Big Freight Celebrates 70th Anniversary By Preparing For More Growth Ahead
Jun 25, 2018
Back to article listings for 2018
Big Freight Systems Inc. this year celebrates the 70th anniversary of the founding of what has become one of North America’s leading freight management and transportation companies.
The company doesn’t have any big celebrations to mark its special year. “We’re always looking ahead to see what we can do next,” says Gary Coleman, president and chief executive of the company his father co-founded in 1948. “We have plenty on our plate maintaining our record of excellence in operations.”
Big Freight was recognized with the Truckload Carriers Association’s National Fleet Safety Award in 2016, for being North America’s safest fleet (under 25 million miles), and it received the 2017 Canadian Shippers’ Choice Award.
The company is now preparing for growth opportunities, as part of the Daseke family of flatbed haulers, which it joined in 2017.
“Our existing clients are asking us to do more, and new clients challenge us to provide creative and profitable solutions for their shipping needs,” Coleman says. “We’ll be ready for both.”
Big Freight currently operates a fleet of 150 trucks and 350 trailers, serving all of North America; it continues to invest in new trucks and trailers, including the recent addition of specialized vans for the power-sports industry. In addition to its own flatbed-freight hauling services, Big Freight offers logistics management, fleet maintenance, (through its FleetPro facility in Steinbach, Manitoba), and warehousing and distribution services to its customers. Its facilities include a 300,000-square-foot storage warehouse in Winnipeg. Big Freight has developed specialty niches such as handling distribution for all major power-sports-equipment manufacturers.
Big Freight was founded by Gary’s father (Red) and his grandfather in 1948. After selling the family farm in Steinbach, Manitoba, the Colemans purchased a four-truck operation called South East Transfer. Big Freight adopted its present name in 1996.
Red Coleman, his son says, loved trucks. “He wanted to drive them, haul freight and fix them,” he says. He still does. While Red, now 92, has been out of the day-to-day running of the business for many years, “he still comes by the office on a weekly basis and wants to know what’s going on.”
That enthusiasm has been passed on in the family. “I think his interest and keen desire to stay connected motivates me to push on,” Coleman says. “There’s a saying that you get diesel in your blood and it makes it hard to leave. After almost 40 years, I still get excited seeing one of our trucks, loaded and running down the road. I genuinely still enjoy the work I do and since joining Daseke, that excitement has ramped up.”
Big Freight’s success over 70 years has been a team effort, Coleman notes. “The people at Daseke are extremely smart, very hard working and completely supportive of what we’re doing in Canada,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to have an equally bright and dedicated team at Big Freight that understands our short- as well as long-term objectives.”
One of those team members is Alan Bradley, a truck technician who has been with the company for more than 20 years. “I really like the people I work with and the people I work for,” he says. “They go about their business in a forward-thinking manner. They treat their drivers and their employees well.”
Bradley’s son-in-law, Wesley Giesbrecht, heard enough good things about Big Freight to join the company two and a half years ago as a trailer technician. One indication of the forward-thinking moves to recruit employees, he says: Big Freight paid for his apprenticeship training program. He expects the company will “keep going forward. We’ll see more great things with Daseke. We’ll be getting bigger and better.”
Rod Miron, a 29-year veteran of the trucking industry who recently joined Big Freight as operations manager, says the company has been able to grow by developing new lines of business and maintaining a customer-service focus. “We don’t say no,” he says. “We look for value-added solutions.” The ability to come up with those solutions will be enhanced, he added, as Big Freight works with other companies in the Daseke family, exchanging ideas about how to further the tradition of being customer-service driven.
To keep its employees and trucks operating efficiently and safely, and to keep customers satisfied with top-quality service, Big Freight implemented a Continuous Improvement program in 2013, with multiple employees winning belts to signify completion of steps in their training. Coleman says the emphasis on continuous improvement has its rewards: in 2017, driver miles were up while accidents and claims were down.
“Our company succeeds when all members of our team have the opportunity to excel and reach their highest potential in a work environment that reflects dignity, encouragement and respect,” Coleman says. “The Continuous Improvement program encourages everyone to participate, communicate and be recognized for their achievements.”
Having a good team in place is especially important in the trucking industry’s current environment. “The driver shortage is more prevalent than it has ever been and this creates all sorts of opportunities for well-run companies. At the end of the day, he who has the driver, hauls the load. We plan on Big Freight being the one that has both.”