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Company History

  Over 50 Years of Flexible Piping Experience

thorburn flex history The company began with the dream of one man, Jack Thorburn. In 1954 he started "Thorburn Tool and Supply" as an industrial supply distributor in the back of an old suit manufacturer's warehouse, on Park Avenue in Montreal. The product mix was borrowed from his experience as a salesman for John Millen (a large automotive and industrial distributor). First year sales were a hard fought $23,700.

Thorburn's brother-in-law, George Moncur, a World War II Black Watch veteran, joined the company as a minority shareholder in 1959. The two men forged a solid, loyal and successful business partnership for the next 29 years, until Moncur retired in 1988.

During the 1960's, an American company, Imperial Eastman of Chicago, Illinois, was looking for an ambitious, aggressive distributor who could open up the eastern Canadian market for a brand new and exciting concept in process tube fittings called "Hi-Seal"™. Thorburn accepted the challenge and this unique opportunity exposed the company to engineering sales of enormous potential. By 1960, with sales exceeding $300,000, the firm was incorporated and changed its name to Thorburn Mill Supply Ltd.

By 1963, thanks to the rapid success associated with the introduction of "HI-Seal"™, the firm was fast becoming a dedicated stocking engineering distributor. As Moncur said, "In those days, the company functioned and felt like a factory branch and we were quite proud of that". The principle markets for the company's products were eastern Canada's pulp and paper, petrochemical processing and support industries.

Thorburn Mill Supply made the big move to the economically charged and fast developing Montreal western Suburb of Pointe-Claire in 1964 and by the end of the 1960's, sales reached the milestone of $1,000,000.

The firm's marketing strategy was unique for a distributor. It involved promoting its products through direct selling techniques to three key areas:

• Capital process projects, consulting engineers and mechanical
• OEM process support industries
• Directly to the process industries' maintenance, purchasing
  and engineering personnel.

During the 1960's and 1970's, this formula made the company the leading process tube fitting and valve distributor in Canada.

In 1976 the company established a local stocking warehouse service center in Chicoutimi, Quebec to provide better sales and service coverage and to protect its customers from local competition in the Lac St. Jean region. This same successful concept was followed in 1980 in Trois-Rivières to cover the St. Maurice and Bécancour region, headed by Normand Milot.

The Gates Rubber Company was looking for the ideal firm to open up the Quebec market for its new line of hydraulic hose and coupling products. Thorburn Mill Supply was chosen for the task, and it immediately launched an aggressive marketing campaign. The introduction was so rapid that by 1980 the company had become the number one hydraulic hose and coupling distributor in Quebec. Now, for the first time, the company was a major factor in two product lines.

In 1977, the firm changed its name to Thorburn Équipment Inc. to provide a consistent corporate identity in both english and french.

By 1980 Thorburn realized that the marketing of fittings, valves, fluid power cylinders and hose products was not a coordinated product mix and would make future growth difficult ; thus, the valve and cylinder business was abandoned.

This bold move, followed by others, provided the company with the ability to start controlling its product marketing, designs and positioning. Once the company started to control its product designs, it began to do some "value added" manufacturing.

After a fallout with Imperial Eastman in 1986, the company took on a new corporate image: that of a flexible piping specialist (designer, manufacturer and supplier of custom engineered elastomeric and metallic hose assemblies, expansion joints and precision machined couplings).

The company cut operation costs to the bone and made strategic investments in employee training, office automation, research and development, quality assurance, state-of-the-art testing and CNC (computer numerical control) machinery to meet the demands of new target markets so that future growth could be achieved.

In 1983 Thorburn's eldest son, Robert, joined the company as field sales manager, followed by Peter in 1985 as the Toronto territory sales representative. In 1985 Jack and Robert Thorburn decided that selling only brand name American products without territorial exclusivity was hindering growth by restricting differentiation and geographical market area. To address the problem, Jack developed Thorburn's first catalogue, "Thorburn Industrial Hoses and Couplings".

In 1989, the company opened its Quebec City sales and service centre, headed by J.P. Mommaerts.

The 1990's brought a devastating recession to the company's principal markets. Sales dropped during the period of 1990 to 1993 by almost 40%, but the loss in sales volume was only half the story. In fact, as Jack Thorburn said, "The company was a beehive of activity". The company cut operation costs to the bone and made strategic investments increased productivity, lowered costs and created new, ultra-high quality flexible piping products.

In 1993 the company launched an export marketing campaign to the aluminium smelting and electrical power generating industries, where the company could enjoy clear differentiated market superiority in a global setting.

Jack Thorburn, having an eye for the future and a desire for the company to outlive him, groomed Robert Thorburn to take over the company, providing continuity, new ideas and energy to take on the challenges ahead. The official transfer of ownership took place in July 1994.

In the last year of his life, at the age of 71 and working full-time, Jack Thorburn had never lost his enthusiasm for the company he started. His valuable contribution during this period was centred on developing export markets for the company's precision machined stainless steel hose couplings and adapters.

On a crisp sunny winter day of February 16, 1995, Jack Thorburn went for an enjoyable walk before lunch. He was in good spirits, chatting with some neighbours along the way and could only have been very content with his life's accomplishments and the state of the company he had started over 40 years before.

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