WINNIPEG, Man. – They’ve been trucking since the 1950’s and this farmer-turned-trucker family shows no signs of slowing down, even in the face of challenging times.
Arnold Bros. Transport, the Winnipeg-based hauler, is now headed by the second generation of Arnold brothers, Fred and Gary. Fred Arnold told Truck West in a recent interview that the original Arnold brothers, Frank and Jerry, were farmers who started hauling bulk grain fertilizers and other commodities as a second business, during the winter months. They eventually decided to sell the farms and pursue trucking full time, a decision that seemed like a logical one at the time.
Fred and Gary Arnold are the second generation to run Arnold Bros. Transport. They credit the company’s success to hard work and a can-do attitude. Photo courtesy of Ian Smart Photography.
“We lived in a village just outside of Winnipeg and one farm was half an hour, 20 minutes away while the second farm was out near Neepawa, about a two-hour drive,” Arnold said. “They knew they had to make decisions (because) they wanted to continue to reside in Oakbank (just east of Winnipeg). The family was young at that stage and they had an opportunity to sell the farm.”
Back then, Arnold noted, trucking was regulated highly, “so any kind of business took licence applications and typically was opposed by the (other) carriers at that time.”
They managed to get through all that, however, and the company eventually started hauling farm equipment for companies such as International Harvester and John Deere.
“That also expanded (our) territory from just Western Canada to the States and British Columbia and Ontario and Quebec,” Arnold said, “and that’s how geographically we expanded the business.”
They also expanded by acquiring a small company out of Steinbeck, he said, “so over the course of time pre-deregulation it was either the purchase of people’s licences or just through application and growth in that capacity” that helped build the business.
Today, the fleet is generally a 50/50 mix between company drivers and owner/operators. “On the truck side we are principally Freightliner and, secondarily, International,” Arnold said, noting that “we are very happy with the Freightliner, getting very good fuel mileage, and have been operating (them) now for about seven years.”
Arnold said the company uses two brands of trucks to make sure the primary one is still the best one for them, and also “to make sure we have some comparatives internally, because this industry doesn’t share too much information in terms of how utilization should be or how fuel economy should be or what driver turnover is.”
Arnold Bros. has a mix of full-service lease arrangements and also does its own maintenance, “and we’ve spent a lot of time on technology and specifications for combination of fuel economy and operating costs” Arnold said. Besides its Winnipeg head office, the company also operates terminals in Milton and Calgary and has drop yards in Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon. “Our mix is probably 75% domestic and 25% international,” Arnold said.
The company says it differentiates itself from the cornucopia of competitors by hard work and a can-do attitude. “I would say our (success) has come from just staying focused,” Arnold said, “whether it’s a customer, employees or likewise a supplier.”
He said the approach has been such that “We get employees who’ve been fired, or employees who go to other careers, or our competitors, who say it is different here, that they miss the sense of belonging, the sense of the opportunity in working with others.”
Arnold, who describes his job as “knowing a little bit about everything and not very much about anything,” said the family fosters a family feeling among staff, which helps them with retention. “We’re small enough that most people know each other,” he said. “It’s just a culture that we work towards creating and sometimes the payback isn’t a saving in cost per hour or cost per mile, but there is saving on the other unmeasurable things, like turnover. (We) try and give people a sense that this is a company that stays relevant. We’ve got a lot of long-term
people, we’ve got a lot of younger people, we’ve got some people who have started right out of high school working for us and they’re our best ambassadors.”
To recognize long-term employees, Arnold Bros. offers years of service awards – and that’s just the beginning of the benefits. “For the drivers we have a performance-based compensation arrangement and…we have a monthly driver and, separately, owner/operator of the month each month,” Arnold said. “We also participate actively in the Manitoba Trucking Association in all facets and our drivers have regularly been Drivers of the Month or awarded through (organizations such as the) Manitoba Trucking Association.”
Also helping raise the company’s profile is a secondary business. “We have operated a vocational training school for drivers for 10 years,” Arnold said, “to try to continue to feed the industry and (introduce) the industry as certainly a good opportunity here in Manitoba.”
The company has also been active in a program that helps bring drivers in from another country, “with the understanding from the get-go that the opportunity here is permanent,” he said, “and (we work) with these people and the provincial and national programs to ultimately have them and their families as landed citizens.”
Safety is naturally a high priority for Arnold Bros.
“I think the most important thing (about safety) is to start with (monitoring) our rankings on our programs,” Arnold said. “We chart our score each month, we share that score internally. I know at this point in time, from our scores and from what we share with other people, that we’re in the percentile of the best.”
Arnold noted that the company is transitioning from old-style, paper logs to electronic ones, and they’re also adding collision avoidance systems to their new trucks. “We do what we can, both from a technology point of view and from internal training and discipline, to keep those scores high and they’re very much a part of how we run our business,” Arnold said. “You have to be able to measure it and manage it because you have to stay focused on what you’re doing and the challenge is to do that with an ever-changing population and demographics and the nature of where our drivers, which are our principal base of employment, come from.”
Fred Arnold’s message to the industry is that “There’s opportunity. There’s challenge, yes, but I think the real focus is the opportunities this industry creates for people, how loyal I believe most customers are – contrary to some people’s thinking.” He also thinks it can be a waste of time looking over your shoulder and worrying excessively about the competition “because collectively we’ve all got the same challenges. The industry as a whole is healthy, (it) makes a big difference and I think the industry doesn’t necessarily get the recognition it should. The industry, to me, is something that is as important as Arnold Bros. is.”