The Goldilocks of trucking

by Sonia Straface

CORNWALL, Ont. — According to its general manager, Villeneuve Tank Lines found much of its success by what is known as the Goldilocks principle. A lot of it has to do with its size, Kevin Ceaser said, it’s not too big, not too small – it’s just right.

Villeneuve was founded in 1986 by George Villeneuve. Back then, the company was a simple milk hauler for local farms. Eventually George brought on Blaine Filion as a co-owner to help run the business. Today the business, located in Cornwall, Ont., hauls food products across Canada and into the U.S. and is part of the Contrans Group, which purchased it in 2017.

Kevin Ceaser (left) and veteran owner-operator Roger Coffey.

“We are still big into dairy,” general manager Ceaser said. “And we are strictly food grade and we are strictly kosher. We travel to Western Canada, but mostly we are cross-border. We go to New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the eastern seaboard. We venture as far south as North Carolina.”

According to Ceaser, the company’s biggest strength is its size. Today it boasts 70 trucks, which Ceaser said is the perfect size for a trucking company.

“Our size is such a big part of why we are successful,” he said. “I’ve been here for 12 years and we always say we’re big enough to do the job and keep our drivers busy, but at the same time we’re small enough to have a personal touch with our drivers and customers. I really think we’re that ideal intermediate size, where we’re not so big we get lost in the shuffle and not too small that we get steamrolled. We’re just the right size.”

Being that ideal size has also helped contribute to Villeneuve’s low driver turnover rate.

“Being this size has helped us to have a personal relationship with our drivers,” Ceaser said. “They’re not just a number here. We know them. We really know them. And their wives and families. And I think that means a lot to our drivers. Being the general manager, I’m here every day and I make sure I go down to the floor every day and talk to all the drivers I pass by. It’s the same with our former part-owner. He’s here every day.”

Ceaser also thinks his drivers are sticking around because of the competitive rates it pays and the stability of what it hauls.

“I think being a food hauler is reassuring for our drivers,” he said. “Sure, they could be making more if they hauled chemicals, but because it’s food, it’s not as risky. There’s not that same pressure as hauling chemical products, you know? If milk starts to leak, you’re not going to panic as much as you would if chemicals did. Not to mention, hauling food, people have to eat, so you know there’s always going to be work here.”

Drivers also appreciate having modern trucks and clean food grade tankers thanks to the in-house wash rack, Ceaser added.

“But all that being said, it’s not like we don’t want to grow,” Ceaser said. “We want to grow, of course.”

The company is struggling like a lot of trucking companies in Canada and the U.S. with the driver shortage. What Ceaser is finding the most troubling is how few resumes are passing across his desk on a daily basis.

“We’re finally seeing the effects of the driver shortage now,” he said. “I think our challenge right now is the same as every other transportation company, our great commodity is our drivers and there’s not the influx of drivers trying to get in like there used to be. We’ve always said this is going to be a problem, and we’re seeing it now. The driving force is getting older, they’re retiring, and we’re not getting younger people in to replace them.”

What’s most concerning is the age of the drivers that do apply at Villeneuve.

“It’s funny because now with the aging workforce we’re saying, ‘Oh wow, this guy is only in his early 50s’” he said. “You’re not getting the 30- to 40-year-olds coming in who could potentially work for you for 20 years.”

To help combat this, Villeneuve reaches out to local driving schools to attract new graduates.

“But that being said, the generation is the generation,” he said. “We’re finding that once they get a sense of the driving industry, they tend not to embrace it as the older generation did, so we try to reach those older drivers.”

It runs print advertisements in trade magazines to help its recruitment, and uses its location to its advantage to draw in both Ontario and Quebec residents to work for it.

For now, the company is moving forward and has recently rolled out electronic logging devices across the fleet. So far, Ceaser said it’s going well despite a little pushback from drivers who are nervous about the new technology.

And despite the Goldilocks principle that is working for the company, the goal for the next five years for Villenueve is to grow, Ceaser said.

“We are always in growth mode. We always want to be bigger and we’re getting there. We’ve been doing more out in Western Canada and since we haul food, the potential is there. The next step is just finding the new and upcoming product can be hauled in a liquid tank.”

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