Paul Quail Transport is a family-owned and operated cross-board transportation company, based in Alliston, ON, that specializes in just-in-time automotive freight – so when the job comes, their team adapts quickly, solves any problems along the way, to deliver.
Private Motor Carrier had the opportunity to connect with Leanne Quail, Operations Manager of Paul Quail Transport, to learn about the family business, the obstacles the family had to overcome and the deep-rooted culture, values and work ethic that’s weaved into the foundation of their business.
Let’s start from the beginning – tell us how Paul Quail Transport started off as a family business, what role(s) your family members had and what was their vision for the business.
We have been farming for many generations and as farming can, it dealt us some difficult hands. When your entire family’s annual income is dependent on farming, you either eat or starve – based off factors that you have no control over. No matter how hard you work or how much heart you put into it, you can’t change the weather, interest rates of the early 80s, or the market prices of grain and beef. In order to level the highs and lows of farming, we put our grain trucks on as broker trucks during the off seasons. Seeking out more stability, we set out on our own with a couple trucks. It was a natural progression for us to do this as a family because we were accustomed to working together on the farm.
To be completely candid, the company started out of necessity but grew to be a success because we each became extremely passionate about our roles and the company. As the business grew, each person in the family moved into roles respective of their skillsets and talents. My dad Paul, establishing operational direction; my brother Sean in maintenance; my mother Sherry on the books; and I, working in compliance. Those titles only serve as a lenient description, we all wore many hats.
Describe the growth of Paul Quail Transport – the highs, lows and adapting to change.
The growth of the company was certainly not glamourous. We were your classic dining room table start-up. We didn’t have a shop big enough to fit a truck in, so my dad and brother would maintain the trucks outside in the yard year-round, laying on pieces of plywood to keep themselves out of the mud and snow. Eventually we moved from the dining room table to an office trailer where if it the wind wasn’t blowing when it rained or snowed, all our desks would stay dry.
From the outside looking in, people may have judged us at that point and assumed there was struggle, but we were laying bricks in our foundation of success. Profits were being re-invested wisely into areas that foster gains and growth. My dad said something around that time that has stuck with me for the past twenty-some years, “Chrome doesn’t pay the bills.” A big shop or a fancy office at that stage was not going to add to our earnings per mile. So, we worked with what we had until we more than outgrew it, then we eventually got our big shop with concrete instead of mud, and an office that is unfazed by precipitation.
At times, the growth was steady and comfortable, other times we were in a flat out run to keep up; however, there was always stability because of careful decision making and certainly some sacrifice.
Describe the workplace culture at Paul Quail Transport.
The heart of where we came from beats strongly in our culture today. It is an absolute honour to have a team of employees that are not only highly skilled but share the values of which the company was built from. When you work hard together and treat each other well, it forms tight bonds across the company. It probably isn’t verbalized enough but there is strong sense of comfort in those bonds.
How many facilities, trucks and employees represent Paul Quail Transport?
Our sole terminal is located just outside of Alliston, Ontario. We run 55 trucks and have 65 employees.
Describe Paul Quail Transport’s areas of expertise.
We specialize in just-in-time automotive freight. All our routes are serviced with 53’ dry vans. I will never claim that anything in transportation is easy but I will say that no-touch freight, especially drop and hook lanes, certainly are a nice alternative to other freight options.
What are some methods used to keep customers satisfied?
In just-in-time automotive freight, you need to function as the name implies. The timelines don’t leave much room for error. When the curveballs of border delays, traffic and weather come our way, we need to adapt and quickly build solutions. Our dispatch team, which includes support from my dad and brother, is masterful at solving this type of problem. I have watched in awe as the team has turned a seemingly impossible situation into a workable solution. We don’t make promises that we can’t keep and commit to servicing lanes with reliable equipment and high-quality professional drivers.
Has there been a major business philosophy permeating the company? Is there a company motto?
I can’t say that we have a clever one-liner that represents several moral and business philosophies that we hold close. One of my favourites is “Happiness only exist when shared and success is never achieved alone.”
How has the company made safety a priority?
We view compliance as a minimum baseline and aim beyond for best practices. One thing that has worked well for us was adapting cloud-based dash cameras two years ago. Numerical data, such as hard brake counts sent by ELDs, are not always reliable as a fair measure of driver behaviour. Most often, the videos are used to commend the drivers for skilled reactions to hazards (primarily other motorists’ poor decisions) on the road.
What is Paul Quail Transport’s approach to driver training and retention?
I’m going to try my best to keep this reeled-in to a reasonable length. Anybody that knows me in the industry, knows that this is one of my biggest passions in transportation. When speaking in terms of recruiting, training, and retention, retention must always rank first. With the high costs associated with driver on-boarding, retention drives every action throughout our hiring process. It’s very important that recruits have a clear understanding of how we operate and what their position will look like. They are encouraged to ask as many questions as possible and they can expect honest answers.
We have a unique approach to hiring entry-level drivers. I hire an unlicensed person that is keen and committed to a career in professional driving but has been held back by the many barriers to entry into our industry. The short explanation is: we enroll the person in an AZ MELT school and employ them part-time while they go through school. The bulk of their time spent with us is going on ride-alongs, where they learn real-world skills that complement their in-school training. The orientation that traditionally gets dumped on a new driver is spread out over their time unlicensed. When they pass their road test, they have already been thoroughly trained on all aspects of the job.
This program, which I call SmartStart, produces highly skilled, confident, and well-rounded entry-level drivers. It does cost slightly more than traditional hiring but is incredibly effective in bringing higher quality entry-level drivers into our industry. If all fleets adopted the same method, the gains to our industry would be measurable in driver count and safety statistics.
Can you discuss your company’s involvement with the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada?
Since we are for-hire, I initially didn’t recognize PMTC as a potential membership for us. The more I observed the activities and opportunities available, the more I realized a PMTC membership is a must have for us. After learning about the Young Leaders Group (YLG), we joined PMTC in 2018, and I quickly became fully involved. I am now a Vice Chair on the YLG and a Director on the PMTC Board. I relied heavily on the PMTC during the swift onset of the pandemic in March. As I built game plans and drafted policies, I needed accurate information from reliable sources and I needed it fast. I reached out to Mike and Annette several times during the period –where I am certain they were equally swamped – and they came through for me every time. We received outstanding support from PMTC during a critical time.
What makes you most proud of your company?
I am incredibly proud of our company but it is nothing without the people. Our office staff are reliable, loyal, and honest. Our maintenance staff is packed with impressive skills and commitment to the reliability of our units, and our professional drivers are masters of their craft.
Let’s finish with how the family business has evolved and what their vision is for the future.
I must separate family from business for this answer. The business has certainly evolved by leaps and bounds but as a family we are the same. My parents, Paul and Sherry; two brothers, Sean and Michael; and I all work together as a family. We still farm almost 1,000 acres and go light on the chrome.
To learn more about Paul Quail Transport, visit
www.quailtransport.com or connect with the team on Facebook, www.facebook.com/paulquailtransport.