Willy’s Trucking defies Alberta’s economic misfortunes

by Derek Clouthier

When times are booming, it’s much easier for a business to grow alongside a bustling, nascent economy. When times are tough on the other hand, like they have become in Alberta over the past year, it’s not as easy to convince new clients to hop on board – but that’s exactly what Willy’s Trucking Service has managed to do.

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Willy’s Trucking co-owners Bernard Dyck, left, and Willy Schmidt at the company’s head office in Edmonton, Alta.

“Up to today’s date (Dec. 7), we’ve added 140 new customers or new accounts since the beginning of the year, which is very good for our size of business,” said Willy’s co-owner and founder Willy Schmidt, noting that November 2015 was a record month for his company.

“Somehow we haven’t really put too much focus on (the fact Alberta’s economy) is in a downturn and have just looked forward and gone out and banged doors and seen if there’s some business we can pick up,” he said, “and we’ve found it all over the place. I think there’s always opportunity for new business in Alberta. There’s always different things happening, and where I’ve tried to position our business is that we’re not just oil field…we haul almost anything.”

Schmidt said about 70% of Willy’s business comes from oil field hauling and services tied to that industry, and the remainder is made up of forestry, construction, as well as some retail goods.

The Edmonton-based company has hit the pavement hard with its sales efforts, and the additional customers it has picked up over the past year has helped Willy’s weather the provincial economic storm and maintain its positive numbers.

What has, however, had a negative effect was the cancellation of Royal Dutch Shell’s Carmon Creek project, as Shell is a key new client Willy’s had landed in 2015 (a highlight of the year for Schmidt).

As reported by the CBC this past October, the Carmen Creek oilsands project in northwest Alberta near Peace River was ditched by Shell due to what the company said was a lack of pipelines to coastal waters as one of the main reasons behind the decision.

The project was to see Shell produce 80,000 barrels a day of bitumen using a vertical steam-driven well operation starting in October 2013, but the project slowed and was scaled down in March 2015 in the wake of the market downtown.

The plan was eventually removed from Royal Dutch Shell’s portfolio, with the company’s CEO Ben van Beurden saying, “We are making changes to Shell’s portfolio mix by reviewing our longer-term upstream options worldwide, and managing affordability and exposure in the current world of lower oil prices. This is forcing tough choices at Shell.”

“So now we’re looking to see if there’s other locations that we can help them out with,” Schmidt said of his company’s partnership with Shell.

Willy’s had to let five employees go as a result of the Carmon Creek withdrawal.

Nevertheless, as a whole, Willy’s has continued to grow since its inception in 2007, when Schmidt started the company with one truck to haul gravel and dirt for a construction company.

“Me and my brother went and bought a truck,” said Schmidt, “and he was the driver for it, and that’s how we started.”

Born in Canada, Schmidt grew up in Bolivia where he worked for his father’s business clearing land for its customers driving a bulldozer by the youthful age of 13.

He then moved back to Canada at age 18 and worked for a construction company for nearly seven years before starting Willy’s.

Schmidt runs the company with co-owner Bernard Dyck, who also had worked in the trucking industry for many years.

In addition to the Edmonton office, Willy’s is located in Grande Prairie, its newest office, which opened in 2011, and Peace River, where Schmidt said their freight business started in 2009.

Dyck moved to Grande Prairie to launch the daily freight service branch in April 2011. Schmidt said he was based in Peace River in 2009, running operations from there for a number of years before moving back to Edmonton permanently in June 2011 to work from the company’s head office.

Today, Willy’s boasts about 55 employees, 28 trucks and 110 registered units between all three of its locations, specializing in daily less-than-load freight shipments and full load shipments with van and deck trailers throughout Alberta.

The company provides daily and overnight delivery, pickup and hotshot services, dry van, tridem 53-ft. vans and decks, super-B and pup van decks and pipe hauling.

“We really care for our people, and that’s what brings our team together and what makes us different,” said Schmidt. “When issues arrive we don’t avoid them, we face them and deal with them as best as possible and move forward.”

Dyck echoed the sentiment about the people Willy’s has working for them, saying that he and Schmidt had just recently returned from a vacation in the US, and while away, neither had received any calls from staff or customers with work-related concerns, which was a testament to the quality of the people who work for Willy’s Trucking.

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