Erville Ellsworth likes to know what’s happening. His fleet, Scotian Distribution Services (SDS), of Halifax, Nova Scotia, handles freight that has to be tracked and accounted for every step of the way. This means all elements of his operation must work seamlessly for the special handling and sometimes high value shipments. Data keeps his operation reliable and his customers happy.
“Exceptional service is what we’ve built the company on,” says Erville, who started the fleet in 2003. “There’s other people out there — they’re trucking companies. Our diversification is that we’re specialized. We’ll transport general freight, but the majority of the time is dedicated logistics.”
SDS’ freight includes bonded and insured freight, pharmaceuticals, perishable shipments such as fresh seafood, and air cargo. These shipments require extra security and tracking. “Anything that goes through the mail, we’re hauling it,” he says.
“We have air cargo security in place. We’re able to go onto the tarmac next to an airplane. So we have a lot of security clearances that we’ve put in place and we follow strict rules.”
The fleet is able to pick up shipments coming through Canadian customs at the Halifax docks and deliver to U.S. destinations.
This level of reliability and control can be difficult in Atlantic Canada, given the long winter’s challenging weather and road conditions, and a limited population for finding qualified drivers. But it creates business opportunities, too.
Erville Ellsworth, president of Scotian Distribution Services (left) talks to driver Joseph Mason.
SDS in recent years has looked to Mack Trucks and its dealer, Mackay’s Truck Center, to meet its challenges. Disappointing experiences with other OEMs led Erville to closely scrutinize every purchase decision. This included visiting Mack’s Lehigh Valley Assembly Operations and the Mack Customer Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for in-depth knowledge of the Mack integrated powertrain and vehicle engineering.
Local support is vital. “Knowing that your salesman (Mackay’s sales rep Earl McLean) has your back is tremendous in this day and age. It means a lot to us to have that kind of relationship with these people.”
“Mack has been good to our business with its proven reliability to get the job done,” he says. “Mack makes a tough truck, and some of the sea container work we do is rough on a truck. Our Macks don’t seem to mind it at all.”
Halifax is an important port on the eastern edge of Canada. So while the freight market is modest and stable, it also has variety: containerized freight coming through the port for inland Canada, seafood from the local fisheries and inbound freight for the region.
SDS has added several Mack® Pinnacle™ day cabs and sleepers in recent years, and took delivery of its first Mack Anthem® in 2018, and added the mDRIVE automated manual transmission to its spec. Erville notes that fuel economy is very important for the fleet, so the axle ratios are matched to the transmission ratios to downspeed the engines.
SDS’s Mack trucks embody the increased need for efficiency that the fleet faces, while addressing the other demands for safety, driver acceptance and durability.
“There has been a large shift from the traditional square body trucks to the more aerodynamic fuel-efficient models, and to lighter weights. These are safer trucks with a much better ride and comfort for the drivers.
“Mack has been good to our business with its proven reliability to get the job done,” he says. “Mack makes a tough truck, and some of the sea container work we do is rough on a truck. Our Macks don’t seem to mind it at all.” - Erville Ellsworth, Scotian Distribution Services
“We have always viewed Mack as a tough reliable truck,” Erville says. The new Macks are very comfortable for the drivers.” Aside from the labor-saving mDRIVE, SDS specs popular amenities for the driver environment including “a great seat.”
The driver environment impressed Erville. “Mack’s done a really good job on the ergonomics of the dash, particularly where your hands are on the wheel and having everything within reach. You’re not looking, everything’s in front of you.”
Respect, late model equipment, a safe working environment, scheduled work and home time are key to attracting and retaining drivers for SDS. Scheduled runs with dedicated customer linehauls help.
Qualified drivers are a critical component of SDS operations and like everywhere else, are in short supply. “Anyone can apply if they qualify, then interview and road test,” Erville says. He knows not everyone will pass the rigorous security and background checks some of his routes require, but there could still be an opportunity on one of the other routes.
“Some people make mistakes. We’re human. That’s the first thing, instead of getting shown the door, we’re actually saying, ‘No, come on. Let’s try going through this together.’ We’re showing our loyalty to them right away, and they appreciate and respect the fact that respect was given to them. Already, they want to be part of this.”
He looks for that attitude in his customers, too, some of whom he’s been with for 26 years. “We treat our employees fair, that is all anyone wants. We look for the same quality in our customers we choose to do business with. If they treat their employees fair it says a lot of how they will treat our employees.”
The drivers play a huge role in the fleet’s high safety ratings. “That’s something that the employees take pride in. That’s something they did. We didn’t do it — we created an idea, but without those men and women, it will not happen.”
Mack’s GuardDog® Connect telematics platform is a logical step for SDS, since Erville has been sold on telematics for years.
“Putting the investments in telematics in the beginning is what allowed me to get where we’re at today, he says. “The fuel savings alone by putting the GPS in the trucks paid for it five times over.”
The old ways of doing business are over, he says. “That approach of just hook it up to the trailer and go is dead. Don’t tell me what is good with a truck, tell me what’s wrong with it. I’m just looking for upfront information.”
SDS’s goal is less downtime and more uptime, and information helps make that happen, he says. “We’re looking to Mack to help us achieve that with future purchases.”
The fleet has one employee whose only job is to monitor fuel usage, which allows SDS to quote more accurate fuel expenses to customers. Data also helps him match the right truck to the load.
“When we’re running our own gear, we’re getting our top mileage. We have happier drivers because they know they’re running good gear, and not someone else’s problem. Profit is not a bad word.”