Musket Transport Ltd.
Now in its 26th year in business, Musket Transport Ltd. is firmly entrenched as a widely respected, reliable leader in transportation and logistical services for an ever-growing list of clients throughout North America. With four locations in Mississauga, Musket Transport has close to 300 trucks and more than 1,000 trailers in its fleet. Just recently its relatively new brokerage division had to move out of the main location because it became too crowded – a clear indication that business is booming.
Musket’s operations focus on a sizable footprint of North America and the company is among the largest intermodal trucking companies servicing the Great Lakes states, the Midwest, and the Northeastern United States, including daily shipments to and from the ports of Montreal and other destinations. Musket has an impressive list of well-known large corporate clients including the likes of Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping, Atlantic Packaging, Nestle, PepsiCo and Purina to name just a few.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Andy Balij, President & CEO at Musket Transport Ltd. while he was vacationing in Washington State.
“At the start, instead of taking profits, we re-invested as much as we could back into the company, acquiring equipment. Instead of leasing, we also acquired land and it has definitely paid off in the long run,” begins Balij.
“We decided our path early on in the history of the company, as far back as 1997, when we decided we were not going to just be carriers – we wanted to have our own trucks. We weren’t going to rent chassis – we were going to buy them. We were not going to rent terminals – we were going to buy them. In the long run, it has paid off for us,” he continues.
The decision to purchase all of its equipment has given Musket Transport a tremendous advantage. The portion of funds that would usually be earmarked for equipment rentals on a continuing basis instead allows Musket to devote more of a budget on such other integral aspects of the business as safety, training and other worthy initiatives, including giving back to the community. It has always been Balij’s intention to ensure that each and every employee feels as if they are part of a family, and a very successful one at that.
The previous CBJ discussion with Balij took place in late 2016 and since that time Musket Transport has continued its impressive growth, which he credits to excellent ideas by the executive team and the ability to flexibly diversify and create more opportunities. The company continued its impressive upswing in business in 2017 and logged even stronger results in 2018.
“We continue to focus on our employees and our employee drivers,” says Balij. “It is a very competitive industry and there are also operators coming from other places but we do have a loyal and steady basket of customers.”
It is an engrained corporate belief at Musket to always retain the human factor as an integral part of mainstream operations, and especially when corresponding with clients and the public. A prime example is the company’s willingness to solve problems or discuss plans over the telephone as opposed to many other companies that almost entirely engage solely in electronic communications such as text messages or email. However, at the same time, Musket Transport is clearly one of the foremost innovators when it comes to technological advances within the industry.
“We invested in technology from day one. We went from operating on cardboard and paper to digital systems very quickly, and we continuously improve our digital structure and telecommunications,” states Balij. “We have been doing this for over 25 years now consistently and persistently and pushing the electronics like the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and developing and managing the software, which we develop in-house with our own programmers.”
The Greater Toronto Area is a very unique geographic location compared with many other big cities in the world. According to Balij it provides Musket Transport the opportunity to actually create a unique business. As example, the GTA has a population of about 6 million people and by extension there are about 12 million people in Ontario. Balij points out ships are not coming into Lake Ontario and loading and unloading huge containers. Additionally, the rail infrastructure is now quite outdated by today’s standards, with a limited ability to move freight in a timely fashion. In the absence of large volumes of cargo it simply isn’t worth considering rail transit over shorter distances. However, Musket’s destination is Montreal – their primary port. It’s a short, productive run through Ontario to Montreal on the highway, but definitely not financially viable by rail or by water.
“We are allowed to carry three containers, which maximizes profitability and allows us to compete and be ahead of the rail structure in this type of scenario,” explains Balij.
Due to the prodigious size of some of Musket’s well-known customers it is important that the company be innovative and at the front end of the curve. It’s a point Balij and his executive team continues to drive home on a constant basis.
“We are smaller than other transport and logistics companies but we are able to compete because of our electronic technologies,” he proudly says.
It goes without saying that the drivers are an exceedingly integral part of the Musket team and its success in the marketplace, and as such they are always properly trained and prepared through the company’s exclusive schooling.
“We came up with the school a long time ago because we decided we wanted to be an asset-based carrier. What that really means is you have a truck but you don’t have a driver so you have to hire the driver. That was a lot of added pressure on our team. You need to interview and hire the right people and train them. A properly trained driver means to be completely informed and able to handle all situations,” explains Balij.
Musket Transport thoroughly trains AZ and DZ commercial drivers for intermodal and OTR (over-the-road) routes. According to Balij, besides having top-quality individuals and hardware, he again emphasizes how it would be impossible to achieve any level of success in the transportation and logistics industry without excellent, updated technology. To ensure they always have that current technology at their fingertips the software is developed in-house so it can be tailored to the specific requirements of clients.
As of last year, Musket Transport installed GPS tracking systems for all its equipment – trucks, trailers and everything else. Certain companies such as Kraft require such technology because they make it a policy to track all their cargo shipments. The other factor necessitating strong electronic technological systems directly correlates with an ability to obtain top-level, inclusive insurance coverage.
Another prime example of how Musket’s software has paid incredible dividends can be found at the company’s port in Montreal, where one dispatcher is able to run the entire operation, which includes the handling and scheduling of nearly 70 trucks. In years gone by such a task would have required at least two or three people, but now one individual is able to efficiently do it all.
The excellent overall results achieved to date are the resultant combination of strong leadership and a dedicated staff.
“Our turnover rate over the last 18 months is less than 2%,” Balij proudly notes. “The few that do leave most often do so in order to retire. We also pay our people more than our competitors do.”
Just last year, Musket purchased 160 new trucks and 250 trailers, which leads to notably less down time.
“We recognize our team’s strong dedication and will give occasional bonuses for excellent performances. I would like to think we have a pretty happy team. It makes it like one big family moving forward,” says Balij.
In looking towards the near-term future, Balij says the company had already been in the planning stages for further expansion in Montreal, but admits there have been some unavoidable roadblocks along the way, stemming from inadequate, and at times absent, government regulations and required industry reporting. Complicating matters is that some entities don’t follow the rules and for that reason it makes it much more challenging for reputable, law-abiding companies such as Musket to compete on a level playing field.
“It doesn’t really matter how low I come in with my rate, they are always going to come in lower,” laments Balij.
It’s quite evident to those who understand how the industry works that certain companies skirt regulations while others engage in outright money laundering schemes, but stopping such unseemly activity from those types of unscrupulous businesses has proven to be exceedingly difficult. Some of those companies exist with the sole purpose of moving money without leaving a trace. Balij and his executive team have decided that Musket will put the brakes on expansion to Quebec until some sort of acceptable solution is in place.
“We decided we’re not going to take the risk to go out of our territory because of too many uncertainties. We need to sit and wait and see how things develop,” he remarks.
Additionally, electronic logbooks are supposed to be kept by all companies, which would further make sense for Musket Transport to be in both Ontario and Quebec but the Canadian government postponed the requirement for implementation for those logbooks for another year. It won’t be until at least 2020 before electronics will track all relevant analytics. Nonetheless, despite those barriers, Balij believes his company will have an expanded presence in Montreal within the next three years.
“Quebec is definitely the next province that we would like to have a footprint on. We’re just waiting for the right moment – and I don’t believe it’s now,” he confirms.
The company always puts an emphasis on satisfying each of its clients on an ongoing basis while also tirelessly working on continuous acquisition of new accounts. Throughout its history, Musket Transport has been a diligent supporter and sponsor for a number of charitable events within the community, including the Make A Wish Foundation. Employees have been involved with such charitable organizations as the Special Olympics, the Ride to Conquer Cancer and many local food drives. Musket is also well-known for holding a fantastic summer barbecue, fostered by an all-inclusive environment, meaning everyone is welcome.
“We have a jar and all we ask is that people contribute whatever they can. That money then goes to the Make A Wish Foundation for the children. Even if it’s just 50 cents or a dollar it is helpful and brings people together,” reflects Balij. “We feel that giving back to the community is extremely important.”