In August 1996, Walter Siggelkow was one of six guys bouncing around the idea of a radio remote control systems company over a few beers. Fifteen years later, he's the last man standing as the head of an internationally renowned business that exports across the globe.
"I just felt you could build a better mousetrap," said the HLS HARD-LINE Solutions Inc. president. "The other companies at the time were adapting the technologies from other industries and nobody had actually built a system specifically for mobile equipment in the mining industry, so we built a system very specific to a requirement."
HLS HARD-LINE Solutions Inc. designs, manufactures, installs and services radio remote control systems for mining and other applications. Siggelkow estimated 60 per cent of his business is done in Canada, while the remaining 40 per cent is comprised of exports, to countries like Africa, Peru and Australia. Four years ago, with business booming in Peru, HLS HARD-LINE opened an office there, which helped reduce costs to clients.
The company, based in Dowling, a community in Greater Sudbury, prides itself on meeting clients' needs with turnkey solutions, offering everything from development and installation to training and follow-up servicing.
"We don't try to hide our secrets," Siggelkow said. "This is what we do and we do a really good job. We're open to show the customers how it works and how to repair it themselves."
Innovation and customer service drive the company, and capital is continually reinvested into the business for research and development, either to create innovative new products or improve on existing ones.
HLS HARD-LINE is currently working on technology that allows it to refurbish mine shafts in situ, a world first. Instead of shutting down the mine while the work is done, a team enters the shaft in between shifts. The mine company doesn't have to interrupt production and still completes the required maintenance.
Siggelkow, whose background is in heavy equipment and electronics engineering, is also big on apprenticeship training, doing most of his recruiting from Champlain High School in nearby Chelmsford. He sees apprenticeships as integral to combatting the current shortage of skilled labourers in the North, and many of his employees, all of whom are given opportunities for advancement, are graduates of the co-op program.
Coming through the 2008 recession relatively unscathed, the company is currently experiencing its best year ever, which Siggelkow views as the right time to undergo an expansion. He's looking to add another five people to his roster of 35 employees, and the building itself is getting a makeover.
Its current shop space of 3,400 square feet will nearly triple in size with the addition of 6,600 square feet, which is needed to support the work being done right now. "It's a little bit more than we need, but once you crack ground, you might as well do it," Siggelkow said.
HLS HARD-LINE has been a big beneficiary of international mining trade missions sponsored by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, which have taken Siggelkow around the world.
"It's nice to see some of our tax dollars generated in the North going out there and promoting the North on the international front," Siggelkow said. "I am sure it's brought back work to Canada for our company, so I'm sure it has for other companies that tag along too."
As an added bonus, the trade shows have helped him network with other Canadian companies, generating more business here at home.
With no intention to leave the North, Siggelkow is looking forward to the future, in which he envisions taking innovation to a new level. Not content to "do the same thing over and over again," he said he'll pass the torch to his valued employees to keep the money-making end of the business going, while he concentrates on new territory.
"In business, you can't stop driving," he said. "The day you sit back and say, 'I'm happy where I am,' you'll be out of business in no time. You have to continuously keep going, whether it's innovating and putting new products out, or looking for new ways to find clients."