Tuesday, September 18, 2018Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

Wills Transfer

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Based in eastern Ontario, Wills Transfer was founded by the Wills family just after the war, in 1945. It was company president Terry Wills’ father and grandfather who began the business with two trucks. Back then, Wills Transfer made local deliveries. In 1953, they branched out into household moving, and became a member of United Van Lines as soon as its operation landed in Canada. As for the commercial warehousing side, that started in the mid-1970s, when the moving business had become a seasonal industry.

“We expanded our services to provide additional work for our skilled employees during the winter months,” says Wills. “Since that time, the commercial warehousing business has grown to be a significant portion of our business.”

Wills Transfer has certainly come a long way from its two-truck operation. Today, the company has four state-of-the-art warehouse facilities with over 500,000 square feet of temperature-controlled space (in Smiths Falls, Perth, Ottawa and Brockville). The company has also fostered a global distribution network. And locally, the company can reach 63 per cent of Canada’s population and 47 per cent of the U.S. population within two to three hours, because its properties are positioned to easily serve Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and the U.S. eastern seaboard.

Building relationships

When questioned about the company’s success, Wills looks to his father and grandfather’s values. “It took their perseverance, hard work and a lot of hours to make Wills Transfer what it is,” he explains. “Building relationships within the community also really helped build the business, especially in the small towns of eastern Ontario— that’s where a lot of our workforce comes from. We have been blessed by a loyal staff with a good work ethic. We have a lot of long-term employees that have been here their whole career.”

According to Wills, the company culture remains family-oriented. “We have 150 people, but we know everyone’s name, and we try to get to know the names of their kids and grandkids,” he adds. “People mean more to us than the bottom line. I know we have to be good stewards of the assets we have, but the be-all and end-all isn’t the bottom line; if that was the focus, people would get hurt in the meantime.”

The management team’s commitment to their people shows in the numbers. A few years ago, Wills Transfer did a survey while the company was updating its website. As it turns out, the average employee tenure was 16 years. “I think that says a lot of our experience,” says Wills. “And it continues to be that way; there isn’t a lot of turnover. It’s a testament to the importance of people in the organisation.”

Brent Ellis, director of commercial warehouses, has been with Wills Transfer for more than 10 years, and he has seen first-hand what the company is all about. “We distinguish ourselves with our people,” he agrees. Ellis also talks about how the company works just as hard to build relationships with its customers as it does the staff. “I was at someone’s house who had moved 15 times, and used Wills Transfer for each of the moves. I think there’s a feeling of loyalty with our customers. It’s a relationship thing. Another example is our first warehousing client, Hershey Canada; that relationship lasted until Hershey closed in Smith Falls.”

Staying flexible

Success in logistics is largely dependent on being able to adapt to industry changes. Wills Transfer has been able to do that; even after decades of being in business, the company has maintained a flexibility that comes with conscious effort.

“We have stayed small enough to be flexible,” says Ellis. “Our warehousing division, for example, was built on the strong manufacturing communities in small-town Ontario. Over the last 10 years, much of that industry has gone offshore, so we have diversified and taken on new opportunities. Our distribution work is now based around materials produced offshore. We pick up shipments at intermodal terminals, bring them into our warehouses and distribute the goods for the company.”

For Wills Transfer, being flexible also means being readily available to make decisions and listen to customer feedback. “When there’s a phone call, we answer it in person. There isn’t a ladder to climb if you want a decision made or want to speak to someone.”

The ultimate goal is to rise to the top; by evolving with the industry, Wills Transfer is positioning itself to thrive. “We want to be a market leader in our region, so we’re out there doing new business,” says Wills. “We continue to improve in order to achieve our goal. So far, we have done really well. And that ties into our experience. Combined, we have hundreds of years of experience in the movement and management of goods. We have lot to offer.”

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