REFLECTIONS OF THE ROAD WARRIOR

Abrams Towing’s Joey Gagne on the truth behind his legendary rise through the industry

BY SAM HOUPT

Ask any of Canada’s towing professionals who Joey Gagne is, and you will get the same response—“a living legend.” What they won’t agree on is why.

Some will point to his impressive career. At the helm at Abram’s Towing Group, Gagne has built up a family business into one of the best known—and most trusted—names in the auto-recovery and towing industry.

Indeed, the story of how—at 19—he turned a $2,500 loan from his mother-in-law into one of Canada’s premier collision recovery and towing businesses has been told and retold so many times that different versions have an almost mythical feel.

While his version may lack some of the drama of the industry epics based on it, the story is still impressive.

“My parents owned a towing company, so I grew up around it and got hooked. When I was old enough to drive I drove a tow truck for them. Once I met my wife, she kept saying, ‘you’re always talking about tow trucks, why don’t you buy a tow truck and start your own business?’” Joey’s version begins. “So, her mother lent me $2,500.”

Turning the loan into the foundations of a business was no simple matter. For one thing, he found a tow truck that was going unused but needed to spend several months pestering the owner to sell it to him. For another, even after securing his tow truck, Joey knew very little about the business side of the industry. “I started blind. I was 19, and I thought I knew the business. It took me a little while to realize what I didn’t know. There was lots of trial-and-error.”

It would be twelve years later before Joey’s fledgling business began the dramatic expansion regional campaign that turned it into the behemoth it is today. In the interim, however, Joey would work on building-up his reputation and looking into expansion possibilities.

In 1995, this hard work began to pay off—big time.

“In early 1995 we opened a location in Mississauga, so that really got us into our initial jump into diversification,” says Joey. 1996 we had a contract with the Toronto police, which was a new type of business for us that helped us grow a bit more. We really just made sure we kept doing business with as many different people as we could.”

“That winter, we started brainstorming for other cities to move into. Slowly but surely, it all started coming together.”

Over the next two decades, Abrams Towing continued to follow the same strategic growth plan—developing relations with municipalities, police forces and clients, and entering into new Ontario markets.

Beyond his efforts on behalf of the towing and recovery community, Joey has also worked for a number of charitable causes. An active supporter of the Ontario March of Dimes, the Toronto Police Crime Stoppers, the Juvenile Diabetes Association, Joey is also a minor league hockey coach working with the Goulding Park Rangers hockey Association and the Whitby Fury Jr A hockey team. Of course, there is one last reason why Joey’s achievements have earned him a ‘legendary’ status among Canadian towing professionals. Throughout his career, Joey has worked to modernize the public’s image of the industry.

After a life in the business, Joey is well aware of the gulf between how people imagine towing and recovery professionals and how they really are.

“There is a lot of confusion about who we are. The public hears a lot about negative experiences with tow truck drivers and they tend to generalize. People sometimes misconceive all tow truck operators as being big, burly guys on the shady side of life,” laments Joey.

With 200 employees based throughout Southern Ontario—in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Hamilton, Windsor, Ottawa, Newmarket, and Burlington. Today, the Abrams fleet of 160 trucks is the largest in all of Canada, performing 200,000 vehicle tows per year. Of course, the team doesn’t just work on passenger vehicles. Its fleet also includes tri-axle trucks, 50-tonne heavy wreckers and even hydraulic float trailers. As the staff like to say, “We are ready for any size job – from motorcycles to motor homes and 18-wheel semis.”

Joey, however, isn’t just celebrated for his inspirational rise to the top of the industry. Many people view his biggest contribution to the industry as being less about his individual success and more about his volunteer work with industry and external organizations. They simply point to his citation in the Towing Hall of Fame. While it mentions his time serving as the president of the Ontario Recovery Group and of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario, the curators were particularly impressed by his work representing the industry while working with government regulators.

“In 2014, Joey was instrumental in working with Parliament to craft Bill 15: Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act. This bill focused on regulating the towing and vehicle storage industry, and without input could have been a disaster for all,” it reads.

“It doesn’t matter if there
are a thousand good guys
to one bad guy, we all get
painted with the same
brush. It’s not unusual for
us to be misrepresented,
but that’s not who most
of us are.”
— Joey Gagne

“Of course, when customers meet operators, customers are sometimes surprised by reality–our guys are really nice. The operators are providing them with great service and protecting them in bad situations.” This realization—that the more the industry is understood by consumers, the less likely consumers are to jump to easy stereotypes—has convinced Joey of the importance of getting in front of negative news stories about the industry.

In interviews with the Globe and Mail, the CBC and the National Post, and many other media outlets, Joey has explained the position of the mainstream towing community. When the story focuses on bad actors within the industry, Joey can be relied upon to share a simple message with readers.

“It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand good guys to one bad guy, we all get painted with the same brush. It’s not unusual for us to be misrepresented, but that’s not who most of us are.”

Whether members of the community revere Joey most for his herculean business accomplishment, work on industry associations and for charities, or his efforts to raise the profile of towing and recovery professionals—there is one thing all agree on. Joey is a guy who gets a lot done.

Like all legendary heroes, Joey has relied on many others to pull off his big plans. There is one person he credits over all others for his accomplishments.

“My wife,” he says matter-of-factly. “She’s been my rock and my biggest supporter all the way through. She encouraged me to start my business and helped me through thick and thin. She really helped me elevate the business to a level I don’t think I would have been able to achieve without her.”

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