Curtis Braber’s enthusiasm for power machines is infectious. “I know not everyone finds them sexy, but I’ve done this my whole life, and I get excited about it,” he says. Now the owner of BE Power Equipment, Braber built his first pressure washer at 11 after his dad launched a sideline to complement the family agricultural-equipment business. “I would come in every day after school and build them one at a time with these little tools,” recalls Braber.
Founded in Abbotsford, B.C., by Braber’s father in 1991, BE Power Equipment (then called BE Pressure Supply) started out manufacturing industrial pressure washers but has since expanded to include three more product categories: air compressors, power generators and water pumps. Entirely by coincidence, that product set means they see a lot of activity when a natural disaster like a hurricane hits. “We’re there to help,” says Braber. “It starts with the generator when power is lost, the water pumps are brought in when the storm surge leads to flooding and then the pressure washers come in for the cleanup.”
Those pressure washers still account for half of the company’s production — with a model for every sort of would-be user. Many clients are on the industrial side, doing jobs like cleaning parking garages or washing down oil rigs in Alberta.
BE Power Equipment is one of the last independently owned manufacturers of its kind, which Braber says allows the company a level of flexibility not afforded to its multinational-conglomerate-owned competitors. “We’re nimble, and we can develop products quickly,” he says. “It also means we can adapt quickly to market changes.” Case in point: early in the pandemic, the team was able to convert one of its pressure washers into a mister for spraying an antiviral cleaning solution in settings like factories.
As it turned out, the pandemic was an unexpectedly good time to be in the pressure-washer business, thanks to people spending more time at home and sprucing up their yards. And while that meant sales were great — business is up 30 per cent — it also meant that BE Power Equipment had a responsibility to keep its supply chain intact (it exports to more than 30 countries and manufactures in four) while ensuring the team (300 globally, including 150 in the Abbotsford head office) stayed safe and healthy. That’s where the company’s strong collaborative culture came into play. “We thrive on engagement with each other,” says Braber, adding that the business has many long-term employees. “I may be the owner of the business, but I make it very comfortable to challenge me.”