CALGARY, Alta. - Everyone's heard the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none."It's not generally a flattering statement, especially when it's being directed at your trucking operation.While some c...
CALGARY, Alta. – Everyone’s heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
It’s not generally a flattering statement, especially when it’s being directed at your trucking operation.
While some carriers have found success hauling anything and everything from anywhere to everywhere, a number of fleets are proving it’s often better to concentrate on one small sector of the industry.
Finding a niche market to serve allows fleets to learn more about the specific needs of their customers and enables them to customize their staff and equipment to meet those needs.
As the saying goes, “If you got it, a truck brought it.”
The trick is finding something expensive to haul that very few rigs can carry.
While some carriers focus on hauling liquids, bulk commodities or automobiles, others have found even more specific niche markets previously overlooked by the major carriers.
Bess Tank Lines, for example, is a Calgary-based fleet hauling food-grade plasma used by cattle farmers to bulk up their herds.
Ben Rouillard, Bess Tank Lines’ operations manager, compares the plasma to the protein powders body builders use.
“It’s like a food protein,” explains Rouillard. “They dry out the cells and feed it right back to the cattle.”
Bess Tank Lines runs about 30 trucks that specialize in hauling the red and white blood cells used to make the plasma.
While the low-grade red cells are ultimately shipped overseas, the white cells are gaining popularity for use among North American beef farmers. Rouillard says it sure beats the alternative.
“Before this, farmers were feeding the cattle stuff like molasses just to get them fat as quick as possible,” says Rouillard.
“Now with this food protein, they’re getting big but lean so the meat quality is way better and the time it takes them to grow is way quicker.”
Focusing on such a specialized niche requires drivers to undergo special training, which includes instructions on how to properly clean the equipment and how to tailor their driving style.
The environment in which Bess Tank Lines works is about as clean as a hospital operating room.
After each delivery the trailers are washed out and sterilized to even higher standards than those used in the milk industry.
Another consideration when hauling food-grade plasma is driving style.
Bess Tank Lines doesn’t hire rookies straight out of driving school.
Only the most seasoned driving veterans are allowed to pilot these rigs, as any excessive sloshing of the liquid can damage the quality of the cells.
“Guys have to be really gentle because any waves can damage the product,” says Rouillard. “The average age of my drivers is about 45-years-old because we need guys who really know what they’re doing.”
Not only do Bess Tank Lines drivers need to know what they’re doing behind the wheel, but they must also don lab coats to evaluate the product upon delivery.
“All of our drivers have to do lab tests before they unload to make sure the quality of the product is good,” says Rouillard.
No heavy metal
Stan Vander Vliet is the owner of five-truck operation, Alloy Transportation Services (ATS), a company specializing in the delivery of aluminum.
Hauling only aluminum has some advantages over other heavier metals, mainly because it’s light-weight, creating less wear and tear for the truck and trailer.
“I first got into hauling aluminum through the railway,” says Vander Vliet, who used to do contract work for Canadian National (CN) Railway.
Now, his fleet of Kenworths runs to and from the Kingston, Ont., area hauling aluminum coils.
As far as equipment goes, there aren’t a lot of special requirements for this fleet.
“You need racks and tarps and a good flatbed trailer,” says Vander Vliet.
Like other trucking companies focusing on a niche market, ATS is able to deliver a level of customer service unrivaled by general freight carriers or other flatbed drivers who don’t have experience working with the specific commodity.
A load of bull
While Vander Vliet has found his niche hauling cold, impersonal aluminum, Keith Campion’s forte requires nerves of steel.
The owner of two-truck Campion Trucking is responsible for hauling rodeo bulls for the Calgary Stampede.
While there are plenty of livestock hauling operations in Alberta, only a handful specialize in the movement of 2,000-lb rodeo bulls and broncos.
Campion Trucking is responsible for hauling the rodeo stock from the Stampede Ranch south of Hannah, Alta. to major rodeos such as the Calgary Stampede and Professional Bull Riding (PBR) events.
Campion says the animals can be a little on the ornery side, and require a lot of care.
“You’ve got to keep your head up and make sure you’re paying attention,” warns Campion.
The most dangerous bulls to load and unload are the young rookies heading to their first Stampede. Campion says they can be full of piss and vinegar and they don’t know where they’re headed, so they get a little uneasy.
“Usually once they’ve gone to town a few times they’re not too bad,” says Campion, noting they’ll generally save their aggression for the ring. Using a tri-axle cattleliner, Campion can generally get between 35 and 38 bulls on-board.
He uses basically the same equipment to haul regular livestock, with the same trailer capable of housing about 45 regular cattle. One of the greatest challenges involved in loading rodeo bulls is filling the upper deck.
“It gets a little scary at times,” says Campion, who places lots of wood shavings along the floors to ensure maximum comfort for the mammoth animals.