Fleet profile written for Trucking Co. magazine by Richard Stewart.
Where's the Fire!
Just as a fire needs fuel, heat and oxygen to burn, a trucking company needs ‘Triangle of Transportation'
BY RICHARD STEWART
Ed MacDonald runs his trucking company much like he ran his
battalion of firefighters in Providence, R.I. Keep your team and
your equipment ready to roll at a moment's notice. But instead
of putting out fires, his EMAC Transport focuses on meeting the
transportation needs of customers who have come to depend
on the regional fleet. The company has built a reputation of
exemplary customer service. The awards and customer letters
on its walls attest to that.
EMAC Transport has grown steadily yet conservatively over
the 23 years since Ed started hauling freight to supplement his
firefighter wages during time off. “I've seen what can happen
when trucking companies grab big accounts without having the
equipment and manpower in place to do the job right,” recounts
Ed. “Service suffers and, eventually, so does their business.”
Slow and careful has been his approach ever since. With 54
company tractors and 256 dry van trailers, EMAC hauls
beverages, mail and general commodities locally in southeast
New England and between points in the Carolinas and western
Pennsylvania. The company also provides dedicated service
and warehousing for a growing number of local companies,
many of whom require just-in-time deliveries. It operates from
its own 20,000-square-foot building in Cranston, R.I., which
“We've walked away from accounts that would have required
us to expand faster than I was comfortable with, especially
when I felt it would affect our ability to service existing
customers,” observes Ed. “Individualized service is what we're
all about, and our customers expect it.”
He recalls turning down a major manufacturer of corrugated
materials that operates several large facilities in the Northeast.
The company was looking to get out of the transportation end
of its business and asked EMAC to provide dedicated service.
“It was too much, too fast,” says Ed. “I traveled to their
plants and didn't feel confident that we could take on such a
big job without jeopardizing service to our other customers. So
I turned them down and told them why.” Two years later the
same company came back and asked EMAC to take another
look, he adds.
“I founded this company on personal service, and everyone
who works here understands that philosophy,” says Ed.
“Customers know that our office staff will drop everything to
help them with a problem. Our drivers are courteous and not
afraid to lend a customer a hand to load or unload. Above all
else, they know that customers expect on-time delivery, every
Sales hit $7.5 million last year, reports Ed, who turned his full
attention to the business only five years ago. That's when he
retired from the fire department as battalion chief. It meant no
more working 80 hours a week at two jobs. He could finally
focus on the trucking company that had become his passion.
As for a lack of experience in running a trucking company, he
has compensated by asking a lot of questions and observing
other successful companies. He's a people person and selling
came naturally to him.
“Selling comes down to establishing personal relationships
and doing what you say you're going to do. It doesn't pay to
promise more than you can deliver,” he adds.
While driving a tractor-trailer rig does not have much in
common with driving a fire truck, Ed's experience with the
city's equipment gave him the confidence to take on an
18-wheeler. He was smart enough to ride with trucker
friends to learn the ropes before trying it on his own.
When he felt ready, he rented a tractor and started
delivering freight locally from the Providence railhead. His
first big break came three years later. He bid on and won
a U.S. Postal Service contract to haul mail between
Providence and the bulk mail center in Springfield, Mass.
“I researched the job and figured out how much equipment
I needed and whether I could swing the financial end of it,”
he remembers. He hired four drivers and moved the business
out of his home. “We still have that contract after 20 years,”
he notes proudly.
The Postal Service commended EMAC Transport for the
company's “high level of professional service” for getting
the mail through during a severe hurricane in 1991.
Testimonials from other long-time customers cite EMAC
as a highly service-oriented trucking company. Last year it
was ranked 17th among the fastest-growing privately owned
companies in Rhode Island.
Hiring the right people, including sales manager Tom Johnston,
has been vital to the company's success, Ed acknowledges.
Tom, another retired Providence firefighter, started selling for
EMAC five years before Ed's retirement from the department.
The men were friends in the fire service and both have helmets
and other firefighter memorabilia decorating their offices.
Tom can't help making analogies to the fire service when
talking about EMAC. “A trucking company is like a fire,” he
says. “Where a fire needs fuel, heat and oxygen to burn, a
successful trucking company needs unparalleled service,
competitive rates and quality equipment.” EMAC calls this
formula the “Triangle of Transportation.”
The company has always resisted reducing its rates, reasoning
that since it does not offer discount service, it shouldn't offer
discount pricing, explains Tom. “We decided we'd rather
park a truck than run it for less than a profitable margin and
jeopardize service. We are determined to pay our drivers a
fair wage. They are our best salespeople,” he observes.
Bonuses for safe driving and outstanding service are distributed
at an annual banquet. Bi-monthly breakfast meetings with the
company's 60 drivers focus on safety issues, resolving conflicts
and reinforcing the importance of a professional appearance and
attitude that customers have come to expect from EMAC
“We do what we can to keep our drivers happy because
unhappy drivers affect service,” says Ed. “I like to take care
of little problems before they mushroom into big ones. People
respond best to honesty and sincerity. Treat them right and they'll
do a good job for you, whether it's at a fire or driving a truck,”
he adds. “I'm nothing without my drivers. That's why my office
door is always open.”
The company welcomes feedback from customers on driver
performance, and Tom frequently gets glowing reports, he notes.
“It all comes down to professionalism. Our drivers really care
about doing a good job and how they present themselves to
customers. The drivers feel they have a stake in this company.
They are a tremendous part of it,” he relates.
“I've had customers tell me, ‘You're not the cheapest, but
that's okay because your drivers do such a great job. They're
willing to pitch in and give us a hand when we need it.' That goes
a long way,” Tom says. “It stems from a feeling of being proud
of what you do.”
Caring about customers is key to the success of any trucking
company, Ed feels. “We try to be flexible and do whatever we
can to cater to the customer. If he has a problem, we have a
problem,” he says. “That's how we've kept customers for
20 years. They become your friends.” Many of EMAC's
customers have been with the company since Ed's early years.
The fleet runs mostly late-model Freightliner FD120 tractors and
a mix of 48- and 53-foot trailers. Tractors in the over-the-road
division average about 125,000 miles a year and are traded at
the end of the warranty period. They are equipped with sleepers
and a higher level of trim than most fleets spec, notes Ed.
That's to keep the drivers comfortable and content.
Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines in the sleeper units are rated at
365 hp, while tractors in local service run at 340 hp. Local
tractors average 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year, and the fleet fuel
average is about 6.5 mpg, reports Ed.
Equipment problems are few and far between in the EMAC fleet,
owing to the company's strict adherence to preventive
maintenance schedules. “I learned in the fire department that
you have to keep your equipment in top mechanical condition,”
notes Ed. “Too many equipment breakdowns and other surprises
can drag a trucking company down very quickly.”
Equipment maintenance is performed in the company's 4,000-
square-foot garage except for 14 tractors based at a subterminal
in Massachusetts. Those were acquired on full-service leases, and
the dealership there services them since it would be impractical for
EMAC's shop to maintain those units, Ed explains.
Three full-time mechanics and a maintenance director see that
rest of the equipment is well serviced and meets all safety
requirements. Ed's son, a Providence firefighter himself, works
during his off-time as a mechanic for EMAC.
Dispatching, record-keeping and sales analysis are computerized.
The company settled on TruckMate(r) software about a year
and a half ago. Before computerization, keeping track of the
company's trailers, many of which are scattered around the region
in drop and pull operations, was a major challenge, notes Ed.
A warehousing operation was started recently in response to
customer requests. Capacity totals about 60,000 square feet.
“We started offering warehousing services on a small scale as a
convenience to customers,” he says. “We're being careful
with it. We don't want to get away from the same planned,
controlled growth that brought us to where we are today.”
Ed applies the leadership and people skills he learned in the fire
department to his trucking company and its 75 employees.
“To everybody here I'm Eddy, not Mr. MacDonald. It's a
family atmosphere, like back in the fire house,” he says.
“Drivers know they can count on driving good equipment,
getting decent rates and having a future with us. We're all
professionals and proud of what we do.”
# # #
Former Fire Battalion Chief Ed MacDonald started EMAC
Transport while moonlighting with a rented tractor during his
CAPTION - PHOTO WITH TWO PEOPLE
EMAC Sales Manager Tom Johnston (left) and President
Ed MacDonald served together in the Providence Fire
Department. Today they focus on growing the regional
Company: EMAC Transport
Location: Cranston, R.I.
Principal: Edward MacDonald
Equipment: 54 company tractors, 256 trailers
Freight: Beverages, mail, general freight