For Tony LaGrange the world was always in colour.
He just struck a deal providing the coating for waterslides at Wet’n’Wild, the world’s largest water park, located in Australia. And this year, his company Quantum was chosen for the Business Award of Distinction by the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce.
Looking back, he said he never expected to work with paint.
It all started with working in his father’s body shop where he spray-painted cars and built go-karts from scrap. He said there was something about creating things that felt right.
“There’s something enjoyable about creating a product, to take it from scratch and take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and put it together,” he said.
“And it’s all assembled from all different kinds of pieces working together to give you a performance … in some ways it’s a little bit like being a chef.”
During his chemistry studies, he worked as a summer student for a paint company, and later a company that produced fire retardant coatings. He said it was around that time that he first considered self-employment in the industry.
After his employer suffered financial problems, LaGrange took the plunge. As one of 13 applicants out of 150, he was selected for a government-funded training program that helped young entrepreneurs start their own business.
In 1995, he began working out of his home, turning a walk-in closet in the basement into his laboratory. He later moved the production into his garage and admits his wife was probably not too sad when he opened his own manufacturing facility in 1998.
“We developed products for people. They wanted products for X, Y, Z and we would develop them for them,” he said.
“We did a lot of other types of coating-related consulting. There was analysis work where we took paint samples from a car and evaluated the coating to see if it came from the other vehicle.”
Today Quantum is a leader in environmentally friendly coatings, particularly fire resistant liners. They also created a rubber-like, insulating substance named Precidium, used in compressor stations and companies working in the oil industry.
Residents of St. Albert are no newcomers to the product. One bus in the city is already coated with the material, and all LRT trains in Edmonton have fireproofed finish on their floors.
“We can give them a floor that is durable, fire resistant and has no seams. And in 10 years we just go and re-top it and they don’t have to tear it out,” he said.
Quantum first had its office in Edmonton, though LaGrange always considered St. Albert his home. In the 1990s, the local business parks did not have the right zoning for a company working with chemicals and he said other properties were not available.
It was only in 2010 that Quantum found a new home in Riel.
“I wanted to be home. I like St. Albert, it’s a nice community, and you want to support your community by having your business here,” he said.
Now, Quantum sponsors three of the top chemistry students at St. Albert Catholic High School each year. It also grew from one single businessman to a staff of 10, including five chemists.
The company works closely with DuPont as its international distributor. That’s how LaGrange landed the deal with the water park.
Most waterslides are made from fiberglass-reinforced plastic that are coated in a gel. He said after a few years of being exposed to the elements, the coating begins to break down and the colour fades.
“The issue with waterslides is … you order a brand new slide and you have to make all these red parts and mould it and then do it over and over again,” he said.
“It takes time and it’s a slow process. The supplier wanted a new solution to post-apply to the parts and coat them in the colour they need to be in and have a durable coating that lasts longer than the gel coating.”
With some pride, he admits Quantum was chosen from five or six other, larger coating suppliers. He is now producing a coating that dries within 15 minutes and comes in 50 to 60 different colors.
“What we are building for them, it’s a totally new technology that’s unlike any other coating on the market,” he said.
“It’s nerve-wracking and exciting but if it wasn’t a little nerve-wracking, where would the fun be in that?”