Entrepreneur shifts sights from grocery business to trucking

I’ll make a confession up front: Pierre Robitaille is a long-time friend. When I met him, he was the owner of the IGA market in the small town where I live. When I ran into him again this summer, he was getting out of his 2015 Kenworth T660 parked in front of his house.

In 2019, this father-and-son grocer decided to become an owner-operator. As a teenager, he worked at the family grocery store in Sorel-Tracy. “I could see that I would eventually take over.

I wanted to take a course in accounting because I like to control purchases and expenses,” he says. He went so far as to take university courses. In 1988, when he was 19, his mother endorsed him so he could co-own with her a new IGA market in his town.

This lasted 16 years, and was an experience that allowed him to touch all aspects of the business. Then he was offered the opportunity to take charge of the IGA market in Contrecoeur, which he made profitable in eight weeks. A few years later, he inaugurated a brand-new supermarket in that community.

But the idea of trucking was already on his mind. He even went for his CDL.

Pierre Robitaille (Photo: Steve Bouchard)

“I was making good money. I was at the height of my career as a supermarket owner, but I was wondering: do I still have fun?

For some things, yes, for others, no. So, we sold the store.” At 49, he was too young to become a full-time retiree. “Trucking was a childhood dream.

When I was at my dad’s house, watching the trucks back up to the store dock, it fascinated me.” “I think I’m a big toy guy! Big trucks, big tractors,” he continues. “As a matter of fact, I started a snow removal company, which I ran almost 10 years on the side at the supermarket.

I spoiled myself, I owned several tractors.” He worked his first shifts as a truck driver, snow removal at night, at Transport Gaudette in Contrecoeur, while he still owned his two businesses. Gradually, he began to spend more time behind the wheel of a truck.

He was a local and regional driver for about two years, but his entrepreneurial DNA soon reappeared. He bought his Kenworth and a new flatbed trailer.

“I bought a truck in good order, had it inspected before I signed, and demanded an additional three years of full warranty.”

Pierre Robitalle

“I liked going far. Local is not my cup of tea,” he says.

Currently, he travels almost exclusively to the U.S. Selling the supermarket gives him some freedom, both financially and in his schedule. “I like to work and I need to work, but I don’t have to drive 52 weeks a year,” he explains. “I approached three companies that were looking for owner-operators, including Nomade Transport.

We worked out different operating models, because it was clear to me from the beginning that I wanted to work 36 weeks a year and have 16 weeks off spread out here and there, and I give notice when I’m not available. Nomade was willing to take the risk of having a more or less part-time guy. It’s unconventional.”

The manager mindset never hides very far behind his decisions as an owner-operator. “I bought a truck in good order, had it inspected before I signed, and demanded an additional three years of full warranty. I wanted that security to begin with,” he says.

Independence comes with an obligation to be thorough. “It’s your truck, if you neglect it, you’re going to get the problems and expenses. You can’t say you didn’t know that. You live in it, you hear the noises, you can feel what’s coming,” Robitaille says. “I know within a year I’ll have eight tires to put on my trailer.”

He has his own permits, so it’s another way for him to control his costs. “There are some things I can’t control, like the weather and the wind, but I can control my speed and I limit it to 102 km/h. Anything you can save, you save.” He chose the flatbed business because he enjoys working physically. “When I can’t move, I don’t like it.” Besides, his bike is always hooked to the front of his trailer. “It keeps me in shape…I do it when I have waiting time or free time.”

Is he happy with his decision to switch to trucking? “Absolutely!” 

He doesn’t know for how much longer, but he wants to continue to enjoy his life as a truck driver while cutting back a bit on the work schedule gradually.

“But it’s clear I’ll have a truck for a few more years,” he assures.