Through innovation, LJ Welding has grown from making welding better and faster in Canada’s oil and gas industry to improving the process in many sectors in more than 40 countries around the globe.
The Edmonton-based company develops and manufactures automated and semi-automated welding systems aimed at giving its customers an edge.
“With the use of our products, welding – and overall production – can be sped up by 20 to 50 per cent,” says Ryan Holt, the company’s Chief Operating Officer. “Our systems not only make welding faster, but also make weld quality much higher and reduce the need for re-welds, which are very costly in both time and materials. So our system helps companies stay competitive.”
Since 2006, the company’s revenues have increased more than tenfold and its workforce has grown to 65 employees.
“Welding was just starting to be automated 10 years ago and all our business was local oil and gas,” says Holt. “But as we started to offer our own innovations, pretty soon half our business was in the U.S.”
Expanding into new sectors, ranging from renewable energy to outer space, has bolstered export sales. Today, exports account for the majority of the firm’s revenue with the U.S. being the largest market. The company also has clients in Southeast Asia and South America as well as the Middle East. Among its higher profile jobs LJ Welding helped a client contain the flow of contaminated water from the site of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant following the 2011 tsunami.
In 2013, the company took home an Alberta Export Award.
EDC resources to help you export
“Exporting drives our business right now, but we’ve had that as a vision for a long time – long before the economic downturn in Alberta.”
Having an export strategy and following through on that plan has been crucial to the company’s prosperity. “For us, it was important to focus on exporting even when times were good locally,” says Holt. “It was always a tougher path to travel when the easy path was right here (in Alberta). Now that times have changed, we are better for it.”
LJ Welding utilizes innovative marketing to find new customers around the globe, in particular, targeted marketing in specific regions where large construction projects have been announced, such as current pipeline work in Kazakhstan.
Doing in business with global markets does pose challenges and offers a few lessons learned, including the importance of managing expectations and protecting your reputation. Holt says a project in Egypt is among the examples that stand out.
“The challenges centered on communication issues and scope creep. We ultimately met and exceeded the customer’s expectations, but we took a beating financially,” he explains. “The lesson learned was make sure communication and expectations are managed thoroughly at the outset of any project, especially with export projects that inherently have more variables. But delivering results and high-integrity trump all other factors, as you cannot fix a broken reputation.”
Holt expects the devalued Canadian dollar will help LJ Welding increase market share south of the border. Looking beyond the 49th parallel, the company plans to focus on Mexico and the Middle East, but is continually developing business opportunities on every continent except Antarctica.
“Global is exciting,” Holt says. “Different cultures, industries and ways of doing things keeps it interesting, and has helped us diversify the business. We look at each export project like a new adventure. It’s a matter of respecting other cultures, being patient and being ready for curve balls – every time.”
When asked to summarize the company’s export journey in one word or phrase, Holt doesn’t hesitate. “Worthwhile,” he says. “Despite frequent headaches, it has helped our business power forward despite big swings in the local economy and helped us become respected on the world stage.”