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Computers, added services help movers stay in business.

One business magazine recently described the sorry state of Canada's trucking industry. Gloomy statistics such as the bankruptcy of 656 Canadian highway carriers last year and the collective loss of $100 million underlined the fact that, as a whole, Canada's so-called transportation experts deal in an inefficient industry which is fighting for survival.

However, the Report on Business article indicated that Canadian truckers can and will remain solvent through specialization and improved efficiency.

The use of computer technology, for example, must be employed to help fleet managers select the most efficient routes, calculate engine performance and schedule cost-saving maintenance.

James and Peter Armstrong of Armstrong the Mover in Thunder Bay agree that the industry must improve its efficiency in order to survive.

They believe, however, that the law of supply and demand will take care of the problem of over-capacity.

In Armstrong's case, the company improved its efficiency with computers, without reducing staff.

Peter Armstrong calculates that computers have allowed the company to do 40-per-cent more business with the same number of people.

It was a desire to computerize that led Armstrong the Mover to end a 43-year relationship with one Toronto-based company last year in favor of becoming an agent for United Van Lines.

"We knew there was a great need for computers in this business, but we just weren't getting it. United has a very large computer base within themselves and helped us use it to our advantage," says Peter.

"Their (United's) new technology included containers which we had not experienced before. That has shown itself as a more efficient way to move furniture and, in the end, we're connected by computer modem to Toronto for our billing."

The Armstrongs report that their costs have increased dramatically in relation to revenue. Meanwhile, the federal goods and services tax has led to a reduction in business.

"Our Canadian business dropped off by about 25 per cent, but what complicates that is working with the 75 per cent that's left. We have to be more competitive than ever before because there is an over-capacity of movers out there," says Jim Armstrong. "The volume goes down and so does the price, but costs keep going up."

Jim Armstrong is not confident when it comes to the immediate future of the Canadian economy and the moving industry.

"Armstrong the Mover will survive, maybe not in its present form, but it will be here if we keep to our game plan," adds Peter. "We have been in constant change for the past three years - the type of business we do, the accounting, the sales, everything. We'd like the stability to come back, but that is not going to happen in the short run."

The weakness of the Canadian economy is illustrated by Armstrong's 200-per-cent increase in cross-border business over the past six months. While the revenue helped make up for the domestic slump, most of it was generated by clients who are professionals moving to the U.S. for better career and economic opportunities.


Over-capacity in the industry - Report on Business reported an increase of 3,753 trucks in Ontario from 1986 to 1988 - has also forced carriers such as the Armstrongs to become more customer-driven.

In corporate moves, for example, United's head office calls customers at the end of each job to ensure the driver/helper team performed according to contract. Previously, the load was delivered and "no news is good news" usually held true.

"Destination packages" have helped create good will and repeat customers. Armstrong the Mover sends its clients maps and information showing schools, hospitals and other data when they are moving into unfamiliar neighborhoods.

With two-income families, the United system consults with Drake Office Overload to help find employment for the spouse.


New government restrictions on hours of operation have affected many trucking firms, particularly during the current economic slump.

However, Armstrong the Mover had already discouraged its drivers from working extended shifts.

"We never allowed our men to drive past midnight, so we have not had a problem with fellows going all night," says Peter Armstrong, a graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton. "We said that anything after midnight they don't get paid for, so they stopped."

However, he admits that the policy puts Armstrong the Mover "between a rock and a hard place" with some customers who want fast delivery.
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Title Annotation:Transportation Report; trucking industry
Author:Sinclair, L.I.
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Thunder Bay, Timmins airports under expansion.
Next Article:Refuelling business responds to demands created by the switch to commuter planes.

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