Truck Lines copes with family loss, changing landscape

by Jim Bray

CALGARY, Alta. Ron Singer Truck Lines was started in 1973 when the late Ron Singer and his wife-to-be bought their first truck from his father. The business has remained in the family since then, built from the ground up by Singer, his brothers and, eventually, his kids.

But with the founder’s death in late 2014, the business has had to move on with daughter Jennifer and son Ron Jr. sharing the centre seat and guiding the company into an uncertain future in which change is constant, and not necessarily for the better.

The company hauls everything from slag, glass and gypsum to salt, golf course sand and decorative rock, using everything, Jennifer Singer told Truck West, from tandems to Super-Bs.

“We have side dumps, we have end dumps, demo trailers – anything you can imagine, we can haul it,” she said, noting that a large part of its current business consists of gypsum and road salt picked up in southeastern B.C. and delivered to a customer in Edmonton.

Singer predicts tough sledding moving the business forward – not because of any inherent flaws in the business plan but because of changing attitudes among companies, competitors, and potential recruits. “There’s always somebody that will do (the job) cheaper,” she noted, “and there’s always people who will do the job unsafely and that’s what I find now. The trucks just boom up and down the road and the equipment isn’t taken care of. It’s falling apart.”

Combating the cut-rate carriers is a full-time job for Singer, but she said the company won’t lower its standards just to get a gig.

Instead, she tries to educate customers.

“It’s easy to point out things like how much product they’re going to get at the end – how much actually makes it to the destination without getting blown off or dumped out or contaminated – because usually when you haul something out, you’re hauling something different back. You need to open their eyes so they know what aspects of the job you are doing.”

This tactic also applies to letting the customer know exactly what a job entails.

“The majority don’t have a clue how long it takes to get somewhere,” she said. “They type it into Google Maps but they don’t know about road closures, accidents, wildlife, weather. You need your customer to know and understand it.”

Singer also expressed frustration with what she sees as the hypocrisy of some larger companies – in that they want the carrier’s ducks to be aligned properly, via a Certificate of Recognition or whatever, “but how about their end? How about the product that’s being loaded, or the consistency of the product, which could be soaking wet? How is that safe to haul? You can’t just look at it as picking up here and taking it there, you need to look at when it can be loaded – do you want to be stuck in rush hour and be paying your driver to sit in traffic? Why would you do that?”

The idea is to help customers walk a kilometre in their carrier’s shoes.

“If you can help them understand what you’re going through, what your driver has to go through, it goes a long way. Sure the miles matter, but you have to take into account everything (when quoting a job),” Singer said. “What certifications do your drivers need to be able to load there? Can your driver operate the machinery that’s there? Do they need their own keys? How does the paperwork work? Do you keep all your paperwork and then send it in or what?”

Singer said Ron Singer Truck Lines doesn’t just haul product, it looks out for the customer. “We’re not going to make a mess, we’re not going to have dirty trucks coming into your site, and (the trucks will) be safe.”

Singer cited a lack of quality drivers as another major challenge to doing business today.

“They don’t teach drivers anything anymore,” she said. “They teach them out of a book and the people that are teaching these guys how to drive trucks haven’t ever been true truck drivers themselves. They give (recruits) a book and then if they can drive the truck and pass the tests, fine; you’re out on your own. If you pass a test you get a licence.”

To ensure that their people do a professional and proper job, the Singers often train their own drivers from the ground up.

“If the guy was willing to learn, even before he had a Class 1, Dad would (bring them aboard) because he taught them right and those (people) are always the best ones,” Singer said, adding that her father would team newbies with a senior team member “so he can learn the job from him, and that would let them see if the job is even for him, see if he’s interested before he wastes his time and ours.”

Recruiting continues to be a nearly full-time job for Singer – or at least a task that’s never far from the top of her mind – because “every once in a while you’ll find that pot of gold driver, the person who got sick and tired of the B.S. where he works and is finally looking for a new job.”

Singer said she also recruits by putting up flyers at truck stops in the area they serve, rather than only advertising at big city truck stops.

“You have to think about who you’re trying to get,” she said. “Sometimes your best new drivers don’t live in the city you’re from and if (a run consists of) driving through B.C., why would you hire some Calgary folk instead of someone who lives out near (the run) and who knows the roads?”

The Singers have no major expansion plans for the business, wanting instead to merely maintain its size and base. “We’re not into being the biggest,”  Singer said. “I’m into doing a good job for my customers and having my team members happy to come to work. It’s not just all about you and about the money; it’s about being happy.”

It’s also about cooperation, something Singer thinks is sorely lacking these days. “One of the truly bad things about trucking is that people don’t want to help each other because they’re competitors,” she said, noting that when she first started in the industry, it was more like a brotherhood where truckers would help each other on the side of the road. “That doesn’t happen now,” she said sadly. “If companies would get together and stand up for each other, things would be a lot better.”

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