Building a business on customer loyalty

by Sonia Straface

When it comes to servicing the Great Lakes, Cavalier Transportation Services says it has the area covered.

The company was officially started in 1979 by George Ledson, initially as one of the first truck brokerage businesses. In 1985, the company bought its first truck and became a motor carrier that services a 500-mile radius around the Greater Toronto Area. img_5622-1

Today it boasts more than 100 power units and 250 trailers with terminals on both sides of the border in Bolton, Ont. (that’s where the headquarters are located), Montreal, Rochester, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y., Chicago, Ill. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The company is still run by Ledson himself, who is CEO of Cavalier, but like many transport companies it has become a family business. Today, the management team is made up of the Ledsons’ children. Brian Ledson is executive vice-president of sales and marketing, Geordie Ledson is the vice-president of operations and Vicki Stafford is the vice-president of resource development. And together, they have established a business based around customer loyalty and delivering a service promise.

“We basically haul general freight,” explained Brian Ledson. “We like the easy stuff where we can go dock-to-dock. But we do some retail and specialized moves at a customer’s request. And we’re not just an LTL carrier, we have some flatbeds and curtainside trailers for dedicated accounts. We’ve really diversified over the years, because customers will come to us who have a special need and we will always try to fill that void.”

Ledson explained that he has his dedicated staff to thank for this “first class” service the company is able to provide for each and every one of its customers.

“Our people is our biggest strength here at Cavalier,” he said. “Our drivers and our staff are the best out there. We all truly care and it shows and it shows through our service and our loyalty of our customers. They call us with a request and they know we’ll get it done.”

Ledson said it’s not out of routine for a longstanding customer to phone him on the weekend with an emergency delivery or something that needs to get on a trailer and on the road immediately.

“And we can spring into action and get a driver out there right away to help,” he said, adding that his drivers are always willing to lend a helping hand. Not only do Ledson and the Cavalier senior staff appreciate their drivers and staff, but the staff seems to appreciate the workplace and community they’ve created over the last three decades.

“Turnover isn’t really a problem here,” Ledson said, adding that the staff at Cavalier is like one big family.

The company has received a number of accolades over the years, most notably being on Trucking HR Canada’s list of Top Fleet Employers. To be considered for this award, staff and drivers are interviewed to get a full picture of how carriers are making a great place to work for their employees.

“We have profit sharing, safety bonuses and most of our drivers are home every night,” Ledson said. “So that’s a nice selling point. We also like to provide our drivers with new equipment. None of our trucks are more than four years old. And we do all of our day-to-day maintenance of the trucks in-house.”

Ledson said he believes his staff appreciate knowing that having newer trucks that are being serviced in-house reassures them that the equipment they run is safe, and fuel-efficient.

“I’ve always said if you’re not running safe equipment and aren’t taking care of what you need to, you’re at risk of everything,” he said adding that drivers also like the sense of community at Cavalier. “Our employees are part of the family. We have different company events from time to time. We’re very community minded and since a lot of our employees are part of the community here, it gives them a sense of pride.”

Cavalier supports its nearby Rotary Club, participates in charity golf tournaments and sponsors many sports teams in the Bolton area.

“And our local hospital here gets a lot of support and donations from us, too,” he said.

And though the Cavalier team is stable Ledson says that the company is like many others, struggling with getting quality drivers to join its forces.

“Our biggest challenge right now is trying to grow and manage our business with the driver shortage,” he said. “Of course, there’s lots of drivers out there, but finding drivers that make the cut with us is challenging.”

The driver vetting process is lengthy, according to Ledson, who says along with the interview process, new hires need to meet extensively with the safety department, have a clean record and undergo a road test before driving for Cavalier. But the company isn’t worrying about the shortage just yet, and says it relies a lot on word of mouth when it comes to recruiting.

“A lot of our hires come from word of mouth from our drivers,” Ledson said. “Our drivers get a bonus if they bring on a driver and they make the cut and stick with us. So a lot of guys are doing that and it’s working out so far.”

Looking towards the future, Ledson said that the steady organic growth Cavalier has enjoyed in the last few years is hopefully what the company will see more of.

“We’ve always been based on organic growth…so we are going to stay the course with that. We really want to conduct our business smarter where we can drive more business with existing assets. We’re a very conservative company and we’re growing 5-10% year over year, which has been pretty good considering the last few years.

“Our first customer that we had when we opened is still with us today,” he added. “We are largely based on loyalty and commitment and once we get a customer, basically they are ours for a long time. And we hope that continues in the future.”

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