This week I got to chat with my long time friend Tara Oconnell -Marketing Manager at Waycon Manufacturing 

If you have never heard about Waycon before, they have been in business in Penticton since 1987 manufacturing equipment for the logging, mining, food processsing industry and more.  They are a very well known company in many industries and won the 2019 Business Excellence Award for Innovation.  Tara’s father John Oconnell co-founded the business after he immigrated to Canada from Ireland.

Tara and I met when we were around six years old at a dance class at the Cannery – and well dance didn’t work out for either of us, but we have maintained a long distance friendship until we both recently found ourselves back in Penticton.

When I started the coffee business Tara immediately bought into my sales pitch and switched over to buy coffee for her office from Seis Cielo Coffee Roasters.  Tara also got the Top Guns at Waycon to help me get Tina Toper the Coffee Roaster delivered and manouvered into the 166 location when we first opened in 2018.

I was interested to talk to Tara about the history of Waycon and her job that includes attracting new families to Penticton.

 

 

 

Thanks for chatting with me today Tara, I just was thinking we could talk about Waycon and sort of the history of the business in Penticton and also how you feel about coming back to live here after being abroad so long.   So really to start how long has Waycon been in business for in Penticton?

Since 1987,

Your Dad came from Ireland like around that time.

(Pause)

Sorry,  having a sip of wine. My apologies. So what happened was in the late 70s, John O’Connell, and Mick McNicholas basically met a man at the pub.  They had just finished their Millwright apprenticeship, in Galway, Ireland. The man at the pub told them that they needed to get out of Ireland as soon as possible to go abroad and make money. And the two of them, they were a few beers deep, and that deal was made that very night, they were going to leave.  And they may have woken up with the hangover the next day, but they woke up with the decision they were leaving Ireland. They were leaving Ireland to set a new life for themselves and they had applied for a couple countries and Canada was the first country to respond to them with a work visa pretty much immediately. Within that month, they were off on a plane.

Did your dad go straight to Penticton or how did Waycon end up here?

It was like the late 70s and my mom saw off the plane so she told me that Mick and my dad had one month to celebrate before they got on that plane – legless. And so yeah, so they arrived in Vancouver with not much money in their back pockets. They had been good enough to spend their fair wage on pints of Guinness, so they immediately went and got themselves a job in Vancouver, and I think they bought themselves a very shitty car to get around there.  That that would be their story to tell you but I’ll come in, I think it barely made them to work.  So it was a funny state of affairs, but they found accommodation in Vancouver of course above an Irish pub downtown, because before they left Galway, they were living above a bar there too and they needed to stick to their roots. And so they, they kind of I don’t know what job they had when they first arrived  but there was this guy recruiting people to go up to Fort Nelson.  Anyways, he put John and Mick’s name forward and sure as shit, they suddenly found themselves in Fort Nelson.

And that is when your mom showed up?

Yeah, because my mom was always in Galway and of course they had already met each other and there was letters back and forth between them. They were in love and funnily enough, my mother had always dreamt of coming to Canada. She always dreamt of coming to Canada and even had visions of British Columbia, she just felt like that was a place that she belonged, and all of a sudden, man that she had fell in love with was there. So the two of them had always stayed in contact and they had agreed after their letters  that my dad would fly her out. A year later she ended up in Fort Nelson- imagine my mom out there with you know a big hat and there is zero fashion in the small town. But nonetheless, she really was in love with the idea about being in British Columbia and Canada and of course, being with my father. He was working for this big company, making his way up and yeah, they were pretty well set in their trades up there, doing some challenging projects. And, yeah, it was quite the community up there by the sounds of things,  I can only just remember it from a young age.

Your sister Sharma was born there as well I just realized.

Yeah it was just us and it was a really good time.  Everyone that went up there went to work. And a lot of people’s livelihoods were taken care of. Everyone in the community was there to prosper, make money and work. And it was also like a lot of young families that were happening to so there was quite exciting times.  I am very proud to be from Fort Nelson.

So why Penticton?

Oh, my dad met one of his co workers, Dave Adaway. And you know the con in Waycon that is O’Connell my dad, and then the Way that is from Dave Adaway.. So the two of them got together and they had a concept of a new product that they wanted to build. My father always said to me he just always wanted to work for himself. That was his dream. And anyway they wanted to get the f### away from all the bugs in Fort Nelson.

So as a family we decided this is the way we were going to go and we got the camper van and we filled it with all our belongings and went down to the Okanagan, where Dave Adaway had some family. And then my dad found a spot. And same with Dave, and it was cheap rent. If you ask them that’s where he will honestly tell you that it was just cheap rent. And that’s where I suppose we got started.  Penticton was really cheap rent, and it was perfect for what the needs were.

So back at the beginning, what was Waycon first manufacturing?

One of the first jobs they had, he would tell the story better, but they did lots of different stuff, like local stuff, but one of the first jobs they had was for Toyota. And they were building these parts for the wheels. And he knew that the quality control team were going to come down and make sure that they could produce these parts. But truth be told, he did not have the machine to make those parts. But he sort of did have the machine, but he didn’t have it fully ready. So himself and a machinist, I think his name was John too, they spent, I think 48 hours and they made an invention and with the machine that they already had and added another piece to it in order to make it work. And pretty much the first test run was when this quality control team came down from Japan. And it was funny because one of the Japanese guys was looking at it and when they turned it on a big blob of oil landed on his cheek.   Yeah, my dad could tell the story better, but I think it’s really impressive because I can’t deny the fact that it was first and foremost last minute success but he had an absolute belief in his ability you have to admire that.

How many different industries has Waycon done work in. what are all the things like you’ve kind of focused on over the years.

Waycon works for many industries, several.  Mostly logging would be our bread and butter but we branch out to lots of different areas. So mining would be another area of ours and construction. We do a lot of fruit processing equipment, specialty equipment, government projects, renewable energy is a new sector that we’re definitely moving into. Pretty much you name it we can build it.  We’re well positioned in the market as a built printer manufacturer so we can truly take any concept and run it through full manufacturing to get you a completed product. And we ship mostly in North America but truly anywhere in the world we’ve shipped to Argentina, parts of Europe, Australia so we’re quite varied in terms of where we can go but the best part about it is we truly are a one stop shop.   So over the years from that one rental unit that you can imagine where we first started now it’s grown to be a complete one stop shop where we can really take project and run with it from the engineering support or maybe the prototype stage, engineering support and budget management whatever our client needs. And that’s all the way through – from raw plate coming in we have plasma and waterjet cutters, manual or CNC machining forms up to 500 tons and of course we weld fabricate sandblast paint assemble and do testing in house.  We partner with other types of companies, whether it is refrigeration or electrical automation for example and then we can test them house and ship all around the world.

How many years have you been back working for Waycon.

Six years I have been back.

I know since you have been back Waycon has had some big projects in the fruit industry. 

Yeah, we’ve created our own product line in the cherry processing industry. We also have an absolute stainless steel department dedicated to anything stainless so we’ll do catwalks, platforms, you name it, so anyone that is in need of a new plant or revamp, we can come in and we can do custom stainless steel work.

Do you think that’s something that keeps you guys moving all the time is your ability to be really flexible between industry and then just jumping into any manufacturing job in any sector?

Yeah, absolutely, that’s one of our biggest advantages.  It’s not necessarily the industry we work for it’s about our capabilities, that we can offer to serve all industries.  So for us, we want to maintain our diversity.

I know one big part of your job has been recruiting the right talent and so how does having your business in Penticton help with this?  Has it been been a challenge to get people to want to move to Penticton? Or do you think that’s one of the benefits of working for your company.

I’m a naturally optimistic person so I do believe where we live will always pull people in, but the reality is that you’re not pulling in one person, you’re you have to consider the whole family.  And, you know, that is a challenge, whereas we may be able to offer good employment for, say, the husband or the wife, but locally there might not be as much opportunity for that other partner.

Just because Penticton is a comparably small city because your competition or the companies you compete with, they would be located maybe in bigger centers?

Yeah, we’re competing against Vancouver, or cities in Alberta.  In general, in terms of the local talent because our skilled workers are well, very skilled you’ve got to be a very well skilled trades person, by all means there’s a lot of opportunity for those type of workers, other places in all other cities.

So you moved back to Penticton as a young adult after living away for quite a while. What was it like for you?

Honestly, I was quite enthralled in my line of work and of course, it’s a family business as well so I’m going to be really stitched into that. So I certainly was never bored. but yeah, of course, I think, you know, without a place you’re always going to have this bit of a learning curve when you move. But in general, I have to say that just the landscape and what Penticton has to offer, it is pretty endless. So I have to say that I just absolutely love this place. And of course I had some old friends move back from Honduras and such.  But in general, I was content coming back.

And in the six years, you’ve been back, do you feel like there’s a lot of growth and change in the city?

I would say so. I think well, rent has gone up big time.  For instance, now at Waycon we’re recruiting some people from Edmonton. And at this moment in time rentals are not doing great in other cities, but everything’s increasing here. And, a big change locally here is how expensive property is.  But in the town itself, there’s more happening you can just see it visually more than anything, there’s more investments in the downtown, which is great to see new social hubs happening here.

Yes, kind of shitty the Coronavirus putting an end to our socializing but when I first got back it was nice to be downtown, lots of things I could do and it felt like there was a real community, not just events in the summer but there was a lot of interesting people doing interesting things.  I still think I’m young and irresponsible but you know it was fun we had a few fun weekends.

Yeah, the Coronavirus is no joke, it is definitely changing our landscape and probably more over the next few months ahead of us.  But in general I feel very content where we live in comparison to other parts of Canada or parts of the world particularly.

So when you go after new talent it’s easy for you to promote Penticton as a place to live.

I do because I feel like the beauty sells itself, we got two lakes, we’re nestled in between mountains and literally 40 minutes’ drive you’re off the ski hill.  Sometimes you could be snowboarding or snowshoeing and you come down here and you could be in the lake. So the activities here are endless and yeah, I feel like the location really sells itself.  I do think it is important that we keep industry here. I know Penticton is a beautiful tourism city, but it’s so important to maintain other industries and that is what is lively here in Penticton.  Actually the talent we have locally here is off the charts.  Waycon is very much reliant on lots of local businesses to maintain our business so I feel like Penticton is a bit of a secret gem.  I personally feel very grateful for the fact that Waycon happens to be in the community here and making an impact as well.

You guys just did the Sicamous smoke stack job, didn’t you?

Yeah, I was super proud of that – It’s good to know we can take clients to Salty’s and point.

That is going to come in handy… So what’s your favorite part of working with your dad?

Ah, well, he’s very intelligent. And but also, he’s very funny and I have to say, I just love the dynamics. I love working with him. He’s a humble man with a lot of talent. But I think my favorite part about working with him is when I have an idea, or no matter who the idea comes from actually, whether it comes from one of our guys, whether they’re running a machine or on the floor, or they’re coming from engineering or wherever it might be, but if it’s a good idea, he is going to support it and make it happen.

That is a really a nice observation. I could definitely say that my friendship with you, you are always the person I like to go to when I have an idea, probably because you like to talk it out and give some truth one way or the other.

Ideas are the seed for everything and I believe that in order to make something happen, you have to be open to experiment.

Yeah. That is true, I think your Dad, well he has this way of being fearless.

Yes you got to take a risk. That is one of the things I admire most about him is the fact that he is so fearless.  Other people would just run for the hills, whereas he absolutely walks towards it. And I love that. Like I said, anyone that will have an idea, if it has logic, and there’s substance to it, an opportunity to turn into something viable he will take it on genuinely with a will to make it happen.

When I came back to town and I started this coffee thing I was totally out of my comfort zone. It was really nice to have you here to talk to you. And it was really nice when you were like, “Alright, well, we’ll be your first client”, You know?

Well we love being your client but the only concern about your gorgeous coffee is that it is so strong. When we first introduced it to the office, I was thinking we have to create a safety policy because it’s so strong.

It is really caffeinated, definitely, I think that’s one of the things of people aren’t really used to is having fresh coffee like that.

Well we’ve adjusted to it and honestly, coffee is a very important commodity in our world.  God forbid we are out coffee that’s actually a dangerous scenario to be in, you’ve got lots of angry people and they’re not even productive.

So really the coffee shop is helping Penticton Industry

I would say it’s a win win scenario –   freshly roasted coffee and we know that it’s sourced straight from the farmers in Honduras that you’re dealing with. We know that we’re getting a product that’s coming with absolutely love delivered straight to us locally at a very, very fair price. So with all that said and done, it’s like an absolute no brainer. We’re supporting not only local business we’re supporting the farmers all the way down in Honduras making sure they’re getting a fair paycheck, and we are getting good quality and like I said at the end of the day, your selling good coffee and it makes people real productive.

And you’re really good at sales.

Well I do a bit of that too.

That is another part of the whole supporting local thing, the idea we have to support the type of community we want to live in.  In order to be a place where it’s attractive for new talent or the best talent, it really is a community effort to make it attractive or to get new families to want to live here and that includes supporting restaurants and the coffee shops and the bars and the activities.  I guess what I am saying is, that if you don’t have local options, you know, you can get a Starbucks anywhere, right? But what makes a community unique are also part of what makes a place more liveable?

Absolutely.I feel very proud about living in the community here.   I always describe Penticton as a secret gem.  The quality of the food in the city is off the charts the quality of our coffee shops and beer, and wine…

Beer, wine and gin!

Yes, yes. Now we have many distilleries locally, we have so many gorgeous havens that are these gold nuggets. They are like kind of secret.  We shouldn’t be selfish towards them – we have to share them with rest of the world. But I mean at a secret level, I’m like let’s keep all these things to ourselves.

The tourism industry is one thing, but other industry in Penticton is important, the coffee shop as really relied on local support.

We have tourism primarily in the summer months so the remainder of the year we have to consider and we need to support local and we have so many gorgeous gems. Whether it be in coffee or wine brewery or industry, But we have so many other levels of industry in Penticton and it’s just something that sort of seems under our radar, whereas we’re known for tourism, but the truth is, we actually have more happening here.

Yeah, I have really enjoyed being back, I think Penticton is very enjoyable place to live and it has been a really good place to set up a business.

Yeah, it is definitely now I’m excited to see the new brewery in town, Neighborhood popping its head up.

I’m excited to be able to have a drink again.

I am excited for Penticton, overall it has so much to offer. I feel like we should maintain our small town charm, but let’s also have an impact as to what quality we can be delivering both locally and abroad.

It is really important to have local businesses like Waycon, one that has been here 30 plus years touching so many parts of our economy, providing a real backbone – employment for growing families and attracting people that are the top of their trade and just being a consistent part of the community.

 

Thanks again for reading – And Thanks to Waycon for being our first Coffee Customer!

If you are interesting in getting our coffee to your office:

If you are interested to read more about Waycon check out – Profile piece done by Penticton Herald’s Susan McIver 

 

 

 

 

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