Your friendly ghost in the transportation industry

It didn’t take long for Ghost Transportation to spook up a bunch of customers. SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — Though it didn’t come in the form of a premonition in the night, Clay Dowling takes pride in his company being “Your Partner with Spirit.” Launched in 1987, Ghost Transportation is the spawn of necessity, and, as Dowling admits, at the behest of a customer in need.

“I started the company partly because I was unemployed, but mostly because a customer from my previous bankrupt employer asked if I could move a load for them. They asked what they could do to help, and demanded I made money doing so,” said Dowling. “The move was successful and they shared the results with other businesses, which then started calling.” Though Dowling is unwilling to divulge the story behind being given the nickname “Ghost,” he did disclose that the name comes from his company’s humble beginnings, having no assets, and being seen as a ghost with no physical presence, yet very much in existence.

Ghost started as a freight brokerage offering boutique transportation services through more than a thousand transportation providers across North America. But when some of its customers became concerned the company had no skin in the game, paired with an ever-changing supplier network, Dowling knew he had to make some changes by adding assets. “(This) allowed us to retain and maintain certain market segments and further satisfied those suppliers request of us having ‘skin,'” said Dowling. “The assets provided further growth to service offerings and ability to market requirements.”

The addition of assets resulted in Ghost Transportation being named one of the Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada in 1995, as well as one of the Top 500 Fastest Growing Companies in Canada again in 2015. “We see several emerging changes to the market, and as a responsible industry, our success will be tied to being nimble and responsive to those changes,” said Dowling. “We have been steadfast with company-only equipment and company employees and will be exploring independent contractors and agents in the coming years, which will be very different for us and will fuel additional opportunities for all involved.” Today, Ghost hauls pretty much anything as long as it is not human, a human possession, or has to be moved through a pipeline.

The company’s freight brokerage service remains its largest sector, while also providing scheduled LTL road service from Toronto to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, third-party logistics, freight management, warehousing, local and dedicated cartage, intermodal drayage, and truckload services throughout Canada and into the U.S. The company boasts 33 trucks, 42 trailers, and two straight trucks, which are broken into three fleets – Saskatchewan only, Quebec to B.C. and Canada/U.S., and a Canada-U.S. fleet. “We carry and arrange to be carried the food you eat, the ingredients to make the food, the packaging for items you purchase, the clothes you wear, the furniture you sit and sleep on, the tools you use, the recreational products you play with, the flooring you walk on, the materials you build with, the seed that grows into food, and the chemicals that are used by various industries,” said Dowling, “to name a few.”

In addition to moving freight by truck, Dowling looked for ways Ghost could offer the local capability to haul products in and out of the smaller, landlocked province of Saskatchewan, which imports and exports worldwide. This resulted in the company offering services by road, rail, air, and sea. Though Dowling said volumes do not support the physical presence of various modes, “each has a time and place for utilization and none can replace the other.”

Dowling said there has been an increase in ocean moves, which has had an impact on both road and rail.
“Generally speaking, there will still be a truck involved, but the involvement is what has changed,” he said. “Goods that once upon a time were manufactured on North American soil would move by road or rail to the customer. Now these goods may come from across the oceans.” Dowling said how trucks are used today has had a significant impact on supply chains and distribution models, and with not a lot of new freight in the world, the business has become more about how, when, and why a product
is moved.

“Trucking has changed and will continue to change, yet a truck will be required until we get the ‘beam me up Scotty’ technology in place,” said Dowling. Dowling believes the government needs to become more aware of transportation’s role in our daily lives and wellbeing and less about creating barriers through regulation. “Telling them that industry is fatigued…regulation fatigued, tax fatigued, disrespected, and that making unenforced rules to satisfy public outcry, is not a solution,” said Dowling, who believes penalizing and eliminating the “bad guys,” acting on industry recommendations, creating a level playing field, and having rules be uniform nationally are all needed to improve the sector.

After all, in the end, the world needs its products to be brought to consumers.

“Everything moves,” said Dowling. “I can’t think of anything more exciting than an industry that makes it happen.”

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