All in the family

by Steven Macleod

CLARESHOLM, Alta. – In today’s world of box stores, brand names, franchise opportunities and multi-national corporations, maintaining a family-owned business can be a difficult task. But in a small community, a little more than an hour south of Calgary along Hwy. 2, a family tradition of freight transportation carries on.

Since its humble beginnings in 1966, Pedersen Transport has maintained its family ownership and is currently being headed by the second generation partnership of Wayne and Troy Pedersen. Although being in its second generation of ownership still places the transport company centuries away from cracking the list for the world’s oldest family companies, which is topped by a nearly 1,500-year-old construction company in Japan, the business continues to thrive.

Balancing business with family has its privileges and its downfalls. But as Wayne Pedersen, president of Pedersen Transport, reflects on the operations of the family business, seated in his office based in the companies Claresholm terminal, he sides with the suggestion of privileges.

“With family members you can tend to be more frank and honest,” he said. “In our case, there seemed to be more of a commitment, at least on our end. It may not always be the case because all families are different.”

Wayne’s parents, Garry and Lorraine Pedersen, laid the foundation for the 40-year-old company on Feb. 2, 1966 with the formation of Pedersen Storage and Cartage. With just two trucks for a fleet, Pedersen Storage and Cartage used its one-tonne and half-tonne trucks to deliver freight in and around town.

Just like Wayne, the company was born and raised in the Southern Alberta rural community of Claresholm. The town of about 3,600 people was named by a Canadian Pacific Railway superintendent and the foundations for the town were built upon the establishment of a train station in 1891. The Pedersen’s opening for business was dependent on that same train station, 74 years later.

In the latter part of 1965 an act of the Federal Government gave CP Rail authority to close down some of the operations on its branch lines, providing they establish commission agents to handle their freight.

“Pedersen Storage and Cartage was one of the first agents on record in Canada to be established for CP Merchandising,” explained Wayne.

Situated about halfway between Calgary and Lethbridge, the company soon expanded into both markets. In 1967 the company bought out Economy Carriers’ freight run from Calgary to Claresholm and Fort Macleod; followed shortly by the acquisition of Murray Transportation ‘s run from Lethbridge to Fort Macleod and Claresholm in 1971.

Two of Garry’s brothers, Charles and Jim, stepped into the family business and went on to manage the terminals in Calgary and Lethbridge.

“Expansion has always come by acquisition,” explained Wayne. “Expansion was a natural path to give better and more complete service to our existing customers. It also worked well in that Charles and Jim went on to manage the Calgary and Lethbridge terminals.”

As a young man Wayne learned early about the transport business. Originally the company’s first terminal was based at the Pedersen’s home. His parent’s discussions during dinner gave Wayne an initial taste for the business, which he knew he would eventually follow as a career. After graduating from college in 1984, Wayne began his employment with his parent’s company; but, being a son of the owners did not come with any special privileges.

“I know how to use a broom, wash a truck and clean a bathroom,” said Wayne. “I know how to deliver freight and enjoy the driving part. I still get out and drive once a week or every couple of weeks, not very far but to help out here and there.”

About 15 years ago, Wayne extended his role with the company by buying out his uncle Jim. After Troy bought out his father Charles, the pair jointly purchased the remaining assets of the company from Garry and Lorraine. Troy now runs the terminal in Calgary, while Wayne continues to operate from the company’s original home in Claresholm. Despite only six per cent of the company’s business being done in Claresholm, Wayne would not choose to be anywhere else.

“It’s just a great place to live and raise a family,” noted Wayne. “In this day and age with all the technology, you don’t have to be next to the fire.”

Making the transition from a company employee to company president is not always an easy task. In a smaller company with about 45 to 50 employees, 35 of which are drivers, it can be even more difficult to stay out of immediate affairs.

“Now you have to see the big picture and stay out of the fires. As employees deal with the day-to-day, I have to work on tomorrow and next week and next year’s business,” explained Wayne. “It’s so easy to get sucked into the day-to-day, because I enjoy it, but you have to look at the bigger picture.”

Pedersen Transportation ‘s core business comes from overnight LTL and TL freight service. Over the years the company has had numerous chances to further expand, but has always resisted.

“Our philosophy was to stay in our own backyard and diversify to do different things,” said Wayne. “We’re happy with the current size of the company and use strategic partners to help provide a wider range of services to our customers. This partnering with other companies gives us and our customers access to the national and international market.”

Pedersen Transport continues to service about 50 communities throughout Southern Alberta from its three terminals located in Claresholm, Calgary and Lethbridge. With a fleet of 30 trucks and 90 trailers, the company delivers its services 24 hours a day six days a week. The smaller coverage area allows drivers the ability to make it home at the end of the work day and spend time with their families.

The fleet consists of mainly Freightliners, with a few other brands in the mix. A few of the newer trucks are equipped with automatic transmissions, which the drivers really like, said Wayne.

In its 40th year of operation, Pedersen Transport has based its quality of service on the strength of its employees. In a show of appreciation to the employees and in celebration of the 40th anniversary, the company has invited all the staff and their spouses to a weekend at Waterton Lakes National Park in March.

“This year we will be celebrating employees who have been with us 30, 25 and 20 years,” noted Wayne. “We have a good base of employees who have been with us quite a while. All these things form a good foundation to build upon, from driving to sales. With the customers, it’s a partnership and a two-way street. We’ve got some great long-term customers who have stuck it out with us and we have stuck it out with them.”

With nearly a lifetime of exposure to the transportation business, Wayne still finds the business invigorating.

“You open the back trailer door and there’s everything you can imagine inside, it’s really quite fascinating,” he said.

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