was fun,” says Meeres. “There was a lot of respect for us and the work we did moving drilling rigs.”
“You were on your own,” says Carey. “No one to answer to but yourself.”
In 1999, they built a 12,000 sq. ft. facility in Clairmont. “We did everything ourselves, everything we possibly could, short of actually building the shop,” says Meeres. It gave them space to start expanding their fleet, which they began to do, slowly but surely. They bought their first additional crane in 2000.
Carey’s son Shawn joined the company in 2002 and today is one of the company’s best crane operators.
As the years passed, the economy of the Grande Prairie area started heating up and new technologies led to greater demand for crane services. The small Arctic Crane team breathed a sigh of relief.
“It grew slowly,” says Cloutier. “We just watched the economy and made sure never to go in over our heads with too much debt. We had no real financing, no big money people, it was just us.”
By 2005, they were up to nine cranes. In 2006, the company expanded into Edson, AB. Today it has 10 employees and a full-service maintenance shop. “Business has been great in Edson,” says Cloutier.
With the business starting to boom, Arctic Crane purchased its first all-terrain crane in 2007 – a 120-ton Grove All Terrain Crane. It was the largest crane based in Grande Prairie at the time, giving the company a serious advantage over its competitors. It was also in 2007 that Arctic Crane started supplying cranes for well completions work, coil tubing and wireline – catapulting the company into a period of great growth and expansion.
The Grove All Terrain was a big crane, but it wasn’t long before the company had ordered a much bigger one. In 2011, Arctic Crane ordered a nearly $2 million crane – a 270 Ton All Terrain Crane from German manufacturer Liebherr. A big expenditure for the company, it was so successful they ordered another one months later.
“It seems like the bigger you buy, the more demand there is for it,” says Boudreault. “By the time we got the 270 ton, we already had too much work for it.”
The company built a state-of-the-art Crane House in Grande Prairie’s McRae North Industrial Park in 2012 to accommodate its growing fleet and team of employees. Arctic Crane’s growth has already gone far beyond what the original owners imagined in 1996.
“I think we’ve accomplished our goals, and even surpassed them,” says Meeres. “We thought we’d be owner/operators our whole lives, running crane, and we were happy with what we were doing. But ultimately you can’t be everywhere, you have to start hiring people.”
“We’re all humble people, we still drive old pickups, we don’t showboat”
All these years later, they still maintain the same work ethic as they did when they used to work wrenching cranes through the freezing nights together. There’s nothing they can’t tackle. “No job is too small or too complex for Arctic Crane,” says Fraser. It’s what keeps Arctic Crane’s fundamental integrity.
“We’re all humble people, we still drive old pickups, we don’t showboat,” says Meeres. “We still work with our employees all the time. Any issue that they’ll ever have, it’s happened to us. They know they can call any one of us anytime.”
It’s one of the factors that keeps their clients coming back – the team running Arctic Crane have decades upon decades of experience. They’ve seen it all.
“Without question our company has the most experienced staff in the crane rental industry in Central and Northern Alberta and BC,” says Fraser. “Many of our operators and management personnel have between 20 and 35 years’ experience in our field.”
The company continues to evolve. In November 2014 Arctic Crane Service became a private shareholder company made up of the original ownership Carey, Cloutier and several other key personnel with the company.
“It feels good,” says Carey, about the progress the company has made over the years. “I’m proud of the way it’s all turned out. And it’s not over yet.”