Parlee Manufacturing: How a Liverpool company entered the business of life-saving
Thursday, May 26, 2022
It all started in 1985 with a simple observation.
Glenn Parlee, a recreation professional running adventure excursions in rural Nova Scotia, noticed it was difficult to find adventure equipment suited to the Atlantic Canadian environment. Frustrated with the lack of variety in available equipment, he enlisted the help of his wife Kathi, a gifted seamstress, to create outdoor recreational products suited for water and forest-based excursions.
And so, Parlee Manufacturing—a family-owned business operating out of Liverpool, Nova Scotia—was born.
“Customers here wanted a product for their specific needs – not to be pigeonholed into somebody else’s,” says Parlee.
“That’s what inspired us to create the company – to provide quality, Canadian-made products that were suited to our environments.”
Branching out from recreation to life-saving
Over the years, local emergency services providers saw the quality of Parlee’s recreational products and thought maybe those same style of packs would work well for carrying ambulance gear and supplies. Fast forward nearly forty years later, Parlee Manufacturing has established itself as a preferred supplier of medical equipment packs and bags for several provincial EMS organizations, and a growing list of agencies across the country.
How did this come to be? Well, much the same way as it started out – it all came down to meeting a specific customer need.
“The EMS providers didn’t have a product they could carry and protect their equipment,” says Parlee. “Our model is designed with the people using the product in mind – we sort of reverse engineered it, asked ‘what do you need?’ and tried to make a product to fit that need.”
Parlee Manufacturing’s medical equipment products became the go-to in the provincial industry. As happy customers started recommending Parlee packs to other crews and operators across Canada, their customer base grew outside of Nova Scotia.
And now Parlee Manufacturing has released a new line of products that make it even easier for customers to get exactly what they need.
The brand new Versatile Integrated Pack System (VIP System) is an evolution of the original pack that started many years ago. It offers all the benefits of a custom product, but now the operators are customizing it themselves.
This move towards a more streamlined product line has helped boost business in several ways.
It allows emergency medical service operators to create a pack that works for them without requiring custom creations every time equipment changes.
“It seems every month there’s a new regulation or a new change or a lack of supply on a piece of equipment, meaning they have to put another piece of equipment in that doesn’t fit in the old compartment,” says Parlee.
“We started thinking about how to make a product that doesn’t become obsolete the day it rolls off our machines. With this system, it’s basically an empty slate with different components, and then they build the pack themselves.”
The new simplified product line also allows Parlee Manufacturing to scale more easily, cutting down on SKUs and streamlining manufacturing.
This opened the door to implement e-commerce – something Parlee says became necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m still a guy that loves to be in front of customers,” he laughs. “But with the pandemic we knew we needed to embrace the new way of doing business.”
Parlee enlisted the help of Donna Hatt, a local consultant, to navigate the process of building up an online presence. Hatt suggested looking into available government programs and contacted Nova Scotia Business Inc. (NSBI) for assistance.
“I just reached out and touched base with (Regional Business Development Advisor for South Shore) Malinda Matchett and she was down here in a heartbeat. She jumped in and introduced us to the programs and said, ‘Let’s see what might fit.’”
With the help of Matchett, Parlee Manufacturing applied for NSBI’s Export Development Program, as well as programs through Digital Nova Scotia, to access funding to create new digital marketing assets including promotional videos, photography, and an e-commerce platform.
Parlee says these digital tools play an important role in continuing to bypass distributors and operate a direct-to-customer model, which keeps costs down and allows them to compete with foreign providers.
“We have gone through distributors in the past, but you’re just another page in the book,” he says. “Being able to go direct – that was the joy of making this website. We’re direct with customers now, which is really where we have always seen success.”
When it came time to work with a vendor to create marketing assets and develop an e-commerce platform, Parlee chose local South Shore companies and consultants who were familiar with the products.
“The whole package is homegrown. Every component of this was made in Nova Scotia, which is cool,” he says.
Without this program, none of this would have happened. It was that crucial as the kickstart.
Reflecting on the company’s digital marketing journey, Parlee credits programs from organizations like Nova Scotia Business Inc. for providing essential support.
“Without this program, none of this would have happened. It was that crucial as the kickstart,” says Parlee. “And it was seamless – it was very easy.”
At Parlee Manufacturing's Open House in May 2022. From left to right: Kyle Schmeisser, Director, Export Development, NSBI; Peter MacAskill, COO, NSBI; Glenn Parlee, Owner, Parlee Manufacturing; Malinda Matchett, Regional Business Development Advisor, South Shore, NSBI; Todd Coombs, Director, Regional Business Development, NSBI.
Looking ahead, Parlee says the company intends to add more products to their e-commerce offering, including a focus on recreational.
“The recreational product was a tough sell over the last 10 years because of competition. Not having to go through distribution and retail, now we’re competitive again with the whole recreational line.”
In the meantime, he is pleased that the company is seeing results from their digital effort.
“The whole thing is just going to make it a whole lot easier to sell product, which is the name of the game,” he says.
“It really was the changing point in the focus of our business. And the satisfying part is that it’s working already.”
Interested in learning more about how Nova Scotia Business Inc. could help your business? Connect with your Regional Business Development Advisor today.