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News Focus: Charging ahead

MT: From 18 tractors back in 91 to 580 today your growth has been impressive. And I assume this has been smart growth considering that you have been named to the prestigious list of Canada's 50 Best M...


MT: From 18 tractors back in 91 to 580 today your growth has been impressive. And I assume this has been smart growth considering that you have been named to the prestigious list of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies for the seventh year in a row. What have been the key elements behind such impressive growth?

Streuber: We recognize that a strong relationship with our driver results in a solid relationship with the customer. Coupled to that is the ability of our internal people to support the drivers and all of the operations functions. The success of Bison is a result of the hard work of many people in many areas. The 50 Best refers to the concept of best managed and best managed includes those companies who work hard and work smart. Working hard is not enough. We have consciously attracted large customers. One, because they demand the higher level of service that we look to provide and, two, for the partnership relationships which develop with the larger customers.

MT: Is there still room for growth within your company?

Streuber: We had growth last year of just under 15 percent and we continue to plan growth. In addition to our asset-based growth, we are looking to also grow our Bison Asset Based Logistics (ABL) division. ABL was started in the spring of 2001 to provide a one point of contact, seamless logistics solution. We have about a dozen partner carriers that can meet the level of service we make commitments to. Whenever there is a question from the shipper, ABL acts as the sole point of contact. It’s an invisible move of goods.

MT: Four years ago you also started offering warehousing services. What was the rationale behind that move and what types of services do you offer?

Streuber: We have large customers that require warehouse space. We are now running three warehouses with an aggregate space of just under 400,000 sq. ft. The service we provide varies by customer. We get into some detailed load picking but our warehousing operation is viewed as being complimentary to our trucking operation. Warehousing is an extension of the partnerships we have with some of our key customers and is not offered on a stand alone-basis.

MT: We are heading into potentially different times with the economy and freight volumes slowing down. Will it take a different type of strategy to succeed in this type of environment?

Streuber: The relationship with drivers will remain fundamental to managing a trucking operation, in terms of being able to keep equipment rolling and productive. Additionally, there will be the continued need for detailed understanding of various cost factors and the management of those individual components. For example, there are fuel management issues, utilization of equipment issues and a shortage of professional drivers. We have dealt with fuel efficiency by having gone into detailed analysis of equipment spec’ing and driving habits. Downloaded information from the engine ECM is compared between like tractors. Understanding the difference between mechanical characteristics, along with driver operating characteristics, has had an impact on fuel economy and the type of training we provide. We are also testing a bonus program for drivers that exceed fuel economy targets. Our efforts have already resulted in significant gains in fuel efficiency.

MT: Speaking of driver issues, your turnover ratio for company drivers is under 30 percent. What steps did you take to get this issue under control?

Streuber: Drivers require certain things and tops among those is respect. They are professional drivers and we expect professionalism from them in how they deal with our customers, our equipment, issues of safety and conforming to the law. We also respect the contribution of the driver to our overall operation and include the driver in decisions. If you respect the driver, it permeates into how you treat the driver when it comes to dispatching, equipment maintenance and what you pay him.

MT: Bison operates one of the most modern fleets on the road with 90 percent of your tractors less than three years old. Can you continue doing that in the face of reduced freight volumes?

Streuber: Our plans don’t include a reduction in freight volumes and for us volumes are actually continuing to increase. Despite the economic slowdown and tragic events of September 11, we are having our busiest January ever. We currently are looking at keeping tractors for 42 months, which is a quicker trade-in cycle than our previous goal of five years.

MT: The last time we profiled Bison back in 1999 you didn’t have a satellite communications system. You have since invested in Cancom’s satellite tracking system. What changed your mind on that front and how are you using the system to better serve your clients?

Streuber: There are a couple of issues there. We really have two groups of customers with our satellite system. The first one is our drivers. Historically there has been apprehension about implementing a satellite system and letting it become the sole communication between driver and dispatch. We decided to use the satellite to transmit critical data relating to the load. But things such as “how are you doing today”, which are very important, are still communicated by phone. We want people talking to people not computer screens. We won’t put a satellite in a new driver’s truck until we know the driver first and he gets to know us. This paves the way for “real” relationships. For our external customers we have utilized the satellite communications system to allow the customer greater access to information more quickly. For example, when a driver delivers a load they now send us a satellite message that the load has been delivered. We have the capability to have an automatic e-mail go to the customer to confirm that their load has arrived. Our I-View Web site tool allows clients to view, 24 hours a day, their own shipping documents on-line, including proof of deliveries, scale tickets, etc. Our IT department worked with our key customers to determine what type of information they desired most.

MT: Looking ahead, 5-10 years from now, how would you like to see Bison positioned?

Streuber: I want us to be one of, if not the, largest Canadian TL carriers, however, I am not prepared to sacrifice our goals of profitability and maintaining our financial strength. I am confident that our business model, programs and people provide us with the ability and capacity to continue growing. The goal of our team is to continue working hard and working smart. One thing we realize is that if we just preserve the status quo we take away the challenge, the fun, and the energy of the business. Status quo is not an option.


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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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