Local business completes major merger
When he purchased Rocky Mountain Diesel Ltd. from his father in 2008, hot on the heels of a devastating international economic crash, Chris Thom would not have dreamed he’d end up where he is.
The Cranbrook resident April 18 finalized a deal with Randy Dunlop, president of Dunlop Western Star Truck Centre out of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat that will see a merger of the Alberta company with Thom’s Rocky Mountain Diesel Ltd. & Collision Repair Centre.
It is a merger of two great family-owned businesses that are well entrenched in the communities and regions they serve was the perfect fit, Thom said.
The merger is “a testament to the success of both Rocky Mountain Diesel & Dunlop Western Star. It is a testament to all of our staff and customer base who have supported us over the years.”
“It’s a pretty nice feeling” to conclude the merger process, Thom said, adding, “It’s been a long process. We’ve all been working at it off the sides of our desks” while still running our businesses he said of the merger deal with Dunlop Western Star.
The idea developed over a two-year period, beginning with Thom asking Dunlop about his retirement plans at an event in Lethbridge “and here we are,” he laughed.
Today about 30 employees, including 13 heavy duty mechanics work at RMD. The merger will see the company employee base grow to 98 employees, including at the two Alberta city stores.
The new company will be called Dunlop Truck Centres, with Thom serving as president.
“We’ll build on the Dunlop name,” Thom said, explaining they will cover “a much bigger market” than the Rockies and the good reputation of the Dunlop name is known farther afield than Rocky Mountain Diesel.
The newly merged company, which is the second largest Western Star dealer in Canada, will cover an area from Brooks, Alberta south to the U.S. border, into B.C. west to Grand Forks.
“It’s a huge area,” Thom said, noting it takes over nine hours to drive across the territory.
Dunlop, with 45 years in the business, has also agreed to stay on in sales for three years.
“He loves to sell trucks,” Thom said, adding the link of experience he will bring will be greatly beneficial.
“This is a natural progression of any business – it’s a fresh start, a new beginning,” he said, adding he is looking forward to working with the new staff members.
“They’re a great group of people. We are going to have a lot of fun!”
“We have a lot of history together, and my family has a long history in Lethbridge, too,” he said, noting his father was born and raised there and family still resides in Southern Alberta.
In 1999, Dunlop started a heavy truck dealership known today as Dunlop Western Star Truck Centre, which has become the second largest Western Star dealer in Canada and the fifth largest in North America. Western Star, based out of Portland, Oregon, sells Daimler products (pictured).
In 2014, the Dunlop Group of Companies was presented a Top Employer Award by the Government of Alberta for its strong support of apprenticeship training and in 2017 received the MDA dealer of excellence award.
“Since first opening our doors in 1999, we have developed a business that includes all of the sales and services that our customers look for in their dealership. We offer a variety of Western Star trucks for sale as well as a line-up of top-quality used trucks,” Dunlop explains on the Dunlop Western Star website.
“The Dunlop family has been a recognized name in the Southern Alberta automotive community since opening their first Ford dealership in 1964 in Lethbridge. While we have continued to grow and diversify, we are proud to keep up the traditional family and rural values and ethical business practices that have provided us with so many loyal customers over the years.
“Even after so many decades in the business, we continue to be family owned and operated and are proud to bring our superior sales and support to both our long-term and new customers,” Dunlop relates.
The two Alberta businesses are huge operations: the Medicine Hat location is 23,315 sq. ft. and the Lethbridge location is 50,432 sq. ft.
Rocky Mountain Diesel has been in business 37 years dating back 1981 when Richard and George Thom first opened shop.
When the business was sold to Chris in 2008 it came with 14 employees – with everyone worried about the future thanks to the crash.
“All hell broke loose. It was a very scary time for me,” Thom said.
However, rather than sit back and wait and see, Thom powered forward. In 2009, he invested further in the business, building the body shop adjacent to the 1125 Cobham Road location. It opened in 2010, with seven more employees added to the payroll.
“It’s one of the only facilities of its kind,” Thom said, noting he isn’t sure if there is a similar operation in the province that can handle commercial sized vehicles to small automobiles.
Thom said the home office will remain in Cranbrook, noting he and his wife Oliva are born and raised in the Key City, and his children – Jillienne and Grace – are still in school.
“We’re proud to be from here. It’s where we got our start,” he said.
– Ian Cobb/e-KNOW