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Lessons Earned: Make things bigger and better

From a notepad doodle to a high-quality aftermarket semi-truck parts and accessories provider.

The catalyst for Winnipeg’s Shift Products was first spurred in a university lecture hall. It was Shift’s co-founder, David Dyck’s, collegiate doodling of semi trucks that inspired his brother and him to attempt to recreate select parts of those sketches for building a truck part that no one had ever built before. After creating the design and sourcing a manufacturer in the United States, David’s doodles came to life in the form of a custom truck.

In 2007, after attending the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, people had shown enough interest in David’s fenders that he and his brother were persuaded to turn them into a full-fledged business. The next step would be determining if these one-off custom fenders could be produced at scale. David would soon find out that this would be more challenging than originally thought. “We went back and said ‘Okay, can we remake this one-off piece? Can we produce it in any kind of quantity?’ We tried, and it was terrible. We sold a few, but they all broke. So that’s kind of where we got our start.”

Overcoming and learning from early setbacks

These initial setbacks didn’t hinder David, as he regrouped and became determined that if he was going to manufacture these fenders, he was going to do it right. “We decided in December 2008 to start Shift Products,” says David. “We changed our tooling, we invested a bunch of money and built some proper tools and truly started the business.” From there forward, David’s goal was to produce quality semi truck parts that would be lighter and more durable than what was available on the market.

Reflecting back on the company’s growth and early challenges, David believes that entrepreneurs shouldn’t get bogged down in search of early profit margins, as doing so can cause you to lose sight of the values and beliefs that drove you to start in the first place. He also stresses that Canadian entrepreneurs should forgo obsessing over perfecting a product at the expense of actually producing it.

“Get out there and sell it – get it moving and then make changes,” he suggests. “Produce something, and then make it better and then make something else.”

Along with a desire to make a superior product, Shift Products strives to make parts that really work for drivers and the trucking business at large. “If I built a product and my shop guys tell me ‘this is garbage, it’s super hard to install,’ they’re the end user right here, two doors away from me, and they let me know pretty quick,” notes David, who is able to benefit from having access to a test bed of trucks, allowing him to quickly modify his products as needed. With a dedication to quality as a driving force for Shift Products, David and his team have been able to produce semi truck parts that are some of the best in the business and used by major truck manufacturers across North America – not to mention being used by winning trucks in almost every major truck show.

Continuing to innovate and expand his business

Producing carbon fibre fenders has led Shift Products to other innovations in the trucking space, including the AutoSock – a Norwegian product that slips over tires, providing superior traction in snowy conditions. “That stemmed from an issue where our customers couldn’t run tire chains, which is mandated for semi trucks,” remarks David, who says that sales of the easy to install AutoSock now make up about 50 per cent of Shift Product’s business. 

Getting AutoSock to agree to let Shift sell their product was another challenge in its own right, with AutoSock initially concerned by the Winnipeg company’s small size, relative to the large retailers who typically stock the product. AutoSock was persuaded, though, by the enthusiasm and drive Shift Products displayed. “We’ve been their primary importer in Canada for AutoSock, and we’re seeing huge success with this product,” says David, who adds it as another major success the company has achieved since its inception.

Finding a partner in CWB

With steady growth and plans for expanding into new markets with new product lines, having a bank willing to consider Shift Product’s vision has been crucial for David. And he’s found a partner in CWB. David values CWB’s commitment to truly understanding their clients’ businesses, on a financial and personal level. “They’re actually going to come and get to know you and your business and the product that you’re offering,” says David. “I think that’s one of the main things.”

David’s familiarity with CWB began as a child, as he watched his father grow his own business. “[My parents] said CWB was so willing to work with my dad and his vision for what he was after,” says David. “My parents and their business partner switched their banking over to them because of that experience.” This openness to work with ambitious entrepreneurs is what spurred David to select CWB as his own bank. 

He also appreciates the fact that when he walks into a CWB branch, he knows he’s not just a number. “Every time I’ve gone into CWB, someone always says, ‘Hi Dave.’ That’s been huge for me,” says David. As David continues to grow Shift Products, and as the seasonality of the AutoSock sales influence his cash flow, CWB’s capital line of credit has also allowed for stress-free operation. 

CWB works with entrepreneurs throughout every stage of their business. Speak to a CWB advisor today to see how they can help your business grow.