CANADIAN SHIPPER: You’ve been on the list of Canada’s Best Managed Companies every year since 1994, a considerable achievement considering not only the length of time but also the fact the economy during this period has experienced its greatest expansion and its second worst contraction, both of which bring unique challenges for motor carriers. How does Bison manage to stay on track?
Pries: We really have great people. Trucks are trucks and trailers are trailers and computers are computers but if you don’t have people making the best decisions around your assets, things don’t come together. And it’s one thing to have great people – we have a staff of 2,600- and another to get them all pulling in the same direction. If they are pulling in different directions, even if they are great people, you won’t get too far. Establishing a mission for the organization and a group of core values that people can engage with while pulling in the same direction is the key, the magic, to being a successful, well-managed company.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: One of Bison’s most unwavering of attributes is its focus on safety. Bison outdid the competition yet again at the Truckload Carriers Association Safety Awards. Considering how much Bison has grown over the years, how many drivers you employ and how many more miles you are running, how are you managing to maintain such a high level of performance with safety?
Pries: It’s always rewarding to receive an award and be recognized but what leads to awards and leads to results is good decisions made mile after mile, day after day, load after load. And even before that it’s the training and the culture of safety you generate so that before you put the keys in the ignition you are deciding whether the next mile can be safe. It’s always the next mile that matters.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: What do you see as the top opportunity and the top challenge for Bison in 2014 and how are you looking to respond?
Pries: Our top priority for 2014 is to capitalize on our investments. Over the past 12 months we made significant investments in a lot of different areas. We grew our staff to ensure that we were properly resourced and that we could provide the best service to our customers. We invested in new tractors and trailers. We grew our fleet by about 100 trucks. And we also invested in terminal facilities across Canada. We have significant terminal facilities in just about every major city in Canada. So we’ve made some big investments and now is the time to capitalize on them.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: Although the North American economic outlook is solidifying, and carriers are keen to return to more profitable rate structures, shippers remain vigilant about cost increases. What is key to providing cost-effective solutions for shippers that also represent a fair return for the carrier?
Pries: No question, shippers are very cost conscious. Cost matters but most customers are interested in their carrier making a profit. They understand that if the carrier is not making a profit that is not a sustainable situation. Our experience recently is that we have been able to demonstrate to our customers that in many cases our costs are on the rise – driver pay, fuel, equipment. We are working with our customers to either drive costs down or raise revenue quality. We strive to provide options for customers in a collaborative way. We look at variables such as day of week shifting, ease of loading and unloading, days on trailer, and so on. Those are ways to mitigate price increases. Today’s pricing structure for most trucking companies is much different than it was 10-15 years ago when the focus was on the base rate. There are many accessorials that need to be looked at now. It’s not always about the base rate.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: Capacity is tightening. Does Bison have plans to expand its capacity in 2014?
Pries: No plans to add additional equipment this year, however, our new areas of focus such as intermodal, logistics and LCVs are our solution to expanding capacity: pulling two trailers more often, using rail where appropriate and partnering with other carriers who complement our network and customer base.
CANADIAN SHIPPER: You mentioned your growth in several markets. Any plans to grow into any other markets or new areas of business?
Pries: We are now offering dedicated services in a way that we think is unique. We are combining the dedicated equipment, ensuring capacity, with the benefits of being connected to a larger organization and network that can ebb and flow with the needs of our shippers – essentially serving surges when required and redeploying when necessary. Our dedicated service was launched this year with a flagship customer in Western Canada and we fully plan to roll it out to other customers, particularly in the retail and food and beverage sectors.