Norbec: An SME with moxie to spare

Norbec: An SME with moxie to spare


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Published on 11 December 2018
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Norbec: An SME moxie to spare

Norbec is a Quebec-based company that was founded more than 35 years ago in 1982. It is a leader in Canada’s cold storage industry. Driven by highly diverse expertise, Norbec is also a key player in Quebec’s architectural panel industry. After many challenges along the way, Norbec savoured its greatest success ever: maintaining Quebec ownership of the company.

Developing new expertise

From Tim Hortons to supermarket chains, Norbec is the leader in manufacturing customized walk-in coolers and freezers in Canada, with more than 50% market share. The company is firmly rooted in Canada and is now planning to break into the U.S. market.

But cold storage is the only thing Norbec does. Far from it.

While it remains a lucrative business, the company is determined not to be defined by a single product line. In the past few years, the company has developed highly specific expertise in insulated architectural panels and building envelopes. Whether it’s the Stade Telus at Université Laval in Quebec City or the Grand Quay in Montreal’s Old Port, no challenge is too big for Norbec. Branching out into other fields is part of the change that swept over the company when it was sold two years ago.



Starting up in Quebec and staying there

In 2016, the founders of Norbec decided to sell their company, which required support from a financial institution. “The founders chose Desjardins Capital because they really wanted to keep the company in Quebec,” said Jan Lembregts, the new CEO of Norbec. The founders thought it was important to keep both of the Montérégie plants running. Their vision was in line with Desjardins Capital’s mission. “Money’s money. The difference is wanting to support local businesses,” said Lembregts.

With Desjardins Capital’s support, the transition went smoothly: there is continued growth and hiring is coming along nicely. Norbec has a sound succession plan, so the company can continue to innovate for its clients. “We’re not transforming the business model. Instead, we’re improving our ability to clearly identify the issues, deal with problems and develop tailored solutions. That’s our sweet spot,” said Lembregts.

Growth in the midst of challenges

The Quebec company is reaching a pivotal moment: going from a small business to “something bigger.” With some 250 employees and sustained growth, the company is ready for change. Norbec has employee expertise and significant financial support, so there’s reason to be confident. “We have a wonderful committed team that’s determined to meet challenges ahead,” said Lembregts. By adding new members with new expertise to their team, Norbec is opening the door to other innovations to better meet its clients’ needs.

Despite the recent change in management and the significance of the transition underway for Norbec, one thing’s certain: the company wants to remain true to its roots. “We need to grow but not at any price,” said Lembregts. Dealing with future challenges, entering the U.S. market, promoting teamwork, driving employee engagement and making work enjoyable remain Norbec’s priorities.

Success doesn’t just happen. It’s a team coming together that makes it possible.