It’s impossible to keep a good company down

by Derek Clouthier

NISKU, Alta. — Resiliency. There’s no better way to describe Frank Guy, John Kilmochko, and Rory Hellings of SKS Logistics.

After being laid off in 2007 after their branch was closed during an economic downturn, the ball was in their court, and the choice whether to find another job or start their own trucking company dangled before their very eyes.

And the choice was never more obvious.

“We decided that we need to go out and get a job, or we do what we already know what we’re doing, so we started up on our own,” said Guy, principal owner of SKS Logistics in Nisku, Alta.

Launched in the fall of 2007, just one month after losing their jobs, SKS Logistics had but one truck, and quickly grew to three, despite staring a company during an economic downswing.

“We’ve lived through a couple of recessions,” said Guy. “We started when it was pretty quiet and we’re just coming out of another one now. But somehow we’ve managed to keep it all going. The first few were rough, but this last one we’re just coming out of was as rough if not more.”

And Guy’s not ashamed to admit that at times he and his partners felt a bit discouraged having to face such a tough time when they first entered the trucking sector on their own, as well as the recent economic recession, one of the worst in Alberta history.

But business is looking up, and Guy remains cautiously optimistic about the future.

Having been in trucking since completing high school in the late ’70s, Guy holds years of experience under his belt, including being a driver back when he was in his 20s.

During that time, he has seen plenty of good times, as well as bad times, and that makes Guy yearn for something more stable when it comes to the Alberta economy.

“I’ve seen lots of ups and downs, spikes, and peaks and valleys,” Guy said. “So yes, steady is better and if it can get to that I think everyone is better off.”

SKS specializes in super B flat deck hauling, moving primarily drilling mud, lumber, road matting, and steel around Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the N.W.T.

The company also provides a variety of additional services, such as hot shots, over-dimensional hauling, pilot trucks, winch tractors, and rental trailers.

There is also no business like show business.

During slower times in the oil and gas industry, SKS hauls show supplies, like those used in Cirque de Soleil.

Guy said moving show material is a good gig when other commodities are suffering.

“It’s easy work and it’s good work,” he said. “We have a couple of guys who quite enjoy it.”

After quickly growing to three trucks, SKS currently has a fleet of 10, with additional owner-operators working for the carrier.

During busy times, SKS can have around 20 trucks on the road at any given time, with eight to 15 operating most days.

And Guy is always looking for good owner-operators.

‘We’re always looking for the owner-operator types…the guy who owns one truck and drives it himself and wants to be with a company that works,” he said. “They’re very nice to have around, they’re very independent guys, and generally speaking are experienced.”

When it comes to technology, Guy said they are well aware of the impending ELD mandate in Canada, but are also cautious when it comes to what types of technology should be used by drivers.

“You have a map on your dash and you have things that are maybe taking your eyes off the road a little bit,” said Guy. “Great tools, but not necessarily always the best thing.”

Guy said much of the technologies that are used today comes down to each individual company, and how those choices are used to ensure they are accomplishing what they are intended to.

SKS does not currently use ELDs, though some company drivers are taking it upon themselves to test the waters with various apps on their phones.

Guy said with the type of product SKS typically moves for the oil and gas industry, they can often require drivers to deliver freight late in the evening, so HOS can at times be an issue.

“That’s where we’re going to find our biggest challenge.,” said Guy. “It’s all well and good if a guy can start at 8 a.m., do your day and call it a night. But it doesn’t always work that way.”

One of the keys to success for Guy is for the industry to work together toward a common goal.

“Us as transport guys, we can only do so much,” he said. “People who need our product for drilling, or whatever the case may be, need to work together as well. And you have to get buy-in from your drivers.”

Parking is another concern for Guy.

With ELDs and better enforcement of HOS, drivers need safe rest stops across Canada, Alberta included.

“That’s an infrastructure and government thing,” Guy pointed out. “You can’t have guys just sitting on the side of the road on the shoulder just because they are out of hours. They have to be parked somewhere.”

Then there’s Alberta’s carbon tax, which has not been a simple financial issue to deal with for SKS. Guy said over the past six months, his company has forked over an additional $60,000 in fuel costs – $10,000 each month – because of the carbon tax.

“For the little bit of fuel we burn, our costs are up 4% just on fuel,” said Guy, unable to imagine how much the larger fleets have had to pay because of the tax. “So it’s a huge difference.”

Though SKS did implement a slight rate increase to offset the carbon tax, Guy said he hopes the government is using the extra revenue for the right reasons.

“I don’t know what (the government) is doing with all that money they’re getting,” he said, “but hopefully there doing what they say they’re going to and research to decrease the carbon footprint.”

Though growth may be in SKS’s future, Guy and his partners will not relinquish their commitment to being resilient and maintaining a cautiously optimistic outlook of the future.

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