CALGARY, Alta. — It’s been a long time since Dafoe Trucking made the move from B.C. to Alberta in search of bigger and better things, but 60 years later, the Calgary-based company is projecting this will be its best year yet.
From back to front: Brent Jespersen (CEO and co-owner), Bryan Bean (logistics and safety manager), Tim Dafoe (co-owner), Irene Park (controller), Merv Dafoe (co-owner), and Debbie Moore (co-owner).
Dafoe Trucking is primarily a gravel company, hauling bulk products throughout Canada and the US, and with a new CEO at the helm, the company is stretching its wheels in more ways than one. Brent Jespersen, CEO and co-owner of Dafoe Trucking, told Truck West the company is growing its highway fleet with contracts hauling bulk products out of the US and into Canada.
Fertilizer is Dafoe’s bread and butter, hauling around 1,000 loads per year, and it is the largest Canadian carrier for cement, concrete, and aggregate company Lafarge. Dafoe also now has a sibling, a numbered company that hauls in Canada and the US – Dafoe Trucking is an intraprovincial hauler within Alberta.
This is just the beginning of what Dafoe is providing its customers, and for a young CEO, it’s a career that has come full circle.
“I’ve got trucking in my blood and I couldn’t get it out,” said Jespersen, who spent seven years with the company when he first entered the industry after planning on staying on for just a year.
At the age of 26, Merv Dafoe – who also owns the company along with his brother Tim Dafoe and Debbie Moore – pulled Jespersen, who was a driver at the time, into his office and told him he was destined for something bigger. So Jespersen, who had been working for Dafoe since he was 19, returned to school to get his business degree.
After graduating, Jespersen worked for a handful of trucking companies before rejoining Dafoe this past year, investing in the company and taking over the CEO role, allowing the ownership group to take a step back and focus solely on running the fleet, maintenance and shop, and away from the operational side.
Along with 35 gravel trucks, ranging from tandems, quad-wagons and end-dumps, Dafoe boasts a total of 42 vehicles, but Jespersen wants to see that number rise to more than 50 by the end of 2018.
This is a lofty goal compared to the company’s humble beginnings in Kitimat, B.C. in 1957 as C & D Trucking, for Carter and Dafoe; Carter soon being bought out by Merv and Tim’s father before moving to Calgary with his four trucks. Merv and Tim’s father passed away shortly after relocating to Calgary, leaving Merv to run the company with his uncle. In 2004, Tim joined the growing family business.
As the company has expanded from four trucks to six, then 10 trucks to what it has now, the size of land they occupy has also grown, now encompassing a 12,000 sq.-ft. building and four acres of land.
But as with any business, there have been hurdles along the way, the most recent being Alberta’s newly-implemented carbon tax, a cost Dafoe Trucking does not pass on to its customers.
“We’re paying such a huge tax on our fuel, which our customers don’t acknowledge as something that they need to reimburse us for by any means, so we take the full hit on that,” Jespersen said. “It’s been tough to maintain the current numbers and rates that we work with, while keeping that in mind. Now with the carbon tax, it’s hitting us a little bit more in our pockets, and it’s hard to justify sending that back to our customers.”
Jespersen said in addition to safety and service, pricing is huge in an industry as competitive as trucking, and that swallowing the carbon tax gives Dafoe a leg up on those who have decided to pass it on to their customers.
“We adjust our rates very slightly to try and offset it so that (our customers) don’t see a huge increase in rates,” said Jespersen, “but I did go to our customers and say this is a huge tax for a company of our size to endure, and is there any opportunity to negotiate, and everybody said absolutely not…it’s the nature of the game. So that was one tough situation.”
One area Jespersen is particularly proud of during his tenure as Dafoe CEO is safety, an emphasis on which has been cemented within all employees.
“With all of our employees here I use the word ‘culture,’ said Jespersen. “I come from an oil patch environment where safety was ingrained into everyone’s daily routine, so I think when I came into this seat I thought that same culture was going to be there, and what I found in gravel hauling is that they are about 10 steps behind the oil patch on safety.”
Instead of looking at this as a hindrance, Jespersen saw it as an opportunity for Dafoe to lead the way when it came to safety, hiring a safety officer, implementing new regulations and using these measures as a selling feature to customers.
“A lot of this was really unheard of and we thought implementing a really big, extensive safety program, our drivers would say, ‘I don’t want to work here anymore, this is getting too crazy,’” said Jespersen.
Dafoe even went as far as to project a 5% turnover rate based on the new approach to safety training, believing some would not buy in.
“In fact, it was the complete opposite,” Jespersen said. “At the safety meeting we held when we introduced all this, 90% of the drivers said this was required and it was something they were going to embrace because it was only going to make Dafoe stronger and more attractive for customers to hire.”
Dafoe has also embraced technology, outfitting all its trucks with GPS, which Jespersen said is worth the cost.
“Everyone loves to complain about truckers,” he said, “and we now have the evidence to back (an incident) up, and we’ve had to use this at least once every couple of weeks to either prove that it wasn’t us or where our truck was.”
The future certainly looks bright for Dafoe.
“We are forecasting 2017 to be the company’s best year in history,” Jespersen said, due in part to the company’s highway fleet growth and the upcoming completion of Calgary’s ring road.
So what could Dafoe possibly do get even bigger? Well, it plans to create a side project that will act as a third-party mechanical company.