One of Canada’s most recognizable, respected and well-liked aftermarket veteran Doug Williams passed away January 2 at the age of 77.
Williams was laid to rest Monday, January 8, in Wellandport Cemetery, following services at Pleasantview Funeral Home in Fonthill, Ont.
Best known in recent years for founding National Sales Inc. in 1998, still regarded as one of the most connected sales agencies in the Canadian automotive aftermarket. his tenure in the aftermarket started much earlier.
Williams was already well into an aftermarket career with AP Parts of Canada in the 1970s when Don Chase entered the picture.
“I took over as president and appointed Doug as vice-president of sales and marketing, and that’s how we initially got together,” recalls Chase. “Now, Doug was with the company at the time as a sales manager, but certainly he was capable of a great deal more than that. Having him take over as VP sales and marketing was a great move, because he was very well respected and very knowledgeable in the automotive aftermarket, and brought a lot of good things to the company.”
When that company was sold and a management takeover failed, the two got together with a third partner, Frank Reeves, to form Specialty Sales & Marketing in 1982. Fortunately the company flourished, says Chase, but Doug wanted to move on to something different.
Chase continues that, as enduring as are his memories of Williams in business, they are overshadowed by Doug’s’ devotion to his family.
“By golly, he just he just doted on his kids. Both Sean and Katie are two wonderful individuals and both are in the automotive business: Sean at National Sales and Katie in Carquest Canada.”
When Williams took his buyout from SS&M, he took on a group of auto service outlets in and around the Hamilton area, operating under the Autogenics name. Eventually, though, he felt the call of the straight-ahead aftermarket sales world again; so in 1998, he started National Sales Inc. That company is now headed by son Sean. He recalls the early days fondly, but says there were ups and downs.
“He’s just getting back into the industry, starts this company, and six months into it, my mom passes – it was pretty concerning, I think, for everybody – including my dad!” says Sean with a nervous laugh. “Fortunately we had great vendors that supported us, and we got through it all.
“But it was really fun to work with and learn from my dad. The last 20-plus years have been an adventure. I’m really fortunate, and proud, I guess, is the best way to say it.”
Joe Mercanti recalls how helpful Doug Williams was in helping his organization, Canadian Performance Distributors (CPD), make inroads into the traditional aftermarket.
“I was a buyer at CPD (Canadian Performance Distributors), and we were just starting to get into more of the traditional-type aftermarket parts, competing against the big boys. He and Don Chase gave some insight into the market: what you have to do in terms of buying policy, how you do this, how you do that. He helped in getting that done and that increased my position within the marketplace. And I really appreciated him for that.”
While family definitely came first for Williams, he was also known for being generous with his time for the industry.
John Vanstone, who would eventually become a partner at Specialty Sales & Marketing after Williams’ departure, recalls his boisterous presence at events – in particular those held by the Automotive Fellowship Society, which brought industry veterans together to share stories and get industry updates over dinner. Williams most notably presided over a good-natured, rowdy induction of new members to the Society.
“Doug was always a very good contributor at the AFS. I didn’t have a lot of face-to-face business dealings with Doug, but one thing not a lot of people will know is that at a meeting in Vegas, Doug and I were communicating – this is when I was still at Monroe – and he approached me [to say] that one day Don Chase might think about retirement, and would I be interested in coming into Specialty Sales & Marketing as his partner?”
Only a few months later, Vanstone recalls, Williams purchased the Autogenics business.
“And there’s Don Chase sitting there, looking at aspiring towards retirement someday, and no partner. So that’s eventually how Don Chase and I became partners at SS&M. But in reality, the first one that approached me was Doug Williams.”
Sean Williams says that his father was an entrepreneur at heart, with a strong sense that it was sales that set everything in motion in business. He recalls one sales meeting where staff were given camo hats emblazened with the MASH logo, but for “Make A Sale Happen.”
“He always preached that nothing happens till something’s sold. He was always selling. He was always trying to make a deal. He would figure out a way to make sure the vendor and the customer think they got a great deal.”
Beyond that, Sean sees his father’s legacy written in the many people he helped over the years.
“I’ve been, I guess, involved in the industry all my life, really, because my dad’s been there.” He mentions the number of notes he’s received from people remarking on Doug’s dedication to being a leader and a mentor, and how much he helped people. “I’m shocked at how much he was able to touch people, help them through difficult situations, always be there – to listen, have a positive word, a smile for people. It’s really neat.
“I’m really happy to have been part of that too.”
Doug is survived by his children, Sean Williams (Amy), Katie Herbert (Rob), Steve McKirdy (Dawn), Barbara Ann McKirdy, Michael McKirdy. Doug was a loving Poppa to his grandchildren, Isobel, Gavin, Gabriel, Isabella and Jaxton. He will also be deeply missed by his brother, Joe (Betty); and his sister, Hazel. Doug was predeceased by his first wife, Kathryn Osborne; and his parents, Mae and Lestley Williams.
Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to PLEASANTVIEW FUNERAL HOME, 2000 Merrittville Highway, Fonthill. Visitation will take place on Sunday, January 7, 2024, from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., and on Monday, January 8th, from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00p.m. followed by the Funeral Service at the Pleasantview Chapel beginning at 1:00 p.m. Memorial reception to take place following the service. Burial will occur at Wellandport Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the charity of one’s choice.