Building a good business relationship takes trust, says Indigenous supplier

‘Enbridge gave us a shot,’ says owner of Thunder Bay business that sourced COVID supplies for Enbridge Gas

Jason Thompson says building a strong partnership, like a strong marriage, requires mutual respect and trust.

“When you’re in a committed relationship, you’re in it for the long haul,” says Thompson, the founder and owner of Thunder Bay, ON-based Superior Strategies and a member of the Red Rock First Nation. “I’ve been married more than 20 years, and I always say that building a good business relationship is the same in many ways. You’re helping each other through the challenging times, and you’re also there to enjoy the good times together.”

Thompson and his wife Tara founded Superior Strategies as a health and safety training company more than a decade ago. Initially focused on providing services to Indigenous communities, the 100% Indigenous owned business has expanded its customer base over the years to include companies such as Enbridge, CP Rail, CN Rail and Resolute Forest Products, and has expanded its scope to include project management and economic development consulting.

“Our goal has always been to provide first-class products and services to meet the needs of our customers, and that has helped us grow our customer base over the years,” Thompson says. “We want to service the heck out of our customers.”

Focused on creating opportunity

Jason’s focus hasn’t been only on growing his own business, but also on supporting the economic development of his community. Most of the company’s employees are women, and a large proportion are Indigenous. “We’re very committed to creating opportunities for people in our communities, including Indigenous people,” says Thompson.

A few years ago, Superior Services expanded its scope again, this time adding industrial, H&S and office supply sales.

“It wasn’t really going well,” Thompson recalls—and then, in early 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. “Suddenly companies all over the province, all over the country, were scrambling to find PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks and hand sanitizer.”

Enbridge was one of those companies. Superior Strategies was added to Enbridge’s list of 76 potential Indigenous suppliers in 2018, and in early 2020 our Supply Chain Management team reached out to Thompson for help locating PPE for Enbridge Gas Inc.

“Enbridge gave us a shot,” says Thompson, and Superior Strategies made the most of it.

“Jason was in the right place at the right time with the right materials,” says Charlie Makhlouf, manager of Sourcing Materials for Enbridge Gas. “He did everything he could to get us what we needed at a time when everyone was looking for the same supplies.”

At Enbridge, we see our relationships with Indigenous communities as mutually beneficial—economically, socially and culturally. We strive to share our success with the Indigenous communities where we operate, through contracting and supplier agreements, training and employment, capacity development, and community engagement and collaboration.

In Canada, our Line 3 Replacement Program generated more than C$400 million in Indigenous economic benefits, including C$116 million in wages paid to Indigenous workers. And as of May 2021, Enbridge had spent US$250 million with Tribal nations, communities and contractors on the Line 3 Replacement Project in Minnesota.

‘We put our trust in Jason and his team’

Superior Strategies ended up supplying more than 51,000 surgical-grade masks and more than 7,500 units of hand sanitizer to Enbridge Gas.

“Our annual spend with Superior Supplies went from about $35,000 in 2019 to almost $300,000 in 2020, and represents about 15% of our total spend on COVID-related supplies,” says Smith Abraham, a Sourcing Materials senior analyst for Enbridge Gas. “We put our trust in Jason and his company during a challenging time, and he delivered, and our spend is a reflection of that. The icing on top is that we’ve also been able to support the growth of an Indigenous supplier, which is one of our ESG commitments.”

Superior Strategies has grown—earning more than 200 new customers, doubling its staff and launching a private-label made-in-Canada line of PPE in the past year—and is working toward a warehouse location in Southern Ontario and developing proprietary vendor management software.

“Right now, we’re focused on improving on what we have,” says Thompson. “We want our customers to be our customers after all this is said and done.”