When Randy Sorely started his career as a tow truck driver, he had one goal. Then 26, he had gone into business with his father Milton and two other partners, opening Maple Ridge Towing. It was, as Sorely pointed out, a profession that was in serious need of a makeover.
“When I got into the business in 1981, I recognized shortly thereafter the image of the industry was in a very, very sad state of repair,” said Sorely. “It needed change. I worked very hard to make this a better business.”
Sorely, who’s quickly approaching his 35th year in business in Maple Ridge, has certainly caught the eyes of those in the industry.
Sorely was just inducted into the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame for his lifelong dedication to his profession.
“Quite frankly, it’s overwhelming,” Sorely said after receiving the award at a ceremony in Chattanooga, Tennessee last month. “This is the highest award possible in the towing industry, worldwide and I feel quite honoured to be even nominated. The bar is set very high.”
International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame is situated in the hometown of the inventor of the tow truck, Ernest Holmes, Sr., who came up with the idea after he and six friends struggled to pull yet another car out of a creek.
The hall was first recognized in 1985 and found a permanent home a decade later, opening a museum honouring the industry’s heritage.
Sorely is just the fifth person from B.C. to be inducted and the first in almost 20 years.
From the moment his went to work with his father, Sorely began his quest to improve the business, both at his own shop as well as industry-wide. He joined the Automotive Retailers Association and quickly ascended to chairman of its towing division. From that role, Sorely said he’s been working tirelessly to with government agencies to improve laws and regulations for his industry and to make safety a top priority.
“I set out to try to lead by example with equipment, professional drivers in uniforms, and generally just trying to raise the bar to make the image of the industry that much more professional,“ he said.
A big part of what he set out to accomplish has been the training of drivers, at his shop and across the province. Two to three times a year, his shop plays host to WreckMaster, the largest training certification program.
Drivers from B.C., Alberta as well the Pacific Northwest descend on Maple Ridge to learn the latest in technology and safety.
In addition, he’s helped pioneer the Towing Recovery Alliance of Canada, for which he currently sits as president. In addition, he’s started and continues to publish Tow Canada magazine. Locally, he’s an active member of the Maple Ridge chamber of commerce and won small business of the year in 2014 and actively works with Operation Red Nose during the Christmas holidays.
Sorely said what’s made his career so rewarding is also bringing the human touch to his business. He said he is keenly aware that a call to his shop means someone else is having a bad day.
“How you meet people and what kind of impression you leave with them is so important. You have to be able to quickly recognize the severity of the situation and act professionally and compassionately at the same time.”
Sorely said he works with his staff to ensure they keep a professional, but more importantly, a humane approach, harking back to the age-old philosophy of treating others the way he would want to be treated. He said that’s not always easy in a business that sees its fair share of tragedy. The difficulty with the business is the call at three o’clock in the morning and having to get out of bed and then crawl into a ditch to put a chain on a vehicle. Drivers still have to maintain composure to deal with either the owner of the vehicle or a family member, he said.
“This job is not for everybody. It takes a unique personality to be successful to stay and maintain in the industry.”
His business has a number of long-term employees at the shop, some up to 20 years.
That, along with the steady hand of his daughter Dena, is what he attributes his business success and the opportunity to be inducted into the hall in Chattanooga.
“If it wasn’t for them, I doubt I would have had the time to volunteer my time on all the various associations.”
He said part of that success also comes from having a thick skin. Sorely said when it comes to dealing with what is most people’s second largest investment, being calm in the face of raw emotions has served him well.
“We are the brunt, many times, of people’s frustrations,” he said.
Sorely said it is always a challenge when customers vent their frustrations. When he ran the front-end of the business, it was always a goal to have a customer leave 10 minutes later thanking me and waving as they leave the yard.
“That to me, is the art of diplomacy, that you can turn an unfortunate situation around and help the customer to see we weren’t the problem. If it wasn’t us, it was going to be someone else. I’ve met with a lot of success with that approach over the years. I’ve never had anyone get violent with me. I’ve had a lot of threats,” he laughs.
Accepting the award was also a chance for Sorely to honour his employee Eric Hodgeson, who died while working at Maple Ridge Towing in early February of this year.
Hodgeson’s name was placed on the hall’s Wall of the Fallen, honouring all those who have died in the line of service. He was one of 36 that lost lives on job last year.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions. In the morning, we’re there honouring an employee who died on the job and later that evening I am accepting an honour.”