Home  »  Leaf Hydraulics: A Customer-Centred Approach to Growth

Leaf Hydraulics: A Customer-Centred Approach to Growth

Mar 12, 2024

By: Randy Gaudreau
1,375 words – 7 minutes

“That’s just the way we’ve always done it.”

Even if the quote above isn’t directly attributable to anyone, it’s one that’s commonly echoed by many business owners who are perfectly content sticking to the beaten path set by their industry.

While there’s some merit to the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mindset, as what’s worked in the past can indeed keep things operational and functioning, there’s unquestionably always room for improvement on old processes.

And this leaves the door of opportunity wide open for someone to find a better way to do business.

Logo for Leaf Hydraulics - which is a red half maple leaf on the left, with the words Leaf Hydraulics written in red on two lines to the right. To Alex Fetterly, owner of Leaf Hydraulics Inc., none of this comes as anything new, as almost nine years ago, he started his business with the idea that customers in the industrial service and trades sectors deserved better.

Now, after the delays of the pandemic, and with a little support from Invest Ottawa Business Advisors, Alex is taking his business to the next level, recently opening a second location in Ottawa’s east end at 1183 Newmarket Street – something he explains has been a long time coming since the pandemic hit.

“The second location has been something we’ve been trying to do since 2020,” he said. “We wanted to do it, then it was a COVID thing, and then it was a staff thing, and then it was a both thing. And then it was a money thing.”

“Every time we wanted to pull the trigger; it was just a new thing.”

Waiting for the right idea

The entrance to the east end location of Leaf Hydraulics.

Joining in a virtual call from the new east end location in preparation for the March 4th opening, Alex explained that he’s always had entrepreneurship on his mind – but was always kind of waiting for the right opportunity.

“I always liked the idea of having my own business of some kind, and I had many, many ideas over the years, but no real way to pull them off,” he explained. “And then the job I was at in industrial sales afforded me a lot of opportunity to speak to people in the industry, and I got to see what was lacking.”

It wasn’t long before he started observing a few common complaints about the service customers were experiencing in the industry.

“Everybody had the same thing,” he explained in a virtual call. “Either it’s really expensive, or it’s really poor service. And I thought, well, I can fix at least one of those things.”

According to Alex – the client relationship, or the lack thereof, was at the heart of the gap he identified in the industry. He says, where bonds were once tight between suppliers and customers, now people more often were experiencing a generally apathetic and transactional approach.

“That used to be the way that this industry worked,” he explained. “It was completely based on the guy that you knew, and if they went to a different shop, then the chances are, the customer did too.”

“The newer generation just wanted you to walk in, and walk out with a big bill,” he added. “And they didn’t seem to care too much about anything else – unless you had a really important name on your jacket.”

“Relationships matter. And in these commercial sectors, when a client who is already too busy trying to support their customers and delivering their service has a breakdown, or needs parts, they look to the supplier they can count on to support them with just one phone call.”

– Invest Ottawa Business Advisor Bill McMillan

Leaf Hydraulics Inc. – doing it differently from the start.

With the aim of providing better service for clients, Alex co-founded Leaf Hydraulics Inc. in 2015 to become the Ottawa area’s provider of hydraulic, bulk fluid and pressure wash systems, and the distributor of hydraulic hose fittings and components.

Alex explained that it wasn’t long before putting the emphasis back on customer service and working to forge working relationships with clientele started to get his company noticed.

“That’s what a lot of people find after they start working with us,” he explained. “They realize that there’s there is a little bit of a difference, that we can be relied on and more of like a partner as opposed to simply place that they buy things.”

Another factor in favour of starting the company was the lack of competition in the fluid power industry sector at the time, which Alex explained helped the company get its start—even if it didn’t go quite as expected at first.

“It started out a little bit slower than I would have expected, but I mean overall, we did fine,” he said. “We were 50% growth for like the first three years. And then since then, the percentage has been like high teens, low 20’s every year.”

By the time the company hit its fifth anniversary in 2020, the plan was to celebrate with a big scale party they had planned for clients and the community complete with demonstrations and concessions.

Instead – Alex and the company had to change the game plan to figure out a way to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it turned out the timing wasn’t quite right for celebrations or any plans for expansion – even if he felt the company was ready.

“We thought we were ready around that time, to make that kind of jump of having the second space,” Alex reflected. “But because of just the uncertainties of everything, we decided to stay with our cash and just keep doing our thing.”

Business Advisors and navigating the path forward.

A powerful tear down bench at Leaf Hydraulics - designed and provided by Canadian company Hydraulitechs.

Around that time, Alex connected to Business Advisor Bill McMillan with the Invest Ottawa Entrepreneurship Program through an event for small business owners.

According to Alex – it became pretty apparent that Bill had the industry connections and a wealth of experience that could really help overcome challenges and find a way for the company to make the right decisions in uncertain times.

“He had a lot of industry experience, and he knew a lot of industry people, which I like,” Alex explained. “When you have a guy that actually worked with, you know, a crane company and a landscaping company and a generator company, there’s a little bit more industry knowledge there that comes with that.”

“I like somebody that I feel has the real industry experience to say, yeah, that decision makes sense,” he added. “But then will also say, here are some things that are going to maybe happen when you make that decision, whether they’re good things or bad things or whatever.

“And then it’s like, oh, man, I didn’t think of that thing at all. And he’s also really good for bouncing ideas off of and being a sounding board.”

Bill says that Alex’s observation on the lack of attentive customer service in the industrial service and trades sectors is spot on – and gives Leaf Hydraulics a competitive edge.

“Service businesses (especially in these sectors) can set themselves apart from their competition by focusing on customer service,” he wrote.

“Relationships matter,” he added. “And in these commercial sectors, when a client who is already too busy trying to support their customers and delivering their service has a breakdown, or needs parts, they look to the supplier they can count on to support them with just one phone call.”

Powering through the pandemic towards a second location.

Despite the unpredictable conditions, the company was able to power through the pandemic thanks to the guiding insights and a steady stream of strong contracts.

“COVID year we grew 21%,” Alex explained. “So, should I have probably opened a second location at that time? Most likely. But people didn’t even know if they were even legally allowed to keep the door open.”

And now, with all the uncertainty behind him and the long-awaited second location now open, the company has grown to seven employees and is now generating over $1.25 million in revenue annually.

Alex isn’t sure at this point whether he’ll get a chance to have a grand opening party to make up for the five-year anniversary party that never happened – but he’s excited what the second location means.

“We would expect it to represent a 50% increase in our annual revenue.”

For now, you can catch Alex and Leaf Hydraulics at the Ottawa Valley Farm Show March 12-14 or visit him and the team at the new east location at 1183 Newmarket Street or the original west location at 1980 Merivale Road.

Looking for advice on how to take your business to the next level?  

Through our advisory services, you get tailored guidance from a Business Advisor like Bill who will help address your needs and challenges.

Reach out for more information here.


Invest Ottawa
Invest Ottawa, is Ottawa’s leading economic development agency for fostering the advancement of the region's globally competitive knowledge-based institutions and industries. Invest Ottawa delivers its economic development services through a unique partnership with the City of Ottawa, where the City and Invest Ottawa, through its members set the strategy and manage the programs that move Ottawa’s economy forward. Invest Ottawa is a non-profit, partnership organization that operates on an annual budget that comes from a variety of sources including: municipal, federal and provincial government; membership fees; professional development programs; and private sector contributions.

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