Special Equipment and Care Are the Rule for Patrick Léveillé and His Units That Serve the Stars

Groupe Star Suites has carved out a niche providing restroom, shower and other trailer services for large film productions in Québec

Special Equipment and Care Are the Rule for Patrick Léveillé and His Units That Serve the Stars

Émie Houle cleans an Ameri-Can Engineering restroom trailer being set up for use at a special event.

For a quarter-century, Groupe Star Suites has made a name for itself providing luxury restroom- and shower-equipped trailers to the film industry in Québec. By efficiently cycling custom- and ready-built trailers from motion picture clients to the construction industry and local events, the company has grown at a steady pace, expanding its fleet of trailers by 40% over three years. Star Suites offers pumping services, but only when it supports its core business of serving clients in the entertainment and construction industry.

Star Suites was founded in 1995 by Marcel Paré in Boisbriand, a northern suburb of Montréal. The company was put up for sale by its retiring owner in 2016 and attracted the interest of current owner and president Patrick Léveillé.

“I had worked for 18 years in the commercial banking industry, and one of my colleagues mentioned that the business of one of his clients was going up for sale,” Léveillé says. “I performed my due diligence and could see that the company had few competitors in the luxury trailer rental space serving the film industry. I dove in directly, making a full transition from banker to businessman.”

FILM AND TV COME FIRST

Québec is a global motion picture powerhouse. In addition to producing films for domestic audiences, the province plays host to U.S. blockbuster films and TV series, providing studios, sets, buildings and scenery that stand in for anything from American cities and rural landscapes to European countries.

While the company started out in 1995 with a borrowed camping trailer, the Québec motion picture market now demands a full-service offering of specialized trailers and logistics services. When Léveillé purchased the business, Star Suites offered 170 trailers. Today it operates a rental fleet of about 250.

“In Toronto and Vancouver, the film business is different with union agreements and requires the film production itself to provide the drivers to move those trailers,” he says. “In Québec, full service is the name of the game, and we provide everything including a daily cleanup in every trailer.”

Star Suites serves the entire province of Québec. Trailers supplied by the company include lodging for actors and film crews, office trailers, restroom trailers, wardrobe trailers, and makeup and hairstyling trailers.

Restroom-only trailers range from single bathroom units reserved for top movie talent to 10-unit models. Full-service lodging trailers include restrooms, showers, refrigerators and microwave ovens. Others offer simpler accommodations, subdivided into as many as six smaller units offering couches, showers and restrooms.

The majority of the company’s restroom trailers are supplied by Ameri-Can Engineering, with a few units supplied by Rich Specialty Trailers and Black Tie Products. Star Suites also represents and distributes Ameri-Can products in eastern Canada. Nonrestroom trailers are typically supplied by General Coach Canada and Rich Specialty Trailers.

Five of the trailers are ADA-compliant: four large 10-restroom models and a smaller single-unit model. Two trailers from Ameri-Can feature showers — an eight- and a six-shower model.

“We generally custom-order the trailers,” Léveillé says. “For example, a six-station makeup trailer is built with all of the counter and cabinets in standard configuration.”

MANY EVENTS

About 65% of the business is devoted to the film industry, where all new trailers are first deployed. The other 35% involves long-term leases to the construction industry, typically commercial accounts, and events. A recent contract involved supplying trailers to the Home Depot locations in Québec and transporting them as renovation crews moved to new stores. The company also provides temporary student restrooms for schools under renovation and serves events, such as concerts, festivals and more than 30 weddings per year.

Star Suites’ event service is primarily devoted to VIP restroom trailers for performers and production trailers for crews. Montréal events have included the Montréal Grand Prix, the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, the Igloofest winter music festival, Heavy Montréal, Festival Metro Metro and those held at PY1, Montréal’s new pyramid-shaped event venue.

The contracts may extend to hospitality trailers, which were provided, for example, for a Heavy Montréal concert by Metallica and a Festival Metro Metro performance by Snoop Dogg. For Osheaga, Star Suites has provided as many as a dozen hospitality and restroom trailers. For the Grand Prix, it provided twice as many.

“We’re never tempted to provide plastic restroom units for concertgoers, because we’re not a pumping business,” Léveillé says.

That said, Star Suites does provide pumping services for its restroom trailers serving all industries, as part of a broader service package.

The first member of the pumper fleet is a 2016 Ford F-550 with a 630-gallon waste and 330-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank and built out at Star Suites. The second is a 2008 Kenworth T300 with a 1,440-gallon waste and 480-gallon freshwater Progress aluminum tank and Masport pump built by Progress. Star Suites’ newest addition is a 2020 Peterbilt T337 from Transway Systems with a 1,925-gallon waste and 480-gallon freshwater stainless steel tank and Fruitland pump.

Deodorant products are from Zep Equipment is moved around the yard using a Caterpillar forklift.

ALWAYS ON DUTY

Among the productions Star Suites has served are 300, White House Down, the recent Pet Sematary remake, three films in the X-Men franchise, the upcoming WWII blockbuster Midway and Adam Sandler’s Netflix movie Murder Mystery.

Léveillé receives advance notice of film projects coming to the province before the busy summer season. This year, he established his full summer schedule by May, although other productions could be announced for late summer and fall.

“With those production announcements, we can order additional trailers if we need them,” Léveillé says. 

Star Suites’ biggest production to date has been X-Men: Apocalypse, which required as many as 40 trailers (including four restroom trailers) in two locations over a four-month shooting schedule.

Each movie and TV production establishes a base camp that acts as a central command. A Star Suites employee remains at the base camp during the production to assure quality service at all times. They also relay instructions as to where trailers will be required and when they need to be deployed.

Each trailer is serviced daily by a team of housekeepers who clean restrooms, dust and vacuum.

“Our pumping scheduled depends on the shooting schedule, which could be day or night,” Léveillé says. “Typically we like to pump before we move the trailers because we know we won’t be disrupting the production.”

COORDINATION IS KEY

Logistics are the company’s key concern during film production season. Movie productions move from location to location, and Star Suites snaps into action to move the trailers along with the production.

“It’s a big operation,” Léveillé says. “We have a fleet of 30 trucks, and we sometimes supply as many as 15 trucks and drivers to move the trailers for a large production.”

During peak movie production season each summer, Star Suites employs 60 workers. In the winter, that number drops to its core full-time staff of about 15.

The company head office covers about 3 acres, but Star Suites rents an additional 2 acres of yard space at two additional yards during the off-season, when more trailers are parked. All of the trailer service and repairs are handled by in-house crews.

“We can refurbish a trailer inside and out — metal, woodwork, plumbing and electrical work,” Léveillé says. “During the winter, when it’s our quiet season, we sometimes order an empty trailer and configure it in our own shop.”

For Star Suites, growth depends almost entirely on the health of the Québec film industry, and this year’s a healthy one: “From the beginning of 2019, we’ve ordered at least one trailer a week from Ameri-Can,” Léveillé says. “In one week alone this summer we ordered four. By balancing rentals across the industries we serve, we remain profitable.”


What happens on set, stays on set

For Groupe Star Suites, leasing and servicing trailers, restrooms, and showers to large film productions is its core business.

“Our employees are quick to realize that the production end of the film industry is a business that has very little to do with watching movies on the screen,” says Patrick Léveillé, owner and president. “You focus on what you need to do, not what others are doing.”

When Star Suites signs a contract to provide trailers for a production, the name of the film or TV series is often left unmentioned — only the requirements of the production company are discussed.

“While providing service to the production of X-Men: Apocalypse, we were working only with a code name for the film,” he says. “It was only when the film was being promoted that we knew the name of the production we’d spent four months working on.”

Because much of the service work for company trailers takes place at night, or when the film production is being moved to a new location, Star Suites employees are unlikely to see filming take place.

“I’m far more likely to meet the industry contacts who I work with regularly, than spot an actor I recognize,” Léveillé says. “Just like our business, everyone on set is there to do a job and then move on to the next location.”



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