NORTH END SPRING LTD. has the largest inventory of springs and hardware in central Canada. Some of the parts we carry include: truck and trailer ...

NORTH END SPRING LTD. offers spring service and repair, front end service, mobile axle king pin service, and on-site alignment and balancing ...

Hard work, business savvy pave way for success in male-dominated business

10 September 2014

by Todd Lews

About 10 years ago, Debbie Zajaros was at a crossroads in her life.

Looking for a new challenge, she was considering her options when one suddenly presented itself.

"My dad was looking at a succession plan for his company (North End Spring, a wholesale distributor of truck suspension parts), as he was looking to retire," she recalled. "I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be my own boss, so I said, 'maybe I'll buy the company from you.'"

Zajaros's father's answer was swift and unequivocal.

"He said 'you'll have to toughen up,' she said. "I disagreed, so I made a proposal. I asked him to let me work beside him for a year to prove myself. If, after that time, it didn't work out, we'd forget I ever made an offer."

As it turned out, that year of trial by fire proved that Zajaros — then a single mom with two children — had what it took to run the business. Still, it wasn't easy, not by a long-shot.

"It was a lot of hard work, and I had more than my share of sleepless nights, but I had lots of help from family and friends," she said, adding that she wasn't a neophyte at the business due to working in the shop selling parts and doing accounting after she went to Red River College. "As a woman in a male-dominated business, you're always proving yourself."

Blessed with a sharp business mind, Zajaros has since proven herself, and then-some. North End Spring — which will celebrate its 70th year in business in 2015 — is a thriving company that has expanded and diversified in the nine years she's been the owner.

"We now supply parts for Manitoba, Northwest Ontario, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Minnesota, and we also have a repair facility that can service half-ton trucks right up to cement mixers," she said. "Business has been good, with about a five per cent improvement per year."

In her nine years as owner of North End Spring, Zajaros has had to navigate some stiff challenges and make decisions that determined the company's future. As good as business has been, the road to success hasn't always been a smooth one.

"Well, we the weathered the economic downturn that hit the trucking industry hard a number of years back (around 2008 or so) — it was a scary time to be in the business," she said. "Then, about a year after I bought the company, the owner of the building that housed our shop decided to sell the property. I was faced with having to move 10,000 square feet of stuff, or making an offer."

Zajaros decided on the latter, and it's proven to be one of the best business decisions she's made to date.

"I did the math on what it would cost to move; it just made far more sense to buy the building and stay where we were, so I did. Doing that put me in charge of my company's future by having a solid base to continue to operate from."

Since then, she's continued to diversify the company's services, while adding an additional revenue stream at the same time.

"Last year, I rented out two bays to a fellow who has an alignment service," Zajaros said. "Now, we can basically offer customers a one-stop-shop — we can do repairs, and then send their vehicle over for an alignment if required. It turned out to be a really good move."

Even though business is good and she loves what she does for a living, Zajaros said it still isn't easy to be woman running a business in a testosterone-infused, male-dominated industry.

"Guys will give you one chance. If you get it right, they'll use you," she said. "Still, there are plenty of doubters, so you have to get a thick skin and let what they say just run off your back like water off a duck's back. I've noticed that there are so many women working in the industry nowadays. When I took over, there were maybe one or two. Now, there are dozens, with many on the order desk."

Her secret to success?

"I've surrounded myself with good people, and I also have a husband who works here with me. He takes care of the shop, and is in charge of the mechanics, so he picks up in areas I'm not so great at. It's definitely been a bit of a crazy ride, but I've never wanted to do anything else, and I love what I do."

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