JOHNSTOWN, Ont. — A massive new distribution center constructed by Giant Tiger was built with employees in mind, and boasts some of the most luxurious driver amenities offered anywhere. The highly-automated distribution center covers more than 600,000 sq.-ft. and employs more than 300 people, as well as more than 210 robots, which pack and sort goods with greater speed and accuracy than humans.
The location for the new DC, just outside Prescott, Ont., was strategically chosen to reduce annual transportation distances by 860,000 km a year, and costs by $1 million. But at the same time, the truck fleet, known as Tiger Trucking, is rapidly growing. While it doesn’t disclose driver count, the fleet grew by more than 300% in eight months this year.
James Johnstone, AVP transportation for Tiger Trucking, said the team was fully moved into its new home in early December 2018. He beamed with pride as he took Truck News on a tour of the facility, showing off the highlights for drivers. They include a quiet room, where drivers can get some rest between loads, a well-appointed gym, a games room with pool and foosball tables, a subsidized kitchen offering healthy meals, and locker rooms.
Even laundry service is offered; drivers are given 11 shirts and seven pairs of pants. When they need to be washed, they drop them off in the laundry room and pick them back up there cleaned a couple days later.
The fleet itself has also been completely refreshed. Johnstone said the average truck is a 2018 model year, with the oldest being a 2017. The tractors include Mack Anthems, Freightliner Cascadias and Volvo VNL 760s, all fitted with all the driver amenities to make life on the road more comfortable.
“Those are going to be refreshed with some 2020s that are in production now,” he said of the oldest tractors. The oldest trailer in the fleet is a 2019 model year. Giant Tiger is growing rapidly, and has a plan to add 10-15 stores a year for the next five years. When other brick-and-mortar retailers are stagnant or struggling to survive, Giant Tiger is thriving.
Tiger Trucking handles about 70% of the deliveries to Giant Tiger stores, with about 100 truck shipments a day being delivered from the Johnstown DC. The professional drivers who deliver those loads, and the equipment they operate, are a reflection of the Giant Tiger brand.
“We really want people going down the road to see that and think ‘I shop there, I recognize that logo.’ The last thing I want is someone to look at our truck and say ‘I can’t believe my food or clothing came out of that’,” Johnstone said.
For this reason, Tiger Trucking trucks and trailers are creatively decorated with eye-catching graphics that play up the retailer’s Canadian heritage. Drivers appreciate the equipment, the predictability of the routes, and the creature comforts at the new DC.
“Even today with our highly increased count, we have zero turnover,” Johnstone said.
Most drivers have predictable schedules and deliver to the same stores regularly. Stores receive shipments three times a week. The increased efficiency at the highly-automated Jamestown DC has also meant drivers can usually get loaded and on their way faster than before. They’re all paid by the hour.
On backhauls, Tiger Trucking will occasionally take on third-party freight, but usually it’s a combination of recycled cardboard and store returns.
Because it has so little driver turnover, Tiger Trucking can be discriminating in who it hires. It has a lengthy onboarding process including training on Giant Tiger’s corporate culture. The job, however, isn’t without its challenges. Some stores are tricky to access and have municipal restrictions on delivery times. A driver manual lays out details of every store, its quirks and nuances, and helpful advice on how to access the location.
Safety is a major focus for Tiger Trucking, exemplified by its hourly pay structure.
“There’s no rush to do anything unsafe,” said Johnstone. “Safety is our number one priority. Second is service to our stores. If we can’t do it safely, we won’t do it.”
Ontario isn’t the only growth area for Tiger Trucking; it recently moved into a new Moncton, N.B. location as well.
Moncton serves as a hub for the fleet in Atlantic Canada. There are currently 254 Giant Tiger stores across Canada, with more slated to open soon.
In addition to providing a comfortable headquarters for drivers to visit, Giant Tiger also takes strides to include them in a close-knit community environment. Barbecues are held every Wednesday, and for Christmas dinner, managers and executives serve up the food. There’s even an apple orchard outside, because company founder Gordon Reid wanted employees to feel comfortable bringing their kids there to pick apples. It also pays homage to the McIntosh, the national apple of Canada, which was first grown in the area.
Trucks in the yard were all freshly washed and detailed, tire polish applied. For the trailers, Johnstone prefers a Quik Zip mounting process that affixes to rails and can be easily swapped out in as little as 45 minutes. Adhesive vinyl is used only on the side fairings and the rear doors. This allows Tiger Trucking to quickly and cost-effectively swap the graphics to commemorate special occasions such as new store openings.
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