A COMPANY THAT CARES: The humble Gardner says having regular runs with scheduled home time is key to finding happiness and one reason why driver turnover has not been an issue for him.
SPONSOR SUPPORT: Owner/Operator of the Year Marty Gardner (centre) is pictured with sponsors (L-R): Lynda Harvey, Natural Resources Canada; Rick Ulias, representing Goodyear Canada; Rob Wilkins, publisher of Truck News; Rick Geller, Markel Insurance; Joanne Ritchie, OBAC; and John Bennett, Freightliner Canada.
FERGUS, Ont. –With owner/ operators and fleets of all sizes going broke and decrying the state of the trucking industry on a daily basis, it’s refreshing to speak with Marty Gardner.
Business for the 15th annual Truck News Owner/Operator of the Year, crowned at the Fergus Truck Show July 25, is thriving. He just added two more trucks to his small stable, bringing his total to five. All are contracted to FedEx Ground, running various lanes ranging from Vancouver to Southern Ontario.
In an industry sometimes accused of having its share of dinosaurs, Gardner’s success has come as a result of evolving with the times. His traditional-styled trucks have been replaced with fuel-efficient, aerodynamic models, and it doesn’t dampen his pride a bit.
“I used to run a lot of nice rigs, the polished large cars,” Gardner admits. “I cut back and got more into the aerodynamics, watched the motors, spec’ed the trucks right, went to super-singles on a couple of them, put speed limiters on them -anything just to get the fuel savings.”
While image is important to Gardner, it simply can’t come at the expense of running a profitable business, he says. But that’s not to say he doesn’t still appreciate the glitz and glam of the show trucks which dotted the fields that played host to the Fergus Truck Show. After all, that’s what lured him into the business in the first place.
“Being a young kid in the back of Dad’s pick-up trucks, I always looked up at the chicken lights on the big trucks and thought ‘Gee, it’d be nice to get into that someday’,” Gardner recalls.
He bought his first truck at 18 – a Kenworth T600 that he put to work hauling auto parts for Ram Automotive between Windsor and Montreal.
Gardner’s trucking career has taken him around the country, and even around the world. He spent six months supervising a crew of eight drivers in Africa while they installed a fresh water pipeline.
“That was quite the experience,” he recalls. His responsibilities involved teaching the locals how to drive commercial trucks. It was a year-long assignment that was cut short after six months due to some instability with the government there.
When the position to haul for FedEx Ground came up in 1994, he leapt at the opportunity. Since then, he has slowly grown his business to where it is today -five trucks, the latest two additions joining the fleet just days before he was notified he was this year’s Owner/ Operator of the Year, a prestigious award sponsored by Freightliner, Markel Insurance, Goodyear and supporting partners OBAC and Natural Resources Canada.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere else,” he says of his carrier, FedEx Ground. “It’s a great company to work for.”
Gardner credits FedEx Ground with much of his success as an owner/operator. The company provides him with tools and criteria to assist with the hiring process and other elements of running the business.
The support he receives was evidenced by the presence at the awards ceremony of both Jack Brown, senior linehaul manager, FedEx Ground Canada, and all the way from FedEx Ground headquarters in Pittsburgh, Penn., John Payne, vice-president, linehaul.
Gardner is all too happy to deflect the glory from himself, onto those who have helped him achieve success in the business. Most notably, his wife Lisa, who in addition to running the home while he’s away and working a full-time job across the border from their home in Belle River, Ont., still finds time to manage the trucking business after hours.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today,” Gardner says humbly. “She has a full-time job working in IT at Detroit Diesel. She travels from Windsor across the border every day, she comes home -we have four kids at home -she manages the household and then after that she’ll be on the computer managing the business. There’s times she’s up until two or three in the morning and then she’s back up at seven in the morning to do her regular job,” Gardner explains, his voice painted with admiration.
As with anyone who makes a living out on the highway, Gardner admits to missing his family while on the road. He appreciates the regularly-scheduled runs, which get him home every weekend, but that’s not to say he doesn’t pine for home when he’s away.
“It’s very hard,” he admits. “You miss out on the kids. I miss a lot of their soccer games. Even with Lisa, I don’t get to see her that much during the week. We might see each other for half an hour during the evening -she’ll meet me at work with a coffee then she’ll go home and I’ll go to work. We kinda meet in the middle. But come Friday, I’m done. I have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to hang out with the family.”
With four other trucks hauling steady for him, one wonders what keeps Gardner out on the road in the first place? The way he sees it, it’s the only way to properly run the business.
“I like being in the truck myself,” says Gardner, who personally averages 120,000 miles per year. “I find that being in the truck, it’s easier to manage the business and know what’s going on. You know what’s going on with the trucks, you know what’s going on with the drivers. If I sat at home, it would be hard to manage my business.”
Gardner’s willingness to spend time in the trenches also extends to the maintenance of his vehicles. He personally meticulously maintains his equipment, while ensuring he has a decent warranty to cover the big stuff.
His hands-on approach has earned Gardner the respect of his drivers. While large fleets deal with double-digit -sometimes even triple-digit -driver turnover rates, Gardner has a loyal team of drivers piloting his vehicles.
“All my drivers have stayed with me,” he says. “They like the runs because they’re dedicated runs. They have a schedule, they have home time. They know when they’re going, when they have to be back and they can have a life with their families too.”
While Gardner is quick to credit others for his accomplishments, his safety record speaks for itself. During his 22-year driving career, Gardner has never been involved in an at-fault accident.
He was part of a 10-member linehaul team at FedEx Ground that set a new safety record, accumulating more than 20 million miles without an accident. He has covered 2.2 million miles on his own at FedEx Ground, without an accident.
The key, he says, is just taking it slow.
“I take each day as a challenge,” he explains. “You get in the truck, and you can’t just look at your job as though it’s the same routine. You have to watch the people around you, avoid getting in big clusters, lay low, take your time and do your thing.”
“FedEx is good with us,” he adds. “They allow us plenty of time to get to our stop, so we have plenty of time to deal with weather conditions.” There he goes again, crediting others with his success.
While Gardner wasn’t born into a trucking family, there’s a chance he may have started one. He says two of his and Lisa’s four children (three boys and a girl, aged seven, 11, 16 and 18) have shown an interest in the trucks.
Whether it’s his own children, or just another youngster staring up at the chicken lights from his father’s pick-up truck, Gardner does have some advice on how to achieve success in what can be a grueling industry.
“Start slow,” he suggests. “Start with a used truck. Get low payments on it because you have to factor in the price of fuel and how much work there is out there. Start slow and work your way up. I did the same thing, basically. I worked as a sub-contractor, built up a little bit and said ‘You know what, I think I can make a go at it,’ and I’ve been doing so ever since.” •
‘I find that being in the truck, it’s easier to manage the business and know what’s going on…If I sat at home, it would be hard to manage my business.’