SASKATOON, Sask. -- They’ve been in business barely a year-and-a-half, yet Saskatoon’s TimeLine Logistic is already making a name for itself.
TimeLine was born in September 2010, after Troy Stimpson, Bob Grunow and Murray Schumacher left another trucking company to strike out on their own. Grunow took on the mantle of president, Schumacher became director of operations and Stimpson donned the director of safety and compliance hat. The trio, who claim over 100 years’ experience between them, also brought in industry veteran Donovan Swinnerton as director of business development.
According to Stimpson, TimeLine’s goal is to get into the nuclear industry, the same business served by the trio’s previous employer.
“We’d learned a lot about the industry and enjoyed it and figured it’s a good niche to get into because the nuclear industry in North America is growing exponentially,” Stimpson says, noting there’s a new uranium enricher moving into North America and “we want all that business.”
Filling that niche will require a substantial commitment, however, because, “They (the nuclear companies) don’t want you to do anything else. So you pick up at Point A and deliver to Point B and you go back to Point A empty to pick up again. You don’t run freight in between.” Stimpson estimates the potential business they’re chasing could require dedicating 40-50 trucks to that single gig.
Not surprisingly, a number of hoops need to be jumped through before a new company can start moving nuclear material around the continent.
“You need insurance first,” Stimpson says, “and we have more insurance than just about anyone else except those who already haul nuclear material. We’re ISO-certified, so we have a quality management system in place and we’re looking to become COR-certified for the oil and gas industry.”
TimeLine is also C-TPAT-certified (Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a voluntary program led by US Customs and Border Protection) and has the blessings of a variety of other government and industry groups. Stimpson says ISO is probably the most important distinction, however. “All the uranium companies want to see that.”
Fortunately for TimeLine, not much special equipment – other than steel cradles – is needed to transport nuclear material.
“We’re going to be hauling cylinders that are about four feet wide and 20 feet long and weigh about 40,000 lbs,” Stimpson notes, “and we’ll just put them on a flatbed trailer and take it from Ontario to Kentucky and from Kentucky into New Mexico and we’ll drop it off at a dock and it’ll go anywhere else in the world that wants it.”
This shuttling around is necessary, Stimpson says, because it takes multiple steps to get uranium from the ground to the market.
“The whole nuclear fuel cycle – you mine the ore and then it has to be converted and then enriched and then it has to be turned back into a powder and then compressed into pellets and put in rods before going to a nuclear power plant, so there’s four or five processes there.”
Besides TimeLine’s world headquarters in Saskatoon, the also company has a small operation in Paducah, Ky. – because that’s the where the nuclear action is.
“Metropolis, Ill. is right across the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky. and it’s the hub of the nuclear industry,” Stimpson says. “Everything comes into and goes out of there. Honeywell’s converter is in Metropolis and the enrichment is done in Paducah, so if you want to be dealing with the nuclear industry, that’s where you have to be.”
Despite his bullishness on things nuclear, however, Stimpson doesn’t think TimeLine will ever be able to concentrate only on the nuclear sector because it just isn’t large enough.
“You’ll never be able to get out of general freight,” he says, noting that the company is making its name currently working mostly for the oil and gas industry, hauling pumpjack and pipe from Alberta and Saskatchewan into Texas and hauling pipe back up to Canada. The company currently runs 25 trucks – a combination of Kenworths, Freightliners and Peterbilts they bought new – with a staff of 25. Stimpson says they’ve been drumming up business the old-fashioned way, by “Just getting on the phone and calling. A lot of people know us from other companies – we’ve been in the business long enough – so we know a lot of people in the industry. And we provide a better product.”
That better product comes from pushing the technological envelope, Stimpson says, and by maintaining high standards.
“We’ve done everything right,” he says. “We’ve embraced technology to its fullest, and we’ve been audited more times in the last year-and-a-half than most companies get in their entire life.” Stimpson says they’ve been audited by some of the biggest players in the nuclear industry, they’ve been audited for HazMat and compliance and have undergone two audits by the US Department of Transport.
“Everyone just walks away shaking their heads and saying they don’t believe we built this,” he says. “Most of it is just embracing technology and staying on the cutting edge. We embrace change, so our company is constantly evolving.”
Among TimeLine’s technological tools are Shaw Tracking’s platform.
“We have everything,” Stimpson says, pointing out that not only can they track all their trucks by satellite, but “we have the electronic logbooks, the drivers can scan all their paperwork right from the truck to us and it’ll come right into our office by e-mail – there’s no having to go find fax machines which, at two dollars a page, gets really expensive.”
Stimpson estimates that they’ll have printers in all TimeLine’s trucks by this fall, so they can send their drivers PDFs they can print out in the cab.
The company also uses Axon’s enterprise software.
“I love their programs,” Stimpson says. “Our old company was a beta test site for Axon and my computer is one of the first that had the program on it. I was told to break it, so every time I do break something I phone and tell them what happened.” There have obviously been growing pains, but “The program is so intuitive – and it’s all done in real time with no ‘save’ button, so you never have to worry about your information,” Stimpson says. Timeline’s also working with Axon to see if Shaw tracking can be better integrated.
All this technology also helps TimeLine communicate with clients. Stimpson says they can set up Shaw Tracking sensors so that an e-mail to their customer is generated automatically every time a truck enters and leaves a particular area. Plus, “they can go online 24 hours a day, seven days a week and see where their loads are,” he says. “They can get invoices, tender loads – they can do pretty much anything they want with their loads and not ever talk to us. They don’t have to call us to track it down for them.”
That isn’t TimeLine’s only strategy for keeping the lines of communication open, either. “We’re constantly calling our customers,” Stimpson says. “If we have a driver stuck in traffic or there’s a snowstorm, (the client) will know he’ll be late. There’s never any surprises when you’re dealing with us.”
It seems to be paying off.
“In the trucking industry everyone lies and cheats but we don’t do that,” Stimpson says. “Everyone knows we’re running electronic logbooks, we’re 100% legal, so there’s no grey area. And we get so much positive feedback from customers it’s unbelievable. They love our system and they like dealing with us because they know what they’re dealing with. We’ll tell you straight up-front if we can do something or not.”
TimeLine’s penchant for high standards means its drivers are also expected to measure up. “We met with CarriersEdge last May and decided we want to be part of that,” Stimpson says, crediting that decision with changing their entire philosophy for hiring and working with drivers. And it has paid off. “In eight months we went from being nobody to one of the top seven fleets in Canada to drive for,” he says.
As evidence, Timeline’s Web site displays its listing as a ‘Fleet to Watch’ in the 2012 Best Fleets to Drive For survey contest, an “honourable mention” citation they were gunning for.
“I wanted to get that that honourable mention because next year we’ll be even better,” Stimpson says. “We’re already revising everything to make it better.”
TimeLine’s driver orientation program takes about three days, the first of which is spent mostly in the truck, working with the satellite system.
“We’ll take them for a drive and make sure they can drive and we’ll play around with the satellite and take them through a typical day so they get the feel of the system,” Stimpson says, noting that “the electronic logbooks are so intuitive – the truck knows when you’re driving and when you’re not and the drivers catch onto it very quickly.”
Stimpson says some drivers are intimidated by the system when first faced with it but, after dealing with it for a week, they wonder how they ever lived without it.
“It takes the guesswork of your logbook 100%,” he says. “When that thing says you’ve got hours, you’ve got hours and when it says you don’t have hours you don’t. It’s just that plain and simple. You just drive when it tells you to drive.”
Online training consists of some 15 modules, mostly from CarriersEdge but augmented by some developed in-house and uploaded onto the CarriersEdge system.
“We have a pretty comprehensive program which includes defensive driving, hours-of-service, all the HazMat training,” Stimpson says, “as well as living right – exercise, sleep and all that. We take it very seriously.”
Such commitments of equipment, technology and techniques don’t come cheap, a fact Stimpson is quick to acknowledge.
“We spent a lot more than most trucking companies do, that’s for sure,” he says. “But what we’ve built is starting to bloom and customers are coming to us now. Our name is getting out there, we’re starting to get bids on nuclear business, we’re growing lots in the oil and gas industry.”