The businesses who call Old East Village home offer an eclectic array of products and services that continue to enliven the one-stop-shop main street. Over the past few years, we’ve seen businesses expand, move on, and move in, while other veteran establishments continue to be neighbourhood anchors, several decades in the making. As with other OEV originals we spoke with this year, we chatted with Rachel and Barry Statchuck of the family owned and operated SEMCO Solutions & Services at 900 Dundas Street to discuss what makes a mainstay neighbourhood business.
SEMCO is a sanitation supply and equipment distributor that has grown throughout its nearly 60 years in business. Going back to 1963, Joseph Semkowski opened SEMCO Paints in the pre-expanded but existing location where the store stands today. With a particular focus on paint offerings, this incarnation of the store also offered many of the brands and products the establishment still carries today.
Barry, who worked at SEMCO part-time and in the summers growing up, eventually took over the store in 1985 and confirmed that, over the years, it was certainly “a second home.”
“We sell advice and solutions, not just products. We’re providing a physical object but we’re also solving a problem,” Barry told us. According to him, it’s about connecting to the customer and their needs in order to provide the best service - and solution - as possible.
This solution-based theme - whether for a business, the school board, a hospital, or someone’s home - along with an unwavering commitment to quality customer service is undoubtedly the culprit behind SEMCO’s continued success. So much so that the store is now on the fourth generation of ownership with Barry’s daughter Rachel, who purchased the business with her husband, Chris, in April of this year.
Although Rachel explored other cities and professional avenues, her passion for helping people and knowledge of the business brought her back to SEMCO. She confirmed that “home” and “the business” were somewhat interchangeable while growing up.
“I worked here in the summers, my friends did too. Sick days home from school even meant a blanket on the floor of the office!” Rachel said.
Considering the challenges the pandemic brought forth for businesses, taking over an established business could be a nerve wracking decision, to say the least. However, it doesn’t take long to recognize an innate desire to help people and when you add a father-daughter team on top of that, there’s no end to what can be accomplished.
However, as a store situated in the health, safety, and sanitation business, the folks at SEMCO became a particular kind of superhero during the pandemic.
“It really did affect everyone. At first... we had a lineup out the door which is something we never could have prepared for. We were then put on allocation by vendors to ensure hospitals could be stocked. But this also gave us a new way to connect with vendors and customers through dives demos over zoom,” Barry told us.
Although the pandemic presented difficulties, it also gave Rachel and Barry the time to focus on growth as a company as they approach SEMCO’s 60th birthday and look to the future. When talking about growth, changes are inevitable and welcomed with this forward thinking bunch. But, as both Barry and Rachel confirmed, their approach to quality service and ensuring customers are treated with respect and integrity will always be at the core.
“It’s about providing the best service and building your reputation on truth. It’s like a friendship,” which is a mindset instilled in Rachel by Barry over many years of working together she told us.
In addition to this consistent mindset, staying true to their roots as a family owned and operated business, along one of London’s oldest main streets is very important.
Barry confirmed that customers like the nostalgic aspect of coming to the city’s Core for service and they often say “you know that train at Western Fair? Yeah, we’re right across from that!”
Referring of course to Engine 86 - not too shabby a landmark to associate with your location. In fact, Joseph Semkowski saw the train move there in the 1960s and Barry helped ensure it stayed there when there were discussions of moving it to St. Thomas. Further to that, SEMCO donated paint for the train’s restoration in the 1990s. Now that’s an OEV fun fact for the books!
Looking ahead, this team sees nothing but growth while providing the best in service on a large scale that retains the quality customer relationships unique to independent, family-run businesses.
So, for your next business or home safety and sanitation needs, stop in at SEMCO Solutions. Be sure to give Rachel, Barry, and the whole team a hearty congrats for a job well done and best wishes for the next six decades!