Safe-Tech Training: How Humble Beginnings Led to Great Success
April 21, 2022
In the industrial safety landscape, Safe-Tech Training (“Safe-Tech” or “the Company”) has earned its place as a premier provider in the competitive field of workplace safety training. Their prestigious corporate client list spans every conceivable industry from aerospace to farming, which is no small feat given the Company’s humble beginnings. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Dukoff (President) and Kathy Dukoff (COO) about how Safe-Tech has grown over the past three decades, the impact of being acquired by Lynx, and how the business remains unique and competitive after all this time.
Introducing Safe-Tech Training Inc.
Founded by Dan Dukoff and Kathy Dukoff in 1989, Safe-Tech is a leading provider of industrial and construction safety training with over 1,000 clients across Ontario. Safe-Tech has the distinction of being the training partner of Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, the largest division of Health & Safety Ontario. It is the responsibility of every company to provide safety training to its employees. Safety training has the potential to significantly reduce a myriad of workplace risks and largely mitigate fatalities. As a result, the nature of this industry has created a strong revenue source for Safe-Tech. Ultimately, Safe-Tech’s unique training methods, strong client relationships, and many years of experience have made the Company an attractive acquisition target for Lynx.
From New Start Up to Industry Leader
Prior to establishing Safe-Tech, Dan was a highly experienced lift truck mechanic who became a technical trainer for lift truck technicians. His entry into safety training arose when he was required to lead an impromptu training session for a company that was on the verge of being shut down by Ontario’s Ministry of Labour for safety violations. “I was unprepared and untrained, so I had to wing the whole thing – despite that, it went amazingly well,” commented Dan. “I suggested to my company that we develop a high-level lift truck program with working models and visual training aids to enhance interest and comprehension. They didn’t want to enter the training business, so I decided to venture out on my own. I developed a program, built scaled lift truck models, and registered the business: Safe-Tech Training, Consulting, and Supply which later became Safe-Tech Training Inc.”
Dan’s reputation in the industry and his ability to develop strong partnerships was instrumental in propelling Safe-Tech forward and maintaining a loyal clientele. “In our first week of being open,” began Dan, “our first three clients were Pepsi, Panasonic, and Chep Pallets. I used to repair their forklifts so when I walked in the door, they booked me right away. They’re still our clients today.” As the company quickly began to expand, Kathy left her full-time position in regulatory affairs at a pharmaceutical company to run Safe-Tech’s day-to-day operations and to build the back-end infrastructure. Kathy and Dan credit Safe-Tech’s start-up success to their strong work ethic, creativity, and complementary skillsets.
Meeting & Integrating with Lynx
By 2015, Safe-Tech had been in business for 26 years and during this time, the Company never saw a year without sales growth. Kathy and Dan began investigating if their business might be of interest to buyers. They had meetings with several private equity firms, all of which had very different ideas for Safe-Tech post-acquisition – none of which resonated with Kathy and Dan. Kathy described that “it was of paramount importance to us that our transition plan kept our employees’ jobs secure. Our staff and instructors are the backbone of the Company and we weren’t prepared to jeopardize their jobs with a sweeping takeover in the name of profit.”
The solution appeared in 2016 when Kathy had a chance meeting at a dog park with a business owner who had recently sold to Lynx. “The business model sounded like it was made for us,” shared Dan. “We called and met with Eric Persi (Lynx’s Senior VP of M&A) and other team members who were very intrigued to learn more about Safe-Tech.” The connection was a perfect fit and by June 2018, Safe-Tech was officially acquired by Lynx.
A change in business ownership can be intimidating for employees; fear and hesitation surrounding a shift in company culture and management tend to be common feelings within newly acquired organizations. In the case of Safe-Tech, Kathy shared that “the [company] culture after the acquisition didn’t really change much, it just took a while to gain the trust of our employees that things would remain status quo. Now four years later, I think we have shown that not only have we remained the same company, but that our employees also have the benefit of being part of a larger organization that ultimately provides a sense of security”.
Since being acquired in 2018, Kathy and Dan have had the opportunity to collaborate with many of Lynx’s departments and team members. “Everyone at Lynx has been a pleasure to work with,” commented Kathy. "The support of Lynx’s HR department is invaluable; we were especially grateful for their support during the challenges related to COVID-19. Additionally, our Operations Manager, Rick Bulmann is incredibly helpful to us in making strategic and operational decisions. We now also have the resources of Lynx’s marketing department which has freed up more time for our own personnel to work on other initiatives”.
Growing Pains & Overcoming Challenges
From 1989 to 2007, Safe-Tech operated out of Dan and Kathy’s home offices. Though with a growing administrative team and a dozen instructors in the field, Safe-Tech needed to relocate to a larger industrial space. When Working at Heights Training became mandatory in 2015, Safe-Tech was the eleventh company in all of Ontario to become CPO approved to deliver the program; this was the impetus behind their relocation in 2015 to their current office and state of the art training facility in Bolton. “We went from a small family-run business to attracting bigger clients and more corporate exposure in a short space of time”, said Kathy. Although moving the Company and coordinating a complete buildout of its new facilities while running the daily operations was a major challenge, the relocation has been a gamechanger for Safe-Tech.
As we are now in 2022, the effects of COVID-19 on businesses are widely known. “COVID was relentlessly long and the challenges came at us daily,” said Kathy. “Clients cancelled training sessions and put policies in place that would allow some instructors to be on-site and not others.” At the onset of the pandemic, Safe-Tech transitioned to providing Zoom training for its clients. Over time, the Company collaborated with Lynx HR to implement policies that would allow Safe-Tech’s instructors to resume in-person training and mitigate any risks associated with the pandemic. “When our clients have the option,” began Kathy, “they prefer to do in-person training and our trainees prefer it too. When our instructors train on-site, they’re able to provide more effective training to English Language Learner participants – this allows us to reach a broader demographic.”
Looking Ahead for Safe-Tech
Safe-Tech grew from a team of two to over 30, and has consistently provided new training program offerings with a yearly increasing revenue. The Company continues to evolve and it recently launched a consulting division which focuses on safety management systems and auditing. Going forward,” began Kathy, “We want to continue doing what we do best: deliver quality instructor-led training programs and offer complimentary products and services to our clients. The launch of our consulting division is exactly in line with this vision.”
When asked to reflect on the past four years with Lynx, Kathy shared that "Lynx was the perfect solution for our transition plan as it supported our desire to continue working at the company we built while allowing for a seamless future exit.” The collaboration between Lynx and Safe-Tech has shown the significant benefits of being acquired by a private equity firm. We at Lynx are very proud of what Safe-Tech has accomplished over the last 33 years and we are excited to see what they conquer in the future!