Gene Orlick was frustrated when Truck West sat down with him for an interview. The long-time Calgary carrier owner was faced with finding a quick replacement for a driver who quit suddenly after one of his loads was cancelled. Yet it was just another in the challenges he – and many other owners – faces on a daily basis. “That’s trucking,” he said. “It changes 10 times a day, 20 times.”
It irks Orlick that today’s “typical” employee doesn’t represent what “typical” used to mean. “I struggle with it because we have a nice company here and we’ve got good people and there’s no reason to just up and walk away from us because we treat them all fairly, like family.”
Though recruiting is always a challenge, Orlick said his company has a steady flow of people coming through, though Murphy’s Law does raise its ugly head sometimes. “The last guy who quit (after his load was cancelled) is 60 years old; I personally hired him, checked his references, evaluated his history, and he was an excellent driver with lots of experience.”
Orlick is a second-generation owner. His Dad, Max, and his Uncle Tom started the original Orlick Transport and the young Gene worked for them “right from when I could walk. I picked nails out of the yard and every Saturday I’d get the same old pail and cash them in again the following Saturday. That was where my entrepreneurial blood came.”
Tom Orlick has since passed away, but that wasn’t the end of Orlicks. “I was working at another company and then my wife, Nancy, and I started this company under Gene Orlick Transport Limited and about six, seven years into that we changed to Orlicks Inc., because we were into warehousing and environmental as well.”
They subsequently rebranded as Orlick Transport, with the blessing of Uncle Tom. “After he retired I asked him if I could use the name and he said absolutely. He was very proud of that. He was a mentor to me.”
One of Tom’s best pieces of advice for Gene was “collect your receivables,” a bit of counsel that was spurred when Gene tried to borrow some money from him. “And that’s held true to me for years and years and it is true,” Orlick said. ‘If you’ve got $1.5 million in receivables, they’ve got your money, so go get it.”
The new Orlicks began from scratch in 1995, with two trucks and four trailers. “We worked for Coca-Cola hauling their bottles and then hauling their product to warehouses,” Orlick said. Over the next 20 years, the company grew quickly and now boasts 30 trucks and 180 trailers. “We’re a nice little company,” he said proudly. “We’ve got our 10.5 acres here now and our shop, and we’re doing maintenance for others as well.”
The company moved to its current digs in southeast Calgary in February of 2012, a location close to the Stoney Trail ring road. “We used to be down in deep Foothills (Industrial Park) and our drivers would spend an hour getting out of Calgary on Deerfoot and now it’s only 15 minutes. And having all our shop, our fuel, our weigh scale, and warehouse, everything together – we’ve been able to have synergies there to improve our profits.”
Orlick credits the company’s success to its commitment to service. “Anyone can buy a truck, but it’s what you do with the truck (that counts),” he said. “Can you provide the added value of good service?”
Failure, he said, comes when you don’t deliver as promised and the customer is left wondering where the load is.
“Our customers are just-in-time,” he said. “All the groceries have 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. appointments so we have to have a system where we’re getting out of town here by 6 p.m. so we can (make) the 10 p.m. appointment in Edmonton. With such a short window of delivery time, we have to communicate – so (if there’s an issue) somebody gets out of bed and sends an e-mail to all the parties that require that information, and the service is provided. It may be delayed, but at the end of the day you’ve made an agreement and the service is good – because a lack of performance on the part of the carrier can really impact their supply chain.”
The company hauls general freight – soup to nuts, as Orlick described it – mostly through Alberta and Northern B.C. About a third of its tractors and half its trailers are based out of Edmonton, where Orlicks has three yards.
Orlicks recently bought eight 2016 Freightliners it expects to have by July and the company has added some tri-axles as well.
“It’s kind of a new thing for us,” Orlick said. “There’s some bigger accounts, beverage companies, that are using the 60,000-pound load, so a tri-axle is required. And that’s another type of service that requires expertise because you have to load the trailers correctly so you don’t have axle overloads.”
That’s an area in which Orlicks’ scale’s comes in handy.
“We don’t have any overload fines to worry about and the guys don’t white knuckle it, wondering if they’re overloaded,” he said.
Even though the economy may be threatening to blow up, Orlick isn’t worried. “We’re pretty lean,” he said. “We use a lot of turnpike doubles because you have two loads pulling with one tractor.”
He said turnpike doubles are environmentally friendly and are the safest mode of trucking, because their drivers need two years’ experience and 100,000 miles to qualify for an LCV licence.
“You have to get extra training,” he said, “so the turnpike double drivers are…more expert at their job.”
The company is also vigilant about safety and maintenance.
“We do a lot of different things I’m not sure others do,” he said. “We have our licensed mechanics go through the yard twice a day, morning and night – to pre-trip equipment that’s going out that day and make sure lights, brakes and air pressures are up and everything’s right, and they repair deficiencies prior to the trip.”
The company also does a weekly safety lane, using its drive-through bay.
“On safety lane day, no trailer leaves the yard unless it goes through our shop – that means truck, trailer and driver,” Orlick said. “That’s been really successful for us in terms of training our drivers.”
Challenges aside, Gene Orlick loves going to work. “I’m very proud of our company,” he said, “and I’m excited every day. The neat part about my job is that it’s never the same; each day’s different, with different challenges. That keeps me going. I get charged up by the sale, I like getting new contracts and working with customers on long term projects because we add value.”