Northern Industrial Sales (NIS) is a highly respected supplier of over 120,000 various products to the oil and gas, forestry and mining industries. Its branches extend into some of Canada’s most remote hamlets in places like Yellowknife, Inuvik, and Watson Lake.
With over sixty years of industry experience, it is not hard to see why NIS has become the supplier of choice. It is a proud subsidiary of the NorTerra Group of companies, a Canadian management and investment company. We spoke with Managing Director, Sales & Operations Rob Sasseville about NIS and how it is working to meet the needs of the Nunavut Housing Initiative.
NIS began with headquarters in Whitehorse over sixty-three years ago. Formerly known as Northern Metallic Sales, the company diversified into many sectors including industrial, safety, janitorial, plumbing and heating. It then expanded to serve the Yukon with locations in Dawson City, Watson Lake and even further North to Inuvik, becoming the north’s premier supplier.
“The evolution from the typical hardware-type model grew quickly allowing us to become a single source supplier,” explains Mr. Sasseville. Things changed further during the diamond exploration in the early nineties when NIS expanded its reach into the Northwest Territories by opening a branch in Yellowknife.
NIS has over 120,000 different items in its portfolio of products. “Our core inventory is about 120,000, and part of that expansion had to do with the diamond mines coming into play.”
From typical industrial core products, NIS grew into supplying heavy mining products such as bucket teeth and blades, expanded its welding portfolio to become one of the primary suppliers of welding supplies in the area and then diversified into the automotive sector. “There were not a lot of places where you could pick up an alternator or a starter, so that allowed us access to become part of the Uni-Select Group – an Auto Parts Plus brand,” Mr. Sasseville says.
NIS strategically positioned itself to serve the mining industry by developing long lasting relationships. “The strength of these partnerships is what has made NIS successful to date. We hold a high value in networking and being involved in these partnerships.”
NIS is extremely active and strong in the mining sector. Its roots go back to the early days of servicing projects in the remote Yukon with branches in Dawson, Watson and Whitehorse. It also serves the diamond mine industry in the Northwest Territories from its Yellowknife office, and its reach also extends to Nunavut with various other exploration and mining projects, including a gold mine near Baker Lake and an iron ore mine on east Baffin Island. These are serviced through joint venture affiliates.
During the winter, for a six to eight week period, there are ice roads made over lakes and portages that allow access to the mines. In late fall, NIS began work with the various mines and customers to develop yearly resupply products that will essentially last for the whole year until the following year, when the next ice roads are made. NIS will prepare and load trucks so that when the ice road opens it can take full advantage of those six to eight weeks to ship directly to the mine sites.
“In BC, we are extremely deep in the forestry industry, providing value from a national program perspective. We serve the sawmills and pulp mills as well as the core industrial and safety markets with branches in Prince George, Quesnel and Prince Rupert to name a few.” NIS plays an active role in supplying the construction market and LNG projects in Kitimat, Rupert, and surrounding area.
In 2010, NIS expanded into the oil and gas sector with operations in Fort McKay and, in 2014, with a branch in Grande Prairie. NIS has quickly developed relationships with the major oil sand companies and continues to this day to provide daily requirements of product to support their operations. “Of course, leading the way is our distribution centre located in Edmonton. This is where we inventory the products to support our branch network and provide sales support through direct customer interactions. Replenishment of inventory to the branches is performed on a daily basis.”
The Northwest Territories continue to require housing throughout the region and NIS is involved here as well. The government of Nunavut has committed to pending $700 million over the next few years for affordable housing and is committed to build homes for an increasing population. NIS’ relationship with TimbreMart allows direct access to wholesale building supplies required for the Innuit community and shareholders.
Northern Industrial Sales is part of the NorTerra group of companies. The group is owned by the Inuvialuit Development Corporation (IDC) of Inuvik which represents the Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories.
NorTerra Inc is a collective group of interrelated companies providing complementary products and services. It offers air travel to select communities through Canadian North Airlines, sea and river transport via barge through Northern Transportation Company Ltd., logistics services through Braden-Burry Expediting, and manufacturing of specialized equipment attachments through Weldco-Beales Manufacturing. “This structure of companies allows us to collectively work closely together by supporting the operations and deliverables required to remain competitive.”
Supporting Inuit and Aboriginal groups – NIS is proud to be 100 percent Inuit owned – the NorTerra Group of Companies continues to lead the way by providing employees with challenging and rewarding careers. “That is our mandate. What we really look for are opportunities to develop and hire our Inuit beneficiaries to provide access to development and careers where they may not have had that access being in the remote north.”
The company believes in the importance of inviting its customers and prospective customers to build upon relationships in an open, less intrusive environment. At select branches throughout the year, NIS offers their customer appreciation days with a BBQ, soft drinks and coffee. This allows NIS to reflect and give back not only to its valued clients, but to the community itself. The event offers exciting low prices on all items in stock at the branch and invites manufacturers and suppliers to participate. “They put up their trade fair tents and get engaged with our customers by providing product demonstrations and discussing new products, along with any challenges within the industry. As a gesture of our appreciation, we offer hourly prizes and draws and invite local radio personalities to participate and capture it live on radio,” shares Mr. Sasseville.
What has made the company successful as a one-stop-shop is its ability to procure or outsource just about anything that a customer requires. The team has connections and direct access to different suppliers and manufacturers in each category segment so it can get anything from electronics and appliances to children’s toys and automotive supplies if required.
“There is absolutely nothing that we don’t have a direct access to. It doesn’t mean that we stock it, but we have access to it. When we do large northern re-supply, there are hamlets, way up north, where once a year they need to barge product. This is where NIS comes in, and we can get anything from A to Z, package it, consolidate it and ship it to the communities.”
As for the future, NIS’ goal is to build upon the success it has enjoyed to date while continuing to deliver quality products with quality service at a competitive price in the markets and regions in which it operates. “In twenty years, we see ourselves delivering that continued high level of customer service and supporting the network of valued customers throughout Canada and beyond. The relationships and partnerships that we have cultivated will make NIS a valued supplier to the mining, forestry and oil and gas industries for many years to come.”