CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Gyms and dorms are not usually associated with trucking companies, but a medium-sized carrier in P.E.I. is offering all that and then some to keep employees motivated.
“The physical health and wellness of our staff and drivers is very important,” said Andy Keith, vice-president of Seafood Express Transport, which specializes in temperature-controlled truckload freight.
“And, if you want your employees to be productive and enjoy their work, the gym is a great tool for that.”
The carrier’s new headquarters, sitting on six acres of land close to its old terminal in Charlottetown, features an array of facilities, open to all employees at no cost.
They include a modern gym, two dorms for drivers, a lounge with internet and television and a full kitchen.
Keith said the dorms would help those drivers who have just arrived in the country to take up their jobs as well as those who want to take some rest after a long trip.
“They have a comfortable place to sleep outside the truck. They have a comfortable place to relax, cook some meals and then go to the gym,” he said.
With some 90 drivers from 22 countries, the company has a multicultural work environment. There are another 30 administration and support staff.
Growing ‘slowly and surely’
Keith’s father, Bill Keith, purchased the company in 1986, when it had about 10 trucks. At the time it only transported seafood from the Maritimes to Boston, Mass.
Seafood Express now has about 100 trucks and 150 trailers, and has expanded its geographic reach considerably. It delivers 660 million pounds of freight via more than 16,000 loads annually.
But the company hasn’t grown the same way as some other fleets have, and Andy Keith said there is a reason for that.
“I think my father never really had the kind of goal to be a 1,500- or 2,000-truck fleet. He wanted to keep it a small family run company. He knew every driver’s name. He knew them all,” he said.
Bill Keith, who is in his 70s, still serves as president.
“I was kind of raised with the mentality, or the strategy, ‘grow slowly and surely’. I’m only 34. I have time left,” said Andy Keith.
All of Seafood Express drivers are company employees. There are no owner-operators or contractors.
Keith said the company doesn’t support the controversial Driver Inc. business model, under which drivers are incorporated and receive their pay without any source deductions.
Instead, Seafood Express focuses on driver comfort.
The oldest truck in its mostly Freightliner fleet is from the model year 2017.
“They are all fuel-efficient, and we spec’ them with driver comfort in mind, too. So, they all have APUs (auxiliary power units), and they all have automatic transmissions.”
The company also holds what it calls “seafood socials” every month for employees and their families.
All these efforts have resulted in a high driver retention rate. There are even a couple of drivers who have been with the company since Keith’s father purchased it, he said.
The company also employs a full-time driver development coordinator, who manages a vigorous training program.
Finding qualified drivers is still not easy.
“We are still a carrier, and there’s obviously a driver shortage in North America,” Keith said.
He added that the company is relying on government initiatives such as the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program to fill vacancies.
Like other businesses, Seafood Express was also affected by the economic downturn caused by Covid-19, but the impact was not significant because of the nature of the company’s operations.
“It has been a pretty wild few months, for sure. But we fared out fairly well through it.”– Andy Keith, vice-president, Seafood Express Transport.
It did not see a huge drop in volumes, but at the same time saw increasing expenses and wait times, Keith said.
“It has been a pretty wild few months, for sure. But we fared out fairly well through it. Probably, 95% of our drivers really stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Look we have a job to do.’”
The company also had a number of its staff working from home for a long period of time.
“I am very happy with what we did as a company throughout the last couple of months,” Keith said.
“Obviously, it is still not business as usual, but it is getting closer, here on the Island anyway.”
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