When Shawn Baird, founder and President was asked how he named his company twenty years ago; he related that while trying to decide on a name for his company, he was faxing ideas of different names to his lawyer on a fax machine with a brand name of Sharp. Shawn thought to himself, this has a good sound so why not check out this possible name too? Thus, Sharp Transportation Systems Inc. was born.
Shawn’s business has evolved significantly over its 20 years in business which started with one truck, two trailers and a contract to move hotel furniture. This led into hospitality and transporting office furniture. By 2003, Sharp had opened an operation in Holland, Michigan where many of the big office furniture companies make their headquarters.
2005 presented a new opportunity as the company ventured into the pharmaceutical sector. Shawn’s passion and insight in this sector was noticed by others and in 2008, Shawn assisted in the planning of Canada’s new guide for temperature-controlled freight for FDA and all medications.
Specializing in the movement of pharmaceuticals now constitutes the majority of Sharp’s business. “The bottom line is that trucking is expensive so we strived to target highly-specialized industries for which we haul freight and we have made our niche market”. A clear sign of the company’s specialization is that they have recently developed ‘Sharp’s own Pharmaceutical Chassis’ which is spec’d with air ride.
Today, twenty years later, Sharp Transportation now has two major customer base industries; office furniture and pharmaceuticals. As a result, the company only does spot loads to move a driver from point to point. As President, Shawn is active in sales and overseeing the business operations. He has developed a strong team to manage the fundamental principles in running any business and Sharp Transportation follows a program that Shawn describes as: the Five Elements of Trucking. This involves taking the following five pieces and making them fit together: Sales, Driver, Mechanical, Governing Bodies and Weather.
Sharp’s approach to sales is to acquire the customer first. The process they follow is to determine the prospect’s needs and quality controls. Any certification that is required is determined and a full disclosure is given to the prospect regarding rates etc. Once the prospect becomes a customer, the transportation division of the company takes over by purchasing a truck while they find the right driver.
Shawn relates that every successful leader has a right hand person. In Shawn’s case, his right hand is Maribeth Filiatrault. Maribeth tells us, “I was originally hired to run Safety and Compliance. Since then, my role has expanded into HR and I have overseen the development of the Quality Control Department. Every Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for every role and function that a driver must action has had to be papered. Today, this living document suggests that Sharp operates more as a pharmaceutical company than a trucking company. For example, the Guidelines for Temperature Control of Drug Products during Storage and Transportation (GUI-0069) are known by all drivers. Also, audits, both virtual and on-site are a regular occurrence in the pharmaceuticals transportation arena”.
“After new business is acquired, or if it is time to upgrade equipment, Sharp’s first order of business is to survey our drivers about their preferences in trucks and features. Naturally, the company has its list of required specs that must also be included.” Shawn said. “The drivers work with the salespeople and they make changes they want up to $10,000. They pick detail packages themselves and the interior of the truck is important as well, so they get to have a say”. Shawn openly admits, “In truth, I have a love/hate for trucks. They cost a lot to buy and to operate.”
Sharp’s approach to regulations is straightforward: “To be fair to everyone and to follow all laws in all lands”. This works into Sharp’s logistics strategies and most of their harbor work is done through the ports in Halifax, NS due to the ever-present risk of strikes in the USA sea ports.
In dealing with weather issues, Sharp planners consult the NOAA site and base decisions on outlooks. If there is a severe weather forecast, planning is modified accordingly. “There is nothing that we deliver that cannot wait a day,” says Shawn. “The moment you force a driver to move [in bad weather], they are 80% more likely to be in an accident. Any of our drivers can rest assured that if they decide to park the truck due to weather, it is their call and there will be no punitive action.” Shawn continues, “There is no autocratic behaviour here. We have stripped authority from our dispatch; they cannot fire or force drivers into any situation. Dispatch has only one role; to communicate information and support the driver and the customer.” And speaking of dispatch, there have been great efforts made to move as close to paperless as possible and with as much electronic communication as possible. A dispatcher cannot do their job if they are constantly answering phones. Shawn reveals that it makes the office so much quieter, to the point where he occasionally calls into dispatch from his office just to make sure the phones are still working!
Sharp Transportation has implemented all the critical, trucking electronic tools and is ahead of the industry in many aspects with the utilization of advanced telemetry systems. Sharp has recently launched their revamped website in commemoration of the company’s 20 year anniversary in September, 2018.
Sharp is also present on all the key social network platforms. Similar to his feeling about trucks, Shawn explains that he personally doesn’t want to be part of social media but knows enough about it to know that the company needs it. So in addition to bringing in Kimberly Biback to handle corporate relations & marketing and as part of the marketing strategy, he decided to have Kimberly oversee and administer Sharp’s digital footprint. This has proved to be a positive step to meet the company’s growth needs as inquiries from drivers come in regularly through these platforms. Kimberly is also involved in seeking out new business and interactions. While launching the revised web site, the company also launched Driver’s Corner – a community for their drivers that provides tips and advice for their health and well-being. This has been a huge hit and a self-esteem boost for the drivers and Sharp Transportation is the only transportation company that currently has a space like this.
During the hiring process, applicants are vetted with an extensive screening process that involves a ten year background check and a four hour interview. After the driver applicant has gone through the interview and the hiring process, the driver is put into a mentoring program. For a newer driver the mentoring may be for a longer period of time and for an experienced driver, a shorter period of time. Their aptitude and experience to learn the many processes is also a factor. If a driver later wants to switch careers or needs a change, they are accommodated. Shawn says, “If we hired them and they are still with us, it is because they are good drivers or employees and they are a good fit with Sharp” He states, “hire the good; the good will come. I believe that if you have history and rapport with us, then I also believe in promoting from within rather than bringing in someone new.” For someone thinking of choosing driving as a career, Shawn again states, “If you enjoy driving and your lifestyle allows you to do it, you can make good money driving for Sharp. We like second-career people because they want to be on the road, doing what they’re doing.”
If you are chosen to drive for Sharp, you can enjoy the many benefits the company has to offer, including joining the company’s philanthropic community. “I’m a big believer in philanthropy,” Baird said. “So, I like to share the wealth with staff and drivers with our profit share program and I also like to get the company involved with charities.” Sharp is looking at about thirty per cent growth over the next 12-18 months.
The success of Sharp Transportation is felt outside of the company as well. Shawn and the company have been active for years with animal rescue efforts, both in Canada and the USA. In fact says Shawn, “We have a full-time guy based out of Alabama and all he does is animal rescues in the USA. We work with the Humane Society and other rescue organizations in the USA.” Shawn estimated that Sharp has done between 200-300 animal rescues for the Humane Society in Canada.
As for the future of Sharp, Baird said he won’t be growing through acquisitions; rather he hopes to grow steadily using his ‘ABC formula’. “We have looked at acquisitions and I don’t see the value of buying another company. The reaction (from staff) can go either way and it can be a lot of work. So, we will grow through a simple philosophy: A is the customer, B is the truck and C is the driver. A lot of companies out there will try to do B first and purchase trucks and then they go to C, to find drivers. And then try to find A, the customer. We don’t do it that way. We work on A first and we negotiate with a customer for six to seven months. Once the customer is in place, then we do our combined program of hiring drivers and purchasing trucks. I believe that you should always make sure you have the customer first and then everything else will fall into place.” Shawn concludes that working with good people and having the will and agility to evolve, Sharp Transportation has a solid foundation and bright future.