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Doing Diesel Differently

Doing Diesel Differently

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Photo by Riverwood Photography

Being in business for 10 years is a huge accomplishment but being in business for the past 10 years is nothing short of miraculous. Between the collapse in oil prices, an economic downturn, COVID-19, disruption of the supply chain and sky-high inflation, the past decade was less than welcoming to new businesses. Despite that, Brandell Diesel Inc. has become a leader in the industry since it started in 2013.

Founder Brandon Mandel moved to Calgary from the Taber area, and he realized that his small-town values and work ethic weren’t things readily found in the field. He knew he could serve the industry better.

“I noticed after being here for a few years that there was a need for a really good common-sense old-school repair shop – the kind your grandpa talks about. That was our reason for starting the company,” says Brandon Mandel, founder and president of BDI.

Brandon and his wife, Marisol, sought counsel from Chris Blundell, who is not only a veteran business owner but also someone Brandon thinks of as a second father. His advice was to do something different, do it well, and success will follow. Chris’s mentorship, guidance and support were impactful, so when they set out to name their company, they blended Brandon’s first name with Chris’s last to create Brandell Diesel. The Mandels honour him further by putting his sage words into practice every day.

“It kind of planted a seed and we made having a different way of doing things our philosophy through everything we’ve done the last 10 years. I think it’s really the only reason we are here today,” Brandon says.

In the early days, Marisol handled office responsibilities while Brandon, his brother Conner and one other mechanic worked in their one-bay shop in the southeast. They grew quickly, adding staff and leasing the adjoining bay to accommodate the ballooning workload. They ultimately moved into a space that better fit the company’s path and BDI settled into their 22,000-square-foot facility conveniently located close to many of its customers in the Foothills Industrial Park. The industry recognized the quality and expertise coming out of the small shop that produced big results, and as word travelled, the company enjoyed more and more repeat and referral business that kept the shop full.

BDI’s compulsion to do things differently never waned and neither did the team’s willingness to be first through any door. When oil prices crashed and the Alberta economy softened, BDI worked the problem differently. The team saw untapped opportunity, not downturn, and pivoted to become the only truck shop business outside specialty crane shops to service truck-mounted cranes. This allows BDI’s clients to come to one place to do service, maintenance and certification on their trucks as well as the cranes and truck mounted forklifts attached to them.

“That really exploded and set us up in the city as the place to go, so much so that other people copied and tried to follow us,” he says.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, there is no substitute for the real thing. Even the crane companies recognized BDI’s unique position in the market. In 2019 Falcon Equipment, a well-established dealer and the main distributor for Palfinger Cranes, invited BDI to become a sub-dealer for southern Alberta. This gave BDI’s clients access to Falcon’s quality services and parts so it could better maintain and repair everything from material handling cranes to truck-mounted forklifts.

“They’ve really been an awesome addition to our diversification of the whole business in the last four or five years,” Brandon says.

BDI clearly isn’t your standard maintenance and repair shop. As the city’s premier diesel specialist, BDI provides clients across sectors with exceptional service for a wide range of diesel and hydraulic equipment. To better serve these clients, it introduced a service truck in 2017 that clients could, with a call to one shop, address emergency issues with any combination of rail, crane or vehicle problems in the field.

In house, BDI services and maintains the gamut of highway, hyrail and vocational trucks along with specialized units like rigs, motorhomes and off-road vehicles. It’s reputation for professionalism and expertise makes BDI the first call for complicated or specialized issues too. The company has a large number of clients who look to have all their small and large fleet work done at BDI, from changing windshield wipers to major engine repairs; even clients who use a competitor for the basic repairs trust only BDI with advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting on their fleets’ specific engine, hydraulic or electronic work.
The company doesn’t stop at servicing large vehicles. It also accommodates the smaller one-ton and three-quarter ton diesel trucks in its six automotive bays. BDI has a shop full of expert technicians to handle anything ranging from services and certifications to engine or electrical system repairs on large and small projects to sophisticated diagnostics and troubleshooting to get fleets back on the road. The technicians also have expertise servicing hydraulic equipment including cranes, truck-mounted forklifts and electric tailgates.

In and out of the shop, the innovative team is always looking for ways to support expansion, so they again did something none of the competition in after-market repairs were doing. After six years leasing the facility, the Mandels jumped at the opportunity to buy the shop in 2019. They completely gutted it and built it back to meet their specific needs. This included converting part of the shop into a machine shop to do specialized hydraulic machining. The shop can redesign, modify or custom build hydraulic components to provide superior solutions to clients’ challenging projects. This value-added service has proven to be such a huge growth area over the past few years that they decided to quadruple the size of the machine shop to 2,000 square feet to support it. BDI’s efficient and beautiful space both works great for productivity and is shattering the perception of blue-collar companies.

“When you think of a diesel shop you might picture this dark, dirty, stinky, greasy place, but when you walk in to BDI, it could just as easily be a lawyer’s office as a diesel shop. We take a lot of pride in that,” Brandon says.

BDI continues to redefine what a diesel shop is as it perpetually improves and upgrades the space to allow the team to do its job better. The company recently embarked on another expansion that added wash bays and another 10,000 square feet to the facility’s footprint to accommodate more projects as well as the addition of a chassis dynamometer to the shop.

This specialized piece of testing equipment uses fixed roller assemblies to simulate driving in different road conditions to facilitate accurate diagnostics and troubleshooting. If a client complains that a truck shakes and smokes when pulling a heavy load uphill, dynos allow technicians to replicate those conditions, see the symptoms firsthand and fix the problem. This equipment also allows BDI to do a controlled break-in on components to increase the equipment’s life span, determine exact horsepower and torque as well as measure emissions.

While not yet required in Alberta, it won’t be long before fleets have to pass Clean Air Act emissions standards to stay on the road. As one of only three companies with a dyno in Calgary (and the only non-dealership), this will allow BDI to expand into compliance testing and emissions certification in the future.

“We’re going to be able to provide all these services for other competing shops that will bring their projects to us, too” Brandon says. “We’ll be the first aftermarket shop to have a dyno, and that will again set us apart and cement us even further to being the go-to company.”
It’s a go-to company for prospective employees too, and as BDI grows, it becomes more invested in the industry and the people working within it. The team supports apprenticeship programs, promotes the industry with youth programs and at career fairs, and welcomes several R.A.P. students to BDI to help them learn. There’s a strong focus on people as it’s those relationships that have built such a successful company. The old adage that there are no friends in business gets challenged at BDI, as not only is there a work-hard/play-hard philosophy in the office where colleagues are also after-hours buddies, but Brandon and Marisol’s long relationships with clients and others in the industry have also produced lasting friendships.

“We have long-time employees and we’ve become like a close-knit family. We started off so small that you get to really know everybody, so the atmosphere is one of friends and family,” says Marisol Mandel, CFO of BDI. “We try to keep that atmosphere where everybody feels like a person, not a number.”

It’s critical for them to maintain that family vibe to protect the common sense, small-town service upon which BDI was built. It’s a diverse group of hardworking, talented people that drive BDI, and the concept of family is metaphorical as well as literal. Brandon, Marisol and Conner Mandel work together as do a father-and-son team of heavy-duty mechanics in the shop. The 25 dedicated members of the BDI family pride themselves on finding new ways to grow the company while providing unparalleled service to clients. And as Chris Blundell advised, they will always do so as differently as possible.

8010 44St S.E. Calgary T2C 4L2
Tel: 403-271-0101

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