Taking care of business on the Blue Line

by Sonia Straface

MILTON, Ont. — Is there anything more Canadian than hockey? The color red, perhaps?

Blue Line Distribution doesn’t think so.

Julia and Tom Della Maestra

Blue Line, known for its bright red trucks, was named after the blue lines in a hockey rink. It started in 1986 under Tom Della Maestra, who at the time was an avid hockey player, and his wife Julia.

Della Maestra played defense on the blue line, but began his own trucking company with the vision to succeed and a desire to grow into an all-Canadian company.

Today the business, which is headquartered in Milton, Ont., is flourishing. It has more than 60 company driven trucks and about 20 owner-operators, along with more than 150 trailers.

Blue Line specializes in less-than-truckload (LTL) and hauls general freight. Most of the time, it hauls liquor and spirits. Sometimes it will transport exotic cars and helicopters, too. But, really, on an average day it can transport anything from pillows to air conditioners, according to Fatima da Rosa, the administrative director of Blue Line, who has been with the company just less than 20 years.

“We haul mostly into the United States and in the western provinces,” she added.

Blue Line has two other offices, one in Miami with about 20 employees, and another in Chicago.

Business is good, according to da Rosa, but Blue Line is still looking to hire more drivers.

“Drivers are needed everywhere and with the average age of the driver going up it’s getting harder to hire,” she said. “We do have a higher turnover rate than we’d like, but we do have some longstanding drivers with us that have been here for 15-17 years. The ones that stay, they stay here a long time.”

Da Rosa says drivers enjoy working for Blue Line because of the fair and competitive pay packages.

“They get paid well. They get a lot of miles. And the cheques never bounce,” she said. “I think being here is a comfort for them. They know what to expect in terms of routes. We have a safety bonus incentive, which they like. And we have brand new shiny trucks that they love to drive.”

Currently, Blue Line’s fleet consists of 2019 Volvo trucks. The company normally cycles its trucks every three or four years, and it always springs for the better spec’s and maintenance schedules, according to da Rosa.

“Drivers are so proud to drive these trucks,” she said. “When they’re out on the road, many of them will take pictures when they’re parked to show it off.”

Working for Tom and Julia is also a reason they stick around, da Rosa said.

“They really like working for them,” she said. “Because (Tom and Julia) are so involved with the business. In other companies, sometimes the owners aren’t in the office as much, but here it’s not like that. Our guys can pick up the phone and call Tom 24/7 and they know that. They don’t have to go through 50 different people to talk to the owner.”

Da Rosa said the company’s greatest advantage is its undenied scrutiny when it comes to choosing freight, as well as new hires.

“We don’t take freight that doesn’t pay well,” she said. “We will turn down freight if it’s not the right money. We make sure our freight is always on time, as scheduled, and we make sure to only hire drivers with experience. We are very picky about who we hire here. You have to have between five and 10 years of experience to work at Blue Line.”

Da Rosa said new hires go through a rigorous onboarding process that involves a road test and a thorough check on one’s driving record
and references.

“We don’t just go on blind faith here. We check all the references,” she said. “And we know that past employers are very honest with us. We are so careful with who we hire because drivers today aren’t that old stereotype. They are highly educated and skilled. They have to have customer service experience. They are put in stressful situations. So, we want the best of the best here.”

The company’s latest challenge, on top of dealing with the driver shortage, is the legalization of marijuana coming into effect in October. To date, da Rosa says the company hasn’t rolled out a formal policy, but management is looking to create a zero-tolerance policy at Blue Line.

Looking to the future, da Rosa said Blue Line is hoping to expand and become a leader in North America.

“We really want to grow some more,” she said. “We have 20 more trucks on order and more accounts are signing on. I believe we are exploring different states we haven’t done work in before. More business is coming, so we expect growth. We have the freight, now we just need the drivers.”

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