When Ron Comfort started his mobile welding business during the 1970s—largely due to popular demand—he couldn’t likely have foreseen the way it would grow and evolve over the years.
Now, after more than four decades in the business, he has retired, with ownership of the business in the hands of three long-term employees. The ownership change was in the works since 1995, when he initiated a program allowing senior workers to accumulate shares in the business. It was a stroke of genius that small business owners might want to consider.
“He was basically working evenings by request,” said Gerry Storm, who has now assumed ownership of the business, along with Gary Sabo and Ian Ross, as he reminisced about Comfort’s early years.
Comfort’s career started while he was still a teenager. He learned his trade by working with Bill Irvine for two years. At 17 he was working as a millwright and welder at Crestbrook Forest Industries sawmill in downtown Creston (the site is now home to Extra Foods and Millennium Park) when he opened a small shop. In 1970 he purchased a portable welding unit and for the next five years he spent much of his spare time in the bush, working on logging machinery. He worked on evenings and weekends out of a garage on his home property from 1975-81, then moved to Godfrey Vigne’s shop on Valleyview Road. Construction on the current Collis Road site began in 1986.
“Mom (Jo Comfort) and dad started the business and for 10 years mom did the books,” said Ron’s daughter, Brooke Douma.
“We didn’t see a lot of dad when we were young,” Brooke’s sister, Brandy Dyer, added. “He was pretty much a workaholic.”
With the new Comfort Welding and Machine Shop business up and running, a steady stream of logging trucks rolled through for repairs.
Retail sales just seemed to happen, Sabo recalled.
“Whatever people needed, he’d buy and keep in stock. If a trucker asked, ‘Why don’t you sell gloves here?’ Ron started stocking gloves.”
“When dad bought an RV he started stocking toilet paper in the shop so he wouldn’t forget to buy it for the next trip. Whatever he needed in the RV he began to stock, because he knew others would need it, too. He was a risk taker,” Brooke said. “He didn’t let anything get by him.”
“He was always smart enough to see the next big thing,” Storm said.
For years, Comfort Welding had a fuel truck and delivered fuel to farmers and loggers, and the business has never stopped changing, adapting with the economy and new demands.
With the future of his business in mind, and a dislike of paying more taxes that he had to, Ron Comfort initiated an employee share program.
“It was back in 1995 that he started selling shares to long-term employees,” Storm said. “He didn’t want to have to be here 24-7, and wanted to start taking time off in the winter.”
As shareholders left, their shares were bought by co-workers.
“Even though he was a workaholic, dad wanted the business to continue on when he wasn’t there, like so he could go to Arizona in the winter. He had been working like a fiend since he quit school in Grade 9 and he wanted to enjoy life more.”
A lack of formal education didn’t present much of a barrier to Comfort. Perhaps it was a motivator, said Storm.
“He is super smart.”
“He can fabricate anything,” Brandy said. “I’ll just say, ‘Oh, dad, look at this,’ and he can just figure it out.”
He also had a good sense in reading people. Storm’s brother, Kevin, was working at Comfort Welding in the 1980s and Gerry was driving for the highways department.
“I was in the shop one night working with Kevin and Ron walked by, looked at what we were doing, and asked me if I wanted a job. ‘I’m not a welder,’ I said. And Ron said, ‘Well, Kevin’s a good one—you should be, too.’”
Even after Comfort began cutting back on the number of days in his workweek, the hours were long.
“He still worked 10-12 hours a day—that was part-time for him, ”Brandy said. “He has always loved the sound of rain. Once I asked him why, and he said ‘It always meant I didn’t have to go out into the bush and work.’ He still loves that sound.”
Comfort retired last winter, and still drops into the shop for a weekly visit, always pointing out that he pays for whatever he leaves with.
The business continues to change and re-invent itself. A few years ago Comfort Welding purchased Kokanee Cycle, adding a Yamaha dealership to the business, along with Husqvarna and Stihl equipment lines. It purchased the inventory of Creston Outdoor Power, and hired the owner, Denny Toews, and his son, Brent to the payroll.
With 15 employees, and the combined experience and expertise of Storm, Sabo and Ross at the helm, Comfort Welding and Machine Shop is as strong as ever, and always looking ahead for the next new opportunity. It’s a tribute to the man who started it all.