Perry Vermette, Vermette Wood Products, Prince Albert
By: Cassi Smith
How many people can say they went from janitor – to CEO? It’s a feat likely not many can claim. But for Perry Vermette, his entrepreneurial trajectory resembles just that. What started with an entry level job with PA Janitorial Service and Supplies, soon turned into a passion for business, leadership, and innovation.
Fueled by an unwavering work ethic, Perry Vermette is now the owner of Vermette Wood Preservers, Canada’s only Indigenous family-owned business in the wood preservation industry. Perry’s path to success was as winding as it was exciting, tackling a variety of endeavors over the years.
After just two weeks of high school, at 15 years old Perry decided to look for a job. One morning he happened to walk past the home of a girl he met that summer, Wendy Davison. “Her dad was loading up his van – he owned a janitorial service,” explains Perry. “As I was walking by his house, I thought maybe I should ask Mr. Davison if he needs any employees.” Perry was hired on the spot. “And in July 1980, I married that girl I met in the summer of ‘76.”
With Mr. Davison now as his boss and father-in-law, Perry managed PA Janitorial Supplies into the 1990’s, when he and his wife decided to expand. “I started to plan my own janitorial service company,” says Perry, “XL Janitorial Services.” This new plan meant Perry and Wendy needed to source new funding. “And that’s when I first heard of CCDF.”
“In the late 1990s CCDF was one of the youngest, if not one of the only, Métis focused lending organizations in Saskatchewan,” says Perry. “They specialized in Métis entrepreneurs, so CCDF was a natural fit for me.” Although Perry didn’t know it then, he would go on to become a very prolific and successful business owner, and a long-standing client of CCDF. “They were willing to work with me and teach me the right way to approach lenders,” explains Perry. “They invested in my project and encouraged me.”
Perry went on to own a number of businesses including PA Parking Lot Maintenance, XL Security Service, XL Building Maintenance, PA Fire and Flood Respirators, and First General Services. Then, in 2004 Perry’s father suddenly passed away, leaving his uncle with the family business. On the brink of bankruptcy, Perry’s uncle turned to potential buyers to sell the business. However, Perry’s entrepreneurial spirit reared its head once again. “I asked Uncle if he would give me enough time to arrange the financing to pay him over a three-year period,” says Perry. “He said absolutely – it is our family business whatever you need I will help.”
Although the decision may have seemed spontaneous, Perry’s sense of family duty surprised no one. “The potential buyers left the meeting and Uncle Gil broke down in tears,” says Perry. “He thanked us for keeping the business in the family, and I felt so good until I realized I had to go home and tell my wife I just paid too much for a family business I knew nothing about.”
Despite being new to the industry, under Perry, VWP flourished. With the help of his son, son in law, and continued support from CCDF, VWP has now expanded its product line into sectors such as the utility sector, oil and gas, construction, and the residential retail sector. Despite setbacks and market changes, Perry says he is always learning and has a firm grip on the reigns. “Driving a team of horses, you need to show them the direction and control the speed. You need to be able to stop and backup or turnaround whenever necessary and start over – using what you learned as you move forward again.”