Allen’s Transport Ltd. is a western Canadian speciality company providing equipment for waste, gravel, speciality oil field chemical and acid hauling, as well as tank truck services, flat deck hauling, dust control and a host of related services.
The company is a problem solver and thrives on challenges. Business in Focus spoke with Sales Manager Jerome Terletski and President Allen Fandrick to find out more.
Allen grew up in the trucking industry: two cousins and an uncle were also working in the transport of liquids and fluids. He fondly remembers that, when he was eighteen, he would wash trucks for ten dollars. No one told him it would take three hours to wash a truck, but he enjoyed the work and, even working for twelve to thirteen hours per day, felt like he had hit a goldmine. By listening to what the customers wanted, he saw opportunities to grow. After getting his own truck, he worked alongside his cousin.
“One thing we did was to build specialty or niche market equipment. This helped because there were a lot of fluid companies in Alberta with crude oil or fuel. A few of them, over the years, tried to venture into that type of work we were doing but it is a specialty, and that is where we were successful.”
The company grew into a common carrier for tanker work and its customers lauded them for the work quality. There was, however, an issue for some clients with getting cargo out of the States, as some other trucking companies could not offer the required services.
“They asked us to look at it. We put the equipment in place and now we run ten to twelve trucks stateside. We have runs to Alaska, Florida and all points in between. We are also looking at opening up some branches in the US.”
The work must be approached with great care because sometimes a driver can have a load of eight or nine product different products in bulk and some of the specialty chemicals hauled by the company can cost up to thirty-six dollars per litre. Not many companies want to deal with that situation since, if the wrong valve is opened, the error can cost up to $50,000.
Although the oil and gas sector is a huge part of Allen’s Transport’s business, it is not completely devoted to this area but touches on many different industries. The balance of the business is in industrial, mining, forestry and agriculture. The mining aspect is growing and outside the oil fields in the processing of things or refining.
One job makes clear the complexities and logistics with which Allen’s Transport can be faced. A load was taken out to Estevan, Saskatchewan; six products had to be drawn at fifty-four different locations. The driver has to go into muddy or tight-spaced sites. “We’ve had guys put tire chains on a truck ten to twelve times a day. You pull off the highway, chain up, go back to the location, come back out to the highway, take the chains off, drive five to ten miles down the highway, pull off, chain up and away you go again. It is very hands on.”
Allen estimates that out of about thirty prospective workers, typically only one can deal with this kind of work. “You have to have all your marbles all in the right row.” Depending on the run and the day there could be anywhere from forty to seventy stops.
In order to accomplish these specialized jobs, the company had to use customized equipment. The tank manufacturers, who work with crude oil and fuel tanks, would not be able to get the piping and the valves done to the required specifications. Allen would get quite frustrated with this so, ten years ago in Leduc, the company opened up a new shop, put in a bay and got four full-time welders in to customize.
All kinds of customers now come to Allen’s Transport for custom equipment and trucks. For instance, a chemical company had a product that was required for the steam-assisted gravity drainage market up in northeast Alberta. “They wanted a stainless steel pressurized tank that could hold 500 pounds. They didn’t want to pump it as it foamed too much. Welding shops in Edmonton cannot make this specialized pressure pad to move the chemical. So we build a lot of that one-off stuff.”
The company put together a sixteen-foot enclosed trailer to go behind a pickup. Specialized high-pressure chemical pumps and meters, stainless instrument tubing and recorders were added. This is a sideline of Allen’s Transport. It is slowly expanding the manufacturing side of the business and, over the next five years, that is expected to increase.
Sometimes, a customer will put Allen’s Transport on a tight timeline for a big project. The company needs to have the right equipment to build speciality items and the ability to work with the customer to solve unique issues and get the job done.
A few years ago, just as the fracking industry was heating up, a customer came to Allen’s Transport with a problem. The customer was doing acid fracking with 30,000 litres to 1.8 million litre frack volumes. Nobody in Alberta was set up to deal with that type of volume, so the customer was blending the product right on location – at a huge cost. It took Jerome and Allen a few days to come up with a solution.
“We have a rail right into our yard and bring in the rail cars here. We put in some tanks to blend and load in the trucks. It was quite a cost savings to them. We projected that we could do seventy wells spread out over one hundred miles. They wanted a separate price for each well. We came up with one price regardless of what well they were at, and guarantee that price for a year.”
This made it safer for customer’s employees on location, and less equipment was needed. Allen’s Transport saved the client forty percent on blending costs, and a project that was supposed to last for one year went on for three, giving Allen’s Transport more business and keeping the client happy.
There is not a lot of turnover at Allen’s Transport. Other companies claim to treat employees like family, but Allen’s takes it further. One of its drivers got sick while in Oklahoma and was hospitalized for a day. Despite the doctor’s approval to get back to work, Allen’s Transport flew another driver down to take over and flew the sick employee back home.
“These guys don’t work for me; they work with me,” states Allen. “When times get tough I don’t have to look to see who’s standing behind me; I know I have backup.”
For its roughly one hundred employees, there are multiple company barbecues, birthday parties, breakfasts, steak dinners, pizza days, jewelry to acknowledge years of service, and recently, a few were even taken to a Flames playoff game. New babies of employees are presented with lavish gift baskets. “It’s a family atmosphere. Everyone works together and do not feel like just employees. They enjoy coming to work.”
As for the safety of its people, no one in upper management would ask employees to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves. Management is very hands-on. If a big job comes up, they will be there to help load and unload the trucks. “For a lot of other companies, upper management does not even know what a glove looks like. No one here is too good to get the job done” Management, including Allen, does not avoid jumping in a truck when things get busy.
Customer service and safety go hand in hand. It has regular safety meetings and is currently about 89% below the industry average for incidents requiring workers compensation. A year ago, it had its Canadian National Safety Code audit for trucking and passed it in the high ninetieth percentile. More recently, it had a complete review from the US DOTs and achieved an A+ rating.
Allen’s Transport’s maintenance program is second to none. “One of our customers, Bob Lemons from Nelco, said, ‘If you don’t know Allen’s Transport, they are just another trucking company until you walk through their front door and really see what they have to offer.’ He hit the nail on the head. We manufacture and have maintenance, multiple rail spurs and eight people in the wash bay that runs from 6 AM to 2 AM, helping to keep the trucks clean, which is a big part of it. It’s an image.”
A new US facility in Texas is almost ready and should be completed by the end of the year. Once the shop is set up, within the first year, it will add somewhere between six to eight trucks and twelve new employees. Allen’s Transport has some connections there, so it has turned out to be a relatively seamless transition.
Allen’s Transport provides a level of service that ensures its customers stay. “It’s much harder to get a customer back if they leave than to maintain them. We have regular visits with our customers to see how things are going, what are their needs and what’s coming down the pipeline. We want to constantly improve.”
Obviously it is doing something right because ten of its customers have been with it for nearly twenty-five years, and, Allen’s Transport still has its first five customers. After twenty-five years in business, not too many companies can claim that.
“It’s quite an operation here. We are doing our job, and we do it well.”