Bruno Muller’s first trucking business in the ’80s was a small company, with only seven staff doing conventional ground transport—vans, flat decks, courier services—in the Edmonton area. Even after he expanded the business to include warehousing, it was a tough haul. “We were struggling, trying to make a buck,” he recalls. So Muller and business partner Jim Yuel started looking for something more profitable. They had been hauling some chlorine gas already and saw bulk commodity transport as a professional, niche service with potential for higher returns. When the pair purchased the family-run Caron Transportation Systems in 1990, their fortunes changed.
Today, Caron is headquartered in Sherwood Park, east of Edmonton. It employs 500 staff, with terminals in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Grande Prairie, Alta. Caron’s specially designed fleet of stainless-steel tanker trucks can safely haul chemicals, including chlorine, hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, caustic soda and liquid nitrogen, throughout western, central and northern Canada and into the United States. Caron intentionally doesn’t haul large-volume diesel or gasoline loads, instead focusing on custom solutions to transport more niche payloads: chemicals and other dry bulk materials required for municipal water treatment plants, tailing pond treatment, pulp and paper mills, petrochemical processing, construction and airplane de-icing.
A big part of Caron’s long-term success can be attributed to that decision to diversify. Fifteen years ago, Muller—the company’s president—made the strategic choice that oil and gas exploration clients should account for a maximum of 30% of the firm’s operations. It was not the easiest mandate for an Alberta business to adopt, but it was a wise one, and it paid off during the oil price slump in the past three years. “Thank goodness we grew in other sectors,” says Muller. “Because we have diversified, [the slump] hasn’t crippled us like it has many others in Alberta.”
Business has slowed in some areas for Caron, notably at the Grand Prairie terminal. However, the company avoided layoffs by using drivers from that market to haul concrete for a contract with the Site C dam in northern B.C.
Caron is committed to staff retention strategies like this, and with good reason. The company hires only experienced drivers, and finding them is always a challenge—especially as the logistics industry in Alberta and beyond struggles to find people who want to drive trucks. “Our driver shortage is a huge issue,” says Muller. “The average age of people in our industry is creeping up.” Caron aims to retain staff by offering years-of-service rewards every five years, including a corporate RRSP-matching program worth up to $2,500.
Maybe even more importantly, Caron is doing its part to attract new people to the industry and to train the kind of staff it wants to hire. In the past two years, it partnered to develop and deliver Class 1 driver training programs through Grande Prairie Regional College and Women Building Futures, an Edmonton initiative that prepares women for careers in trades.
Muller sees the “business-friendly” U.S. markets in Texas and North Dakota as areas to expand in the near future, and he knows he will need professional and well-trained staff to drive the business there. “We are doing everything and anything to draw people into our industry,” he says.