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Driver Profile: Gilles Martin

by Jim Park

Some things never change. Waiting around the docks at a grocery store is a rite of passage of sorts. Anybody who has ever hauled a load into a food distribution facility knows the routine. Gilles Martin is no exception. Martin isn't likely to take too much of the receiver's time because he's probably only got two or three cases to deliver, but still, he waits. "It's got to the point where they almost expect me to put the produce on the shelf for them," Martin says. "But that's only after I get their attention, which sometimes takes 15 or 20 minutes."

In Martin's business, 15 or 20 minutes is a long time, especially when the competition is racing down the street behind him. Martin is in the small package delivery business and he's got a rather hectic schedule, so time spent chasing a produce clerk around a grocery store hardly qualifies time well spent.

Martin is an owner operator with City Wide Delivery, Inc., a small parcel delivery service operating in the Maritimes. Martin is one of several contractors serving the cities of Moncton and Saint John, but he takes care of both markets in the same day. He begins his day scooping up freight in Moncton to be delivered in St. John later the same day. As well, he'll deliver anything he has managed to pick up in St. John the day before. City Wide Delivery does fair bit of contract work for the large courier companies such as Dynamex and Federal Express, but Martin's run consists almost exclusively locally generated freight moving between the cities of Moncton and St. John.

Prior to March of this year, he also made stops along the way in communities such as Petitcodiac, Sussex and Rothsay, but that was becoming too time consuming. The competition wasn't making the additional stops, and therefore could get into St. John earlier than Martin could. That was costing him business from Moncton. "We served the outlying areas but lost customers at home, which was a costly move," he says. "Now we've got another truck working the milk run while I head straight down the road, and we're slowly getting back what we lost."

Martin works on a percentage of the revenue from the freight he picks up, so when he began to share the route with the other drivers, it cost him a fair bit of revenue. But it was also costing him money when the customers began using his competitors. "The company made us a pretty fair deal to get us over the transition, and now the freight is coming back," he said. "So all in all, it's worked out well even though I'm still a little short at the end of the month. Martin figures the growing demand for same-day service between Moncton and St. John will make the drop in revenue a minor setback. And he's quite confident that the service City Wide provides will keep the customers calling.

Martin is also responsible for drumming up as much of his own business as he can. Which makes him doubly-dependent on himself. Not only does he pick up and deliver the freight, he sells the service as well. Martin sees the trend in Just In Time delivery going nowhere but up in Atlantic Canada, so he seems to have hitched his horse to a wagon that's going places.

"It's not quite like Ontario (and the Great Lakes states) where all the freight is coming off of one assembly line and right on to another," he says. "Here, Moncton is the supply hub, and all the businesses in the outlying areas are buying stock from Moncton. So when a garage in St. John needs a part, they call Moncton and we get the part there that afternoon." And Martin knows that if he can't do it, his competitor will.

Martin became an owner operator several years ago while working with City Wide Delivery, but he got his start in the small package business many years before that. He worked for Gelco Express prior to Purolator acquiring the operation for the licenses. When Purolator shut Gelco down, Martin hired on to Jumbo Express, who subsequently went under, and then he went over to Armour Transport. A short time later, City Wide Delivery approached him about the Moncton-St. John corridor. At the time, he was making 10 to 15 pick-ups a day in Moncton, but Martin has managed to grow that business to over 50 stops a day. That's some expansion.

In fact, Martin says he may soon have to trade in his Ford F350 with a 16-ft integrated box and go with a 5-ton or maybe something a little larger. Business is good and his current ride just can't accommodate the weight. He frequently has to turn down larger shipments and let the bigger trucks grab them, which is costing him revenue. Until recently, City Wide had no sales people in the area. But with a sales person just coming on and the volume of freight increasing seemingly on its own, the old cube van may not be enough truck for much longer.

"I've already been pinched once for overweight, so I upped the registration. But then the guy at the scale told me I still had to go higher," he said. "I don't know what the guy wanted, I was running legally. It seemed he just had it in for me." Martin says the inspector yanks him around back every so often and does a dangerous goods check or a vehicle inspection, but he's never laid a charge. He doesn't require a log book because he runs just under the 160 km limit, but it seems he's still subject to the vagaries of the enforcement mentality.

A typical day sees Martin making the rounds in Moncton, picking up from many small companies, as well as some large operations such as Canadian Tire's distribution center. He focuses on the Moncton Industrial Park on the west side of the city, while six other drivers work the rest of the city. At 11:00 AM, they all gather at the City Wide facility and "cross-dock" their freight onto each other's trucks for furtherance to various points around the region.

By 11:30, he's on his way to St. John, arriving around 1:00 PM to begin his deliveries and pickups. By 4:30, he's on his way back to Moncton to make any deliveries he can before the customers close up shop, and to rendezvous with the trucks going out overnight with freight Martin has picked up in St. John. These days, Martin's home by 6:30, which is an improvement over the old days when he had to wait in St. John for the Fed Ex linehaul run to the Moncton airport. "We lost that to another carrier and cost me about $300 per week," he said. "But the 13-hour days were too hard on the family time. My kids were getting older and I wanted more time at home anyway."

And Mrs. Martin didn't mind that one bit. Christine Martin is a stay-at-home-Mom who keeps supper on the stove until her man comes through the door. She earns a little income doing some babysitting for the neighbors. She also helps to keep the wheels on the family business by tending to those irritating little details like income tax and managing the cash flow to insure there's always enough in the bank to maintain the truck.

And for some of life's little pleasures. Martin and his family seem to thrive on the little things. They don't have a fancy car, or any of the high-priced luxuries like snowmobiles or powerboats. Rather, they spend that precious family time skating, tobogganing, strolling through the mall, or on an occasional overnight trip to Fredricton. Summer finds the Martins recovering from the rigors of the week at a camp by the water near Bouctouche, N.B., in their trailer.

Martin made a rather special delivery early this past September. His son, Ryan, went off to school for the first time, and a proud Gilles wiped away the little guy's tears as he scrambled out of the truck and onto the playground. Erica, his daughter, won't be going off to school for a couple of years yet, but she still loves to ride around with her dad, when he's not on the job. So family business really takes off, Martin may have a bit of training to do.

"To be honest about it, I'd be a lot happier if Ryan and Erica found something better to do than trucking," Martin says. "It's just too competitive and nerve wracking." And Christine Martin would whole-heartedly second that thought. "The only thing I ever worry about is Gilles getting into an accident, especially in the winter," She says. "I know he's responsible enough, but I can't say that for many of the other drivers." And she knows whereof she speaks. She often rode with her main squeeze before the youngins came along, and she has seen enough lunacy on the two-lane to last her a lifetime.

Martin still has a Class 1 license from the days prior to City Wide, but he's not planning to use it again. "I'm doing just fine right now, and things are looking pretty good for the next five years," he says. "But if I had to, I can always find work on the highway." Mrs. Martin says that if push came to shove, she knows the Class 1 will be their meal ticket, but she'd really hate to see Gilles gone several weeks at a time.

As empire building goes Martin is taking his time, building his business one customer, one stop at a time. He knows the value of service and he knows the competition is working just as hard as he is. He also knows that good things come to those who wait; even it takes 15 or 20 minutes.

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