Papa Harry Trucking ups its game in small-town Alberta

by Derek Clouthier

PONOKA, Alta. —  From the humble beginnings of running a business out of their family home, Papa Harry Trucking has finally found a place to call its own, and a community that has welcomed them with open arms.

Launched in 2005 by Harry and Mary Anne Folkerts, the couple knew that taking control of their own destiny meant they would have to take the risk of starting their own business.

While working for Husky Energy, Harry was approached with a request to start hauling feed for the local agricultural sector, and he and his youngest son did just that, and in 2011, Jake Folkerts, the oldest son, came on board to help haul building tin.

And for Jake, the effort his company has put into providing quality service is something he is proud to wear as a badge of honor.

“Being a smaller company, we can guarantee that a driver will be at a certain spot to pick up at a certain time on a certain date. Whereas when you’re dealing with bigger companies, you don’t get that,” Jake said. “They show up a day or two days later. If we say they’re going to be there Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock to load, we are there very, very close to that.”

Staying local, particularly when times are tough, is another approach Papa Harry Trucking has placed great importance on.

“When businesses are starting to tighten their belts up a bit, they are also looking at staying local because if you use local companies that helps the local economy and themselves,” Jake points out.

Ron Rust, general manager and dispatcher for Papa Harry Trucking, said bringing quality service to their customers stretches beyond management to include drivers.

“We put a little bit of onus on them, too,” Rust said. “’I’ve told you where the freight is, what you’re picking up and where it’s going. Please call the receiver and let them know when you’re going to be there.’ So they are part of that supply chain management as well.”

Rust said when hiccups inevitably do occur, he prides himself on contacting the customer himself to explain what the situation is and when they can expect to get their freight.

Using GPS telematics to monitor their trucks, Rust said he is able to track shipments and relay to customers where the freight is at any given time and when it will likely be delivered, which takes the pressure off their drivers so they can concentrate on what they were hired to do – drive.

In addition to its van division hauling feed, Papa Harry Trucking has been using flat decks for over a decade, transporting pipe, coils, concrete, lumber and tin, and expanded its trailers for over-dimensional loads. The family-run company has established routs across Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Despite the recent hemorrhaging of the Alberta economy, Rust remains confident that his company approached the crisis with the right business model.

“I would almost say it probably helped us because we are small,” he said. “When things get tight, everyone’s looking to cut corners and cut costs where they can, where we just kind of filled that niche.”

Papa Harry Trucking managed to preserve its rates during the economic downturn, but as Mary Anne pointed out, the introduction of a provincial carbon tax did force an increase last March.

“We waited three months to see how it would affect us,” she said of the tax, “and then we did the 5% increase. And customers were very pleased with how we did it.”

The company’s move to its new location within the industrial area of Ponoka affords them further opportunities going forward, including cross-docking, as well as space to provide warehousing in the 2,500 square feet of available space, something Jake said can provide companies storage when hauling less-than-truckload shipments, which can lower shipping rates for customers.

“It’s not so much a new idea, but it’s convincing people that it might be a better way to do things, being able to offer better rates if (freight) is stored here,” Jake said, adding that even with a storage fee, shipping prices would bring the overall cost down. “If you take an LTL shipment out of Saskatchewan and you’re bringing freight to Alberta one skid at a time, you’re paying that one skid rate, but if we put half a truckload on and bring it here we can give them a better rate on that one load, we can warehouse it and redistribute it for them from Alberta at a cost savings for that company, so that partnership extends all across the Prairies.”

The move from the Folkerts family home, which is in Lacombe, Alta., was also welcomed by company drivers.

“I’m pretty sure the drivers are pretty happy with being here rather than picking their truck up at my parents’, then going to another place to go pick up this trailer and jumping all around,” Jake said. “We’re centralized, it’s all local, it’s all here.”

Currently employing seven trucks, the company is looking to up their game to nine full-time trucks and one part-time driver, who will help in the warehouse and with various duties around the property. If you’d like to drive for Papa Harry Trucking, come armed with driving experience in the Prairies and on mountain highways.

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