Small but mighty

by Sonia Straface

In trucking, success isn’t always a numbers game.

Fleets with the most drivers, the most trucks, or the most awards aren’t the only carriers in Canada that are doing great things. Sometimes the old adage is true: good things do come in small packages.

Nic Wiersma

Take Wiersma Trucking as an example.

Wiersma Trucking has deep roots that date back to the 1930s when ‘Grandpa’ E. Wiersma started the business with his Ford Model T. During World War II he hauled many materials, mostly ammunition, all over Holland. Legend has it he even used moonshine to fuel the trucks.

Unfortunately, though, the company didn’t survive the duration of the war.

Eventually the Wiersma family moved from Holland to Canada, and E. Wiersma’s grandson, Ed Wiersma, shared a passion for trucking just like the men in his family.

When Ed was 16, he got his chauffeur’s licence and started driving trucks for companies like Day & Ross and Canada Packers. In 1973, he saved up enough money to fulfill a lifelong dream and bought his own truck. Five years later, he re-established his grandfather’s business but in the Canadian marketplace.

Today, Wiersma Trucking is a 20-truck operation that hauls mostly building materials into the US and back from its one terminal in Kitchener, Ont. It is still very much a family business that takes pride in being a small yet successful fleet.

And history certainly does repeat itself as Ed’s own son felt the same call to trucking that his father did.

Today Ed’s son, Nic, is mostly running the show – he’s in charge of sales and marketing, does the hiring and firing, and handles customer service.

“I’m kind of like a jack of all trades, master of none,” he said. “I guess my official title would be in operations management. Essentially, I do what needs to be done on a constant basis.”

He joined the family business in 2007 after graduating from Conestoga College’s business management program. This year marks the end of his and Ed’s 10-year plan for Nic to transition over to leading the business, and for Ed to officially take his hands off the reins.

According to Nic, the company’s soon-to-be new leader, Wiersma has many strengths, but its workplace culture is the standout.

“Wiersma was founded on family,” he said. “So we try to treat our drivers like family. In today’s society, there’s so many industries and drivers out there that are sick and tired of being just a number. So, treating our drivers like people and like family is the biggest strength we have. It’s not just an open-door policy. It’s so much more than that. We make sure they’re home on weekends. We want to make sure they see their family regularly. And to make Wiersma Trucking their family too.”

To ensure this, Wiersma makes sure its drivers have regular routes and regular customers so the unpredictable trucking life that is often a reality isn’t the case for Wiersma drivers.

The company is also forward thinking. Nic is a big advocate for mandatory entry-level training (MELT) and says that Wiersma adopted electronic logs close to seven years ago.

He says the focus on training and safety that Wiersma believes in is why drivers, too, do so well in the company.

“We’ve taught many drivers who have gone on to do great things who have learned how to be a successful owner-operator,” he said. “Drivers contact us who say that if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t be where they are today. And it goes both ways, because I’m a big believer in if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you.”

“We also have a very good-looking fleet,” Nic added. “We take pride in our trucks and make sure everything is up to date. Every one of our trucks are bought and spec’d with drivers in mind. They have leather interiors, heated seats, GPS, satellite radio, battery operated air conditioning and heat – you name it. It’s a pride thing. We want our drivers to be proud of the truck they drive every day.”

And while the company is one of those small trucking fleets that is finding its groove in a difficult economic climate, it isn’t to say it doesn’t have its challenges. It, too, is having trouble finding new drivers.

“We have a low turnover rate, so that’s great,” Nic said. “But I’ll tell you, I do all the recruiting and it’s one heck of a challenge today. Because Wiersma is not looking for just any driver. We’re not looking for someone who just wants to drive straight for 14 hours a day. We’re looking for those who can dare to be great. Not those who just want to sit behind the wheel. We want those drivers who are proud of the job they do strapping a load, for example.”

But unlike other carriers who don’t have a plan for dealing with the driver shortage, Nic is actively doing something to recruit drivers.

“I’d say I visit at least 10 driving schools a month to promote Wiersma as a unique opportunity for those students,” he said, adding that he also talks to them about the realities of trucking.

“The main thing I try to tell the students is, it’s not a job,” he said. “Many think trucking is another nine-to-five job and trucking is not nine-to-five. It’s a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year job. It’s a lifestyle.”

While there are no immediate plans for Wiersma in the future, besides the change of hands, Nic says the sky is the limit for the company.

“Maybe we’ll grow by five or six trucks,” he said. “But we still want to be small enough so that it still feels like family, where we can know everyone personally and by name.”

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