BADEN, Ont. – At 2:18 a.m. on Aug. 25, Erb Group president and CEO Wendell Erb hung up the barbecue tongs and headed home.
He was on night duty at Erb’s annual employee appreciation barbecue at the company’s Baden, Ont., headquarters. Like a lot of trucking companies, the carrier hosts BBQ events at its terminals each summer to thank drivers and other staff for their contributions. Unlike a lot of other carriers, it begins some of these events as early as 5:30 a.m. and runs well into the night, so that everyone is able to participate, including dockworkers working the night shift and drivers returning home at all hours.
It’s a 20-plus year tradition at Erb, but has evolved over time.
“Everybody seems to appreciate it,” Erb told us on Aug. 25, during the lunchtime shift. “We expanded it a few years ago and we went till 2 this morning, but we noticed we were missing our morning shift guys. By 11:30 or 12, all the trucks are gone. So, we started a breakfast. Now we have eggs, fajitas, pancakes, and it’s as big a hit as the regular barbecue. We’re just trying to touch as many people as possible. We invite our neighbors – our trucks are roaring up and down the roads here all the time.”
Employee families, customers, vendors, and even strangers are known to attend. In North Bay, Erb said, the company fed about 1,000 people despite only employing less than 100 people there.
“Where they come from, we don’t know,” Erb chuckled. “One fellow there this year told me this was the best barbecue in North Bay, and he goes to every barbecue in North Bay.”
The events are organized by long-time, semi-retired employee, Wayne Baechler, who recruits lots of help from other staff. Management takes its turn serving food. This year, Erb will host barbecues at terminals in Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Trenton, Mississauga, and Baden.
Asked how business has been this year for the company, Erb said demand is high, keeping up with it is the challenge.
“It’s been incredibly busy,” he said. “The biggest challenge we’re seeing right now is keeping drivers behind the wheels of the trucks and also getting high enough miles and utilization. We’ve done a really good job at recruiting and bringing in drivers. All of a sudden summer comes, and we have so many people here with 25 years’ seniority, they have five weeks of vacation. So, all of a sudden, we’re aiming for 10,000 miles a month per truck and we’re down to 7,000 because that truck sat for a week and we didn’t have another driver to hop in and take over. Sometimes our business is overshadowed by the fact we don’t have enough drivers. Volume has ramped up here and you don’t just snap your fingers and fill seats overnight.”
Still, having long-time drivers and a low driver turnover rate is a problem many fleets would love to have, a fact that isn’t lost on Erb.
“My advertising and recruiting costs are probably lower than everybody else’s, my training costs from orientation are very low, because I’m not adding 25 drivers this week and 25 drivers next week,” he reasoned.
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