Set for the Long Haul

Bulk Carriers (P. E. I.) Limited began with Jack Kelly and a single truck. Today, he has help from the rest of his family. From left: Blaine, Carlotta, Jack, and Tyson Kelly.

A family front and technological efficiency keep Bulk Carriers (P. E. I.) Limited trucking

Many changes have occurred in the long-haul trucking industry since owner and president Jack Kelly founded Bulk Carriers, in 1973, with a single truck. When its original niche—hauling petroleum locally for Gulf Canada—became unprofitable because of regulatory changes and industry consolidation, Bulk Carriers transitioned into a different business: hauling produce and food products up and down the Atlantic Seaboard and across Canada.

Today, the long-haul trucking industry faces a challenge that would be the envy of many others: keeping up with its own expansion. The demand for professional truck drivers is growing faster than the number of new drivers entering the field. According to the American Trucking Association, there is an annual shortfall of 11,000 drivers across North America. For Bulk Carriers, the recruitment challenge is intensified by geography: the company is based on Prince Edward Island, a largely agricultural area.

Jack has responded by attending international job fairs in places such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland to recruit qualified, experienced drivers. When sourcing employees from abroad, he arranges to relocate drivers with their families, managing the government processes and paperwork needed to enable them to immigrate to Canada.

Jack is sensitive to the fact that most truckers are family people, because his own family has been critical to the success of the business. Carlotta, Jack’s wife, has just retired as office secretary. The couple’s two sons are also part of the business—Tyson serves as vice president of logistics, and Blaine serves as vice president of fleet operations—and they ensure the company will carry on into the next era.

It is Tyson’s responsibility to work individually with drivers to set schedules that work for all parties. With approximately 75 percent of the company’s trucking routes lying along the farm fields and shipping ports of the Boston-to-Florida corridor, the potential of bad weather, most long hauls calling for one- or two-day delivery, and the mandatory limits on how many hours a day a driver can operate the truck, a driver’s at-home time can be easily affected. Bulk Carriers works with each driver to avoid such scenarios, while meeting the business demands of each run.

With a fleet of 50 new- and late-model trucks to its name, Bulk Carriers makes it a point to use the fastest, shortest routes. Facing rising fuel costs, the company continuously maintains its fleet to make sure they get the most off each gallon, and to prevent high fuel costs from affecting profitability or forcing a rate increase for customers.

“We manage our operations to be very efficient with the equipment we buy and how we use it,” Jack says. “We tweak highway speeds. We have auxiliary power units that allow the driver to turn the rig off at a truck stop and still heat or cool the cab, thereby reducing idling costs. And we train our drivers and pay them a premium for reaching our goals for ideal consumption levels.”

Technological innovations have also helped Bulk Carriers. GPS navigation and satellite tracking have been used since the late 1990s. The systems allow dispatchers to tell a customer exactly where their shipment is and when it will arrive. The tracking system is integrated into both the accounting system and the truck’s power unit.

Tyson recently installed scanners in every cab so that drivers can submit their records, receipts, and the customer’s sign-off as soon as they complete a delivery. The scanners help the support staff meet their goals of invoicing for a run within 48 hours of the delivery, says Carl Chapman, vice president of finance.

These and other measures have kept Bulk Carriers steady in recent years. “We did not suffer as much from the recent economic downturn as other sectors of the trucking business,” Jack says. “Food haulage is an expensive business to be in, but we have some flexibility—because people have to eat, even during a downturn.”