Superior Propane lives up to its name

by Sonia Straface

With a name like Superior Propane it’s almost necessary to deliver the best in the business. Superior means better than the rest. Better service, better drivers, better product – and that’s what the company strives for – and feels it has achieved, in the Canadian market.

Superior Propane is a household name in both the Canadian trucking and energy sector.  superior edit

It’s hard not to notice Superior on the road, since it is estimated to deliver 1.2 billion litres of propane each year.

The company has been in business in 1951 and has hauled propane since day one.

It says it’s the country’s only national provider of portable fuels, equipment and service that it delivers locally to its customers.

But Craig Whittaker, operations manager for the Atlantic region, says though the company may be a national one, its key to success is acting like a local company.

“The biggest thing that we try to get out there is that we are a nationally branded company, we service all across Canada, but we work in the communities too,” he said. “So, we are a national company, we do run some things at a centralized level, but we are represented in every community we service, so we do consider ourselves a local company. And that’s one thing we do try to promote out there.”

Whittaker says nationally, Superior Propane services more than 10,000 communities and it makes an effort to participate in each and every one of them as best it can.

“We have the pink truck program, for example,” he said. “So some of our trucks are coloured pink for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. So we use those as part of our community involvement. We obviously participate in a number of charitable events and activities in our community, too. We’ve done school barbecues and support golf tournaments, as well as events out on the road. We even got involved in the Canadian Hockey League sponsoring events there last year.”

The company created a draw for entrants to win season tickets to a junior hockey team of their choice, among other things.

“So we try to get out in the community and show people what we’re about as much as we can,” he said. “It’s important to us that we do these events because it gives us a sense of community both for our customers and our employees. The employees enjoy getting out there and doing that kind of stuff because it makes them feel like they are a part of something – which they are – and we want to promote that.

“As well, our customers are in the community so it gives us a chance to support them as they support us.”

According to Whittaker, the company also promotes the “community” mindset in its day-to-day operations to make its staff and drivers feel less like they are one of the 1,400 employees of Superior.

“We have daily communication and safety huddles,” said Whittaker on how each facility manages to have a small-company feel. “So we actually plan out 15 minutes at the start of every day and we get all the staff together and have a conversation. Sometimes it’s over the phone, sometimes it’s in a meeting, but every day it gets done. Some guys will find that a little tedious, but when they talk about it, it’s still their opportunity to hear what’s going on and talk about the challenges of the day.”

To date, the company’s Atlantic region has 16 facilities which operate roughly 60 trucks, with 70 drivers and technicians.

The Atlantic headquarters are located in Dartmouth, N.S., where Whittaker is based. The national headquarters are situated in Calgary, Alta.

The success of the company can also be measured by its loyal employees, most of whom have stayed for more than 15 years, said Whittaker.

“Our biggest strength is our people,” he said. “We say that mainly because we’ve got some great industry experience here. Most of our employees have been here for over 15 years. We have numerous employees, including drivers, who have been here for 25 and even 35-plus years. They’re very dedicated. They focus on key behaviours and values within our company.”

Whittaker says in the Atlantic region turnover rates are less than 10%, because of the way the company is run and how involved the drivers are.

“We’re competitive in our wages, too,” he said. “We’ve got a very good benefits packages, but I think the key benefits, when I talk to my drivers, is home time. The guys are home every night.

“For the most part its local work – they’re not typical highway long-haul drivers. And we’ve got good flexible work shifts. Typically our drivers work 10 hours a day. So we’re not pushing them too hard and they don’t feel too stressed when they’re out there, and the shifts make it a better environment for them at home because they can be home when they need to be.”

New hires are welcomed if they have some prior driving experience, as the company has mostly Class 3 driver positions, Whittaker added.

“The key for us is the majority of the work our drivers do is actually delivery and handling of the product, so industry experience is helpful – even though it’s not really a requirement in the hiring process.”

Superior also puts a large emphasis on safety and has recently developed a new corporate training program that helps new hires as well as provides assistance to seasoned drivers already in the fleet.

“We use it to assess our driving, too,” Whittaker said. “Our trainers are our eyes and ears out there. We spend a lot of time on safety so incident reporting, response, and how to manage your day if you do have a safety problem going on is all taught in the program. And of course compliance – so we do a lot of training when it comes to pre-trips, post-trips and handling product.”

To reward its drivers, the company has developed multiple recognition programs, like years of service awards, as well as an annual payout for performance excellence.

“The latest one we put in is a value and behaviour recognition program, so when drivers, techs or anyone in our organization goes above and beyond to deliver our core values, we give them a recognition. It’s a financial reward,” he said.

Though Whittaker claims the company’s biggest challenge is its competition, it has a solid strategy in place to come out on top of the rest when it comes to delivering propane.

“Our biggest challenge is the competition because the propane market is a growing sector for the energy business,” he said. “To stay ahead of them, we are focusing on our key industry experiences. We want to make sure we service the customer to the best of our ability, and make sure that we are the best in the business. And we want to make sure that we are taking advantage of technology that is out there.”

Whittaker said the company has employed new technology into the business with “everything from the back office management systems to scheduling, inventory management. The latest ones are the customer-facing web portals.”

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