Piling Canada

Strong and Steady

Trottier Piling enjoys staying small and dependable
Written by Jim Chliboyko
April 2016

Trottier Piling enjoys staying small and dependable

For Manitoba’s Joey Trottier, construction hasn’t just been his own lifelong trade; it’s more like a family birthright. Trottier, president of Trottier Piling, is a fourth-generation, Winnipeg-based pile driver. He, his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather were all in the business. In fact, his grandfather was even an inventor of a collapsible rig, back in the 1960s.

“My grandpa invented a pile driver,” said Trottier. “I have all the patent papers from the U.S. of the rig. I have one of the rigs here, and that’s what my father started with … We don’t use it; it’s going to become a decoration.”

Sure enough, Trottier eventually sent Piling Canada a scan of blueprints, marked “D. E. Trottier” at the top, entitled Mobile Collapsible Pile Driver, filed on Nov. 23, 1960. There’s also a retro, faded Polaroid affixed to the papers; a photo of the black and tomato-red rig in question sits in a bushy, summery (and probably Floridian) compound, with a pickup truck parked off to the side.

Why Florida?

“My family owned LaSalle River Construction,” said Trottier. “They built bridges in Manitoba, did piling. And then they all moved, including my father, to Plant City, Florida. Then my father came back.”

It was in 1982, after he returned, that Joey’s father Terry started what is today a local (Manitoban) continuation of the family business. It was handed over to Joey in 2004 when his dad retired. Joey maintains the company in a controlled way, preferring to have a small and dependable crew of employees, not expanding too quickly and mostly focusing in on the tasks at hand.

“I have five full-time employees, and then there’s myself,” said Trottier. “And on substantial projects, I hire out trucking firms to haul the product and I’ll hire [companies like] Cam-Arrow Drilling [Editor’s note: Read about Cam-Arrow Drilling in Q3 2014 of Piling Canada]. They will send an operator, a rig and a swamper and we pick up the extra slack that way. So, instead of having a real big employee base, we have a good five or six employees and on large projects, we farm some of it out.”

Staying small and mighty
While Trottier doesn’t necessarily cite the old saying, “small is beautiful,” he seems to enjoy running a quick and mobile team while enjoying all the benefits of being a smaller firm.

“I’ll say the big guys are like the ‘big bears;’ I’m like a fox. When they’re full, I go pick up the scraps,” he said. “It doesn’t take much for a small company to stay busy and stay competitive. I guess the challenges are when the big guys don’t have a lot of work and the price drops. It’s pretty hard to compete with them when they’re hungry. I know a lot of people like to grow, but all the big companies that I talk to say I’m doing something right by staying smaller.”

Trottier, who says his company mostly sticks to Saskatchewan and Manitoba jobs, maintains that his firm doesn’t specialize in any one thing.

“It’s just anything driven,” he said. “Driven timber, pre-cast piles or steel piles, whether they’re pipe or H-piles. The one thing we don’t really get into is the drilling part – cast-in-place piles, caissons, etc.

“We do a fair amount of bridge repairs, small RM bridges, MIT bridges. The problem is as we can do anything, we can’t do a lot of everything. We run one or two crews. Some years we’re driving a lot of timber piles, the next year we’re driving pre-cast piles; one year we might be driving a lot of steel piles. Throw about five or six bridge repairs in the mix, and then it’s year-end.”

One of his more interesting projects recently involved, strangely, carp.

“That’s a neat one, that carp exclusion project was very interesting,” said Trottier. “If you YouTube ‘Delta Marsh Carp Exclusion,’ it’ll actually show you the fish being trapped by that structure. It looks like you can almost walk across it; it’s tens of thousands of fish trying to get through.”

Prairie pride
Trottier also enjoys making Manitoba his home. There’s enough work for him and his crew, and the economy is stable, without swinging up or down too dramatically (what Maclean’s magazine once referred to as the “Manitoba Miracle”).

“Manitoba’s great, it’s very steady,” said Trottier. “We don’t go out to Alberta to chase the oil money. You make more money out there, but is it really worth it in the end? Manitoba’s steady, you make a good living, everybody has a good life and you carry on.”

Trottier also seems to thrive on the construction community locally.

“I think with the general contractors, we want to stick together and work together,” he said. “And even with competitors, you always want to keep your same competitors. I mean, you don’t want somebody else to come play in your kitchen. We all know each other. I think there’s a benefit to sticking with each other.”

Currently, the biggest project on their horizon is physically moving Trottier Piling. The shop is currently located in the industrial section of St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French neighbourhood. Trottier, himself, lives a few minutes south of Winnipeg, out in the countryside, and is moving the business to the same general area.

“Everybody – all the employees – are excited to get out of the city; a lot of our work is out of the city,” he said. “Up until last year, all of our work was out of town. For about three years straight, every job was out of town.

“Maybe that’s all the growing I’m going to do,” said Trottier, referring to the impending move. “Maybe just get a shiny new floor.”

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Category: Profile

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