Third-generation trucker Greg Munden of Kamloops, B.C.-based Munden Ventures, thinks his business and the log market at large are poised for growth over the next few years and he plans to be there to help.
Munden Ventures can trace its roots back to post-war US.
“My grandparents actually started in business just after the war, in California,” he told Truck West. “The government had road construction projects to get people who had come out of the various military disciplines back to work, so they bought an old army surplus dump truck and started working.”
This took them from California, to Washington, to Missouri – and eventually to British Columbia and the Kamloops area. The rest, as they say, is history.
As for Munden himself, he worked his way right up through the ranks.
“I got my Class 1 licence and worked in the office during the day and drove at night,” he said, “at least enough to say I could do it and to relate a little bit to our drivers.”
Over the next several years he learned the business side from his parents, who were running things by then, and by about 1996 – when his parents started stepping back into semi-retirement – he took over the day-to-day operations. The Munden family actually had three different companies by then, all doing the same kind of work, and that turned out to be ideal for Greg and his two younger brothers.
“Each of us was targeted to one of the companies and gradually took over,” he said, adding that, while they were separate corporate entities, they often shared facilities.
Now, Munden and his wife, Kim, operate 15 trucks in their log harvesting division, but that’s only part of their expanding business.
“We also operate a commercial vehicle maintenance and certified government inspection facility where we do our own maintenance and a fairly large business with third-party trucking companies in the area,” he said.
The company offers a variety of preventive maintenance programs, repairs and inspections and recently started a manufacturing business where it builds, inspects and certifies petroleum tanker trucks. It’s this commercial vehicle maintenance side that’s showing the biggest growth currently.
“It’s been growing a lot, just naturally on its own,” Munden said. “We don’t do a lot of advertising or anything but we’ve got 14 guys in the shop doing maintenance for our stuff and a wide range of other customers. We’ve become kind of a one-stop-shop for not only general trucking companies but in particular, for petroleum haulers. There’s really not many shops that can offer all the tank services they need, from inspections or repairs and testing to all the general maintenance work, so we’re fairly unique in being able to offer both to that sector of the market.”
The company’s six-bay shop features a complement of certified mechanics running from 7 a.m. until midnight, seven days a week.
“We’ve tried be innovative on how we do shifts,” he said. “Our guys are almost all on four-on/four-off shift rotations, which provides us the opportunity to offer seven-day-a-week service to our customers and gives (our mechanics) a really nice work-life balance where they’ve got four 10-hour shifts and four full days off after that. That seems have worked well for us and I think it’s those kind of unique things that differentiate us from some of our competitors.”
That side of the business keeps Munden and his people busy enough that he isn’t pushing for expansion on the trucking side, mostly because of the state of the market today.
“Our roots are in trucking,” he said, “but the returns aren’t what they need to be to justify expanding the driver situation and the challenges in attracting and retaining people. We’re fortunate we’ve got a lot of long-term drivers and it’s not going to be easy to replace (them)…but for sure our workforce is aging. So we’re not running out to look for expansion opportunities for the trucking.”
When new drivers are needed, Munden plans to ensure a steady supply mostly via word of mouth and his company’s reputation.
“We’ve always tried to take care of the people we have, so not only do we retain them and keep them in the industry for as long as they want to be here, but also so the reputation is out there that we’re a good place to work.”
He said they not only offer good equipment that’s maintained well but “We’ve got a full benefits program, including a pension plan, and our guys don’t have to do maintenance on the trucks, so they can literally drive the truck, bring it back at the end of the day, leave their list of issues with the shop and go home and spend time with their family.”
Munden credited his company’s success to the people who work there.
“I really do want to give credit to the staff we have, the drivers, the mechanics and the admin people,” he said. “I think it’s 100% them and their effort, and the work they put in has allowed us to grow and succeed in a tough industry.”
As for the overall state of the forest industry that’s Munden Ventures roots, “the industry generally is fairly good,” Munden said. “A year ago it looked like it was going to be really strong and then there was a significant slide in the lumber market pricing, which came as a bit of a surprise to everybody.”
He said the slide put a lot of pressure on the mills he works with to focus on keeping costs down “and that obviously makes negotiating difficult at a time when you thought you were going into a period of real opportunity, where mills would be very profitable and in turn you might have an opportunity to make some gains on the rate side.”
The weaker Canadian dollar hasn’t helped, either.
“There’s a $25,000-30,000 premium on the trucks that we would order right now versus a year-and-a-half ago, and it impacts our parts pricing as well.”
And as tough as it might be, however, Munden predicts the future will be positive.
“I think the US economy is going to keep ticking along and as a result the lumber market is probably going to steadily improve,” he said. “The really tough winter in the east had a big impact on the on the lumber market too, so there’s certainly opportunities.”
Munden thinks the trucking industry at large should be doing more to attract new talent.
“It’s important that people learn there’s a lot of well-paying opportunities (in trucking) that can establish a work-life balance – including all the support services, whether it’s mechanics or dispatchers or office administration people.”
He said trucking also offers “a unique opportunity to have a certain amount of independence and to be out, whether it’s in the woods doing what we do or seeing different parts the province or the country. There’s going to be an awful lot of opportunity for people who want to look at this business.