Keeping Up With The Joneses


Jones Food Store Equipment celebrates 50 years of sterling service to the grocery sector

By Robin Brunet

When Burnaby, B.C.-based Jones Food Store Equipment Ltd. (JFSE) co-founder Barrie Jones retired in 2007, he told his daughter Randi, “I want nothing more than to see our company hit 50 years.”

His enthusiasm was understandable. The genealogy of JFSE began with Barrie’s father, Buzz Jones, who enjoyed a long relationship with Hussmann Corporation before selling his company, W.T. Rainford, in 1968. One of Buzz’s contacts, Harry Nemetz, owned the case refurbishing business Domino Refrigeration, and in 1971 he offered Barrie and his cousin, Harold Jones, the chance to assume ownership, including location and equipment. “Dad and Harold had worked at W.T. Rainford and been bitten by the industry bug, and with the contacts Nemetz and Buzz had established over the years, Jones Food hit the ground running,” says Co-Owner, Randi Jones.

With a great deal of focus on customer service and out-of-the-box thinking, Barrie and Harold built a company that today still emulates their vision of providing outstanding service in the consulting, design, supplying, installing, and servicing of refrigeration equipment in the supermarket sector.

Randi says, “We’ve always aimed to be a one-stop shop for our customers. Jones has been a distributor of Hussmann equipment for 50 years and we have partnered with other reputable manufacturers and suppliers to compliment the quality of our Hussmann products. Simply put, we can source, supply and install most equipment that’s non structural in a supermarket.” As such, JFSE’s work on behalf of supermarkets, liquor stores, production facilities and more has helped these companies expand, making it a silent but significant contributor to the health of B.C.’s grocery sector.

Stories of JFSE helping grocery clients are plentiful, and Co-Owner Jim Marsen points out that they’re the outcome of Barrie and Harold’s belief in building trust and providing value. “They knew that if you take care of your customers, the customers will bring you along with them and spread the good word, and today that is very much woven into our DNA,” he says. “At heart, we’re a group of  people with real world experience, knowledge and a knack for zeroing in on problems and providing great solutions to the retailers. We are always adding to this with the new solutions we gain from partnerships such as with Hussmann.”  

Although Barrie didn’t live to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, his spirit is very much alive as Randi, her brother Darin, Marsen, and close to 100 employees prepare to commemorate the milestone.

Randi, who with Marsen has been a JFSE co-owner since 2006 and whose speciality is sales, recalls, “A colleague once referred to dad as ‘a gentle warrier’ because he would attend chaotic meetings, listen to everyone argue about what they wanted, and then dad would calmly propose solutions for all. That’s the degree of excellence we constantly strive to emulate.”

Embracing technological advances – sometimes before they become the norm–is another reason for JFSE’s ongoing success. “Our design department used to contain drafting tables, rulers, and plenty of sharp pencils, and we had to be scrupulous because if we drew something with a pencil that wasn’t sharp, a wall could be out by several inches!” says Randi. “Today we benefit from the latest design and sales software.” This includes a quoting program which has evolved immensely from the original quote to go system introduced by Hussmann in 1992, and which has spurred growth “because it allows Hussmann to give us incredible in-depth product information at our fingertips, which in turn enables us to provide clients a huge range of options very, very quickly,” according to Randi.

Randi, Darin, and Marsen are unabashedly enthusiastic about maintaining the standards set by Barrie and Harold, although they admit they had little inkling of their destiny as kids. “As a youth I wanted to be a professional hockey player or a pilot, but dad offered me a summer job and pushed me in the right direction,” says Darin, 54. “I got exposed to our refurbishment business, then I helped with minor installations, then delved into sales, autoCAD drawings – you name it.”

Darin says of the transition from the second generation of Joneses to the third, “When dad asked Randi and I what we thought of taking the reins, we were excited but also aware that the quickly evolving technology of refrigeration was going to be tough to keep up with. So we were glad when Jim who had experience in the technical side of the business accepted the partnership with us.”

Marsen, 59, joined JFSE in 1990 as a newly minted tradesman “Because I had just married and needed six weeks’ worth of employment to qualify for a mortgage. Barrie and Harold were straight up guys, and they made jobs for many people over the years, especially during downturns. They generated loyalty, and pretty soon I couldn’t imagine not working here.”

Marsen adds, “I had an office next to Barrie and he would wander in to share anecdotes, discuss things that worked and didn’t work, and so on. He was a great teacher, but I don’t think I ever got an answer directly from him. He just pushed me in the right direction to find it for myself. I always thought I would be a field tech, but Barrie saw so much more in me, and he changed the trajectory of my career.”

Just as Barrie and Harold shared a remarkable synergy, today Randi and Marsen benefit from strengths of their management team, technicians and sales people in the field. “As a company, customer service is key,” says Randi. “We have sales people with the ability to understand what the customers wants, backed by a design and installation department who thrive on designing refrigeration systems that perform and a service department that makes sure the equipment continues to run for many years. Our employees are as dedicated to the customer’s success as they are to our success. This balance ensures we deliver what we have promised and hold ourselves accountable for the results.”

Account manager Robin Knowler, who joined the company 37 years ago upon leaving school, agrees – and he credits Barrie and Harold for helping to develop the skills he uses today. “In addition to their commitment to provide quality equipment and service at a fair price, Barrie and Harold loved visiting clients in person and building relationships,” he says. “I took that to heart when I entered sales.”

Knowler adds, “They also had a great level of trust for their staff. Once I became proficient in sales they left me alone, because they knew I would drive the bus in the right direction.” Indeed, trust is one reason why some staff members have passed the 35 year mark with JFSE, others with over 20 years under their belt, and many more with over 10 years at the company.

Andrew Gammel, JFSE’s installation and design manager, joined in 2005 as a second year refrigeration apprentice, “Cecil Jones, one of our original mechanics, took me under his wing,” he says. “He was a real mentor to me.” Today he is proud to continue the tradition of pushing the boundaries of commercial refrigeration. “One of the things we do best is retrofit older stores by installing new energy-efficient refrigeration systems and rerouting waste heat to create hot water or HVAC heating,” he says. “These strategies have many benefits. For example, the compressors for an older store in Port Alberni filled an entire upstairs room, and when we upgraded to two protocol units in a back hallway and new condensers on the roof, they were able to reclaim that room – in addition to achieving significant energy savings.”

JFSE’s design team (which supplies the refrigeration drawings, including equipment layout and electrical, plumbing, and refrigeration data) along with the installation team prefer to be involved in new building projects early in the design stage. “That’s especially helpful for mixed use developments in which retail is at ground level and you have multi-storeys of apartments above,” says Gammel. “Otherwise it can be a challenge to place refrigeration equipment, and circumstances might dictate that we even have to supply our own cooling towers.”

While JSFE has been extremely busy throughout the pandemic and all signs indicate that work will continue to be voluminous moving forward, nobody in the company takes business for granted, and the drive to self-improve is constant. “We have a variety of customers with different budgets or who are looking to make a change but don’t know how to with the least interruption to their business,” says Randi. “We’ve been able to offer many options, including refurbished equipment and refresh programs that update existing equipment, improve energy efficiency, and help clients achieve a greener footprint.”

Ideas to round out the company’s services are always embraced, such as an equipment preventative maintenance programs that prolong the life of the equipment and in turn saves clients money. “About seven years ago we expanded to Vancouver Island by opening up a service division in Parksville and partnering with John Clarke Refrigeration & Food Store Equipment Ltd. in Victoria in 2011,” says Randi. 

Gammel notes that as the controls for refrigeration and other grocery equipment are becoming increasingly complex, “We’ve been recruiting refrigeration apprentices who already have a background in electrical. This brings another level of proficiency to our clients, and our goal is to find more young talent that our experienced installation team can train and expand on their already established electrical skills.”

However, the more things evolve at JFSE, the more they will stay the same. “The one thing that will never change is our honesty and clear communication,” says Darin, who stepped back from co-ownership a few years ago but is still actively involved in sales. “This is what drove the company’s early success, and it’s more important today than ever.”

Marsen agrees. “We will continue to nurture a new generation of employees with the same dedications to continue to innovate, fulfil our customers’ expectations and to provide solutions that enable our customers to succeed.”

As the April date to commemorate JFSE’s 50th anniversary draws nearer, Marsen concedes that the actual celebration “Will be subdued due to COVID. However, our sense of gratitude to our customers for bringing us to this point is enormous and undiminished, and we’re very much looking forward to the next half century of business.”

“As Randi has said recently, I think 50 years is time to celebrate.”