CALGARY, Alta. – After more than a decade and a half running his family business in Calgary, Bess Tank Lines executive vice-president of operations Ben Rouillard may feel that they are the new kids on the block, but with the 2014 acquisition of Cooney’s Farm Services, the company has risen to the challenge and made its mark in Western Canada.
“It was a customer, actually, who asked us to start out here,” said Rouillard. “And we’ve been slowly building around that, and now it’s been over 15 years.”
Executive vice-president of operations for Bess Tank Lines, Ben Rouillard (left), with long-time driver Bob McIntosh (right).
As part of the parent company B&B Transport (Bessette & Boudreau), which was conceived in Quebec by Rouillard’s mother and father in 1975 as a milk run with just a pair of trucks, Bess made the journey out west in 1999, and its young executive, who just turned 40 in December, knows that patience can sometimes be a business’ best virtue.
“We’re pretty careful,” Rouillard said. “Still after 15 years we feel that (Calgary’s) not our territory. It takes a long time. So we grow slowly.”
Part of that growth started in 2002, when Bess moved from its rental property and invested in its own facility in Calgary’s southeast quadrant – 2002 was also the last time Truck West visited with the small fleet and, to this day, a story can be found framed on the wall in Bess’ front lobby.
A lot of work has been done on the facility since 2002 to help it grow along with its ever-expanding list of customers, and last year’s purchase of Cooney’s helped Bess increase its employees, as well as their level of expertise, and diversify its operations by tapping into the transportation of more chemicals.
“That brought us an awesome group of experienced guys. That was probably the highlight of the last year-and-a-half,” said Rouillard, adding that Cooney’s was 100% chemical hauling, which in turn, helped Bess boost its chemical transport percentage.
“We diversified a lot. We were mostly food-grade when we came in (to Calgary) and now we’re probably 80% chemical.”
In addition to diversification, gaining about 12 employees and an equal number of trucks, Bess’ acquisition of Cooney’s, which was a first for the company in Western Canada, enhanced its safety training efforts, something Rouillard said they have invested a great deal into during the past year and has been applauded by employees.
That broadening of its business portfolio has helped Bess during the current uncertainty with Alberta’s economy due to the steep fall in oil and gas prices.
But despite the downturn, Rouillard said there were other ways the company enriched itself in 2015.
“The last few years was a bit tough to keep good people,” he said, “so in 2015, we took advantage to rebuild the team with experienced people.”
Rouillard said he understands that 2016 would be a time when the company must work hard to retain the business that it currently has and continue to keep things moving at a steady pace.
It’s a business tactic many companies in Alberta will have to get used to for the next while, much like how Rouillard had to become accustomed to the differences between the Eastern and Western Canadian business mindsets.
“Mentality is the hardest thing to adapt to,” Rouillard admitted. “It’s two different kinds of mentalities. Eastern Canada is more competitive, it’s more feisty, while out here it’s a lot more laid back.”
Coming from Quebec, Rouillard said he felt he had to have much more control over his employees, whereas in Alberta, he feels it’s a much better approach to give them greater freedom and independence.
Bess employs around 40 people at present. One of those employees is Bess’ director of Western Canada, Grant Hofer, a person Rouillard said has been around since 2005 and has ‘taught him a lot.’
Another is Bob McIntosh, a driver, who has been with the company for so long that Rouillard referred to him as ‘employee #7’ as a playful indicator of the length of his tenure.
Despite being a family business, something Rouillard said he believes his employees value, there is no telling what will happen in the future.
“We don’t plan to just sit on what we have, so we will definitely hire some more people,” Rouillard said, confessing he did not know exactly when more employees would be brought on board.
“Every shipper should be using us,” Hofer said, not mincing any words when asked for his input on the company he has called home for the last decade.
Bess’ parent company B&B Transport has terminals in Alberta,
Quebec and Manitoba, providing hauling services, cross-border shipping, intermodal transport and operates its own rail transshipment sites from branches in Windsor and Saint-Hyacinthe.
“We respect everybody and they respect us,” Rouillard said of Bess. “We’re doing our own thing and it’s been working pretty good for us.”