FORT COLLINS — Despite the recent economic rebound, or perhaps because of it, the trucking industry finds itself in a bit of a bind — not enough qualified drivers. A report from the American Trucking Associations estimated the shortage for 2015 at more than 47,000, the highest level ever recorded, according to the study.
If the economy continues to strengthen, the ATA expects that number to jump by another 26,000 this year alone, leading to a dire prediction: “If the trend stays on course, there will likely be severe supply chain disruptions resulting in significant shipping delays, higher inventory carrying costs, and perhaps shortages at stores.”
For at least one Northern Colorado-based trucking firm, though, the news is not all gloom and doom. Based in Fort Collins, Transpro Burgener trucking is preparing for a bright future. “We’ve been able to take advantage of lots of opportunities that have come our way,” said Mike Dempsey, Burgener’s chief financial officer. “We’re fortunate to be in a position right now to add to our fleet and modernize things and better service our customers.”
Summer is within reach; school is almost out and many people are thinking about vacations and warmer weather. With a third of the year behind… read more
Dempsey said the company is purchasing 25 new rigs to enhance its existing fleet of 150 trucks and about 300 trailers. And while he admits that finding drivers in this current economy is a challenge, Dempsey feels Burgener has an edge over other trucking firms.
“We want to attract the best drivers and we want to retain them,” he said. “One of the things strategically that we’re focused on is making our company one of the best places to work for the drivers, because when it comes down to the end of the day, those are the ones who service our customers and without them, we can’t do it.”
A classic story of humble beginnings, Transpro Burgener Trucking has been “doing it” for 70 years now. Returning from World War II, Ed Burgener started the business in 1946 with a single dump truck, eventually handing the company reins to his son. Then Curt Burgener, Ed’s grandson, took over management in 2006. Today, the firm operates four terminals along the Front Range, including Laramie, Fort Collins, Denver and Pueblo, with 175 employees.
The company’s ‘bread and butter’ is hauling dry bulk commodities for jobs ranging from oilfield support to infrastructure projects. “Anything that requires lots of bulk materials, whether that be aggregates or road base or cement,” Dempsey explained. “There’s an emphasis on that on the Front Range right now … if you’ve been to Denver recently, there’s a whole lot of activity going on with things like the completion of the Union Station project, highway construction — we’re involved in all those types of projects.”
While there have been plenty of bumps in the road, Dempsey attributes the company’s success, at least in part, to diversification. As an example, he points to the oil business in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming, which was booming as recently as a year ago. That meant lots of business shipping to the oilfields, things such as cement for the well casings or sand for the drilling operations. But with the plunge in oil prices, much of that activity has fallen off.
“There were a lot of trucking companies out there that were focused on just that segment that are really hurting right now, but fortunately for us, it’s only a portion of what we do,” Dempsey said. “We operate in a lot of other business segments, so we’ve been able to weather that downturn better than most.”
And the corresponding drop in fuel costs hasn’t necessarily translated into savings for Transpro Burgener, either. “With so many trucks that are idle, trucking in general in the marketplace has dropped off,” he said. “And with fuel prices coming down, prices for trucking have been coming down as well and eating into that improvement in costs.”
On the “plus” side, Dempsey said, customers are seeing the benefits of those lower trucking prices, which he sees as helping to stimulate the overall economy.
In fact, Dempsey credits a recent contract with a large materials supplier as some of the impetus for the additional trucks. Transpro Burgener will be supplying all 11 of the metro Denver Martin Marietta Ready Mix plants with cement and flyash. Gary Pearcy, Martin Marietta’s Rocky Mountain Division area sales manager and a long-time customer, said in an email, “Our delivery service requirements continue to increase year over year. Along the way, Burgener has been willing to invest in additional equipment and employees to support our growing customer and plant base. Burgener has also invested in the necessary safety training and insurances to adhere to Martin Marietta’s safety policies.”
Managing Transpro Burgener’s growth is another challenge the firm has tackled head-on.
“Growing an entrepreneurial business, I think there are a lot of firms that reach a point where it gets too big for the entrepreneur to handle, but the Burgener family has been very good about making that transition and keeping that balance between an entrepreneurial company and a larger company,” Dempsey explained. “Customer service is most important to us, so we’re still nimble and able to respond to customer needs and demands, but we’re also building the infrastructure within the company in order to operate like a larger firm.”
Installing that infrastructure began in earnest a few years ago. As president of the company, Curt Burgener was very ‘hands-on’ and spent a lot of time managing every aspect of the operations. But in order to back away from the day-to-day workings and focus more on strategic growth, Burgener sought out a search firm to start the process of assembling an executive team. Dempsey was the first hire, coming aboard as CFO in August 2014.
“Then we started looking to expand the administrative staff to take more pressure off of Curt, so we hired an HR manager, and we hired a manager for each of our terminals so Curt being the CEO could focus on CEO duties,” Dempsey said. “We’re really proud of the team we’ve been able to build and believe it will support the future growth of the company.”
Transpro Burgener believes that growth could expand along the Interstate 25 corridor.
“We see that as our strength now,” Dempsey said. “We could be going north and south along that corridor … basically from Casper (Wyoming) to Las Cruces (New Mexico). It allows us to be able to travel in all directions along that corridor to service customers in the Rocky Mountain region.” The management team also expects to continually diversify the types of commodities hauled.
“We think it makes us an attractive business partner for companies because we have financial strength and stability to be able to weather those downturns in any given segment.”
For Pearcy, the attraction is pretty basic. As he puts it, “[They’re] easy and enjoyable to do business with.”