Today, under the leadership of President Gary Coleman (Red’s son), Big Freight Systems boasts two primary locations: Steinbach, Manitoba and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Steinbach is home to the Dispatch & Operations center, administration, FleetPro maintenance services (in-house & retail), and a gated secured 16-acre yard. Winnipeg hosts the 300,000 sq. ft. warehouse and the company’s
Logistics division. Gary is as humble as his father and grandfather who preceded him in the leadership role of Big Freight and foregoes flashy celebrations, but he states, “Deep down I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
Red was always a truck fanatic and, during his career, would more likely be found beneath an engine rather than behind his president’s desk. That enthusiasm must have been in his DNA, because it passed down to the next generation.
Gary states, “There’s a saying that you get diesel in your blood and it makes it hard to leave. After almost 40 years, I still get excited seeing one of our trucks loaded and running down the road.”
There are 90 non-driving personnel in the office, shop, warehouse and yard. They support the company’s 160 Professional Drivers. Big Freight Systems operates
150 tractors, 220 flat and step deck trailers, 90 dry vans and 20 chassis. On July 1 Kelsey Trail Trucking merged with Big Freight Systems, adding 80 tractors and 90 sets of Super-B flatbed trailers to the company’s fleet.
Big Freight Systems is a leading Canadian asset-based trucking and Freight Management company with seven decades of experience providing supply chain solutions. Big Freight Systems is an innovative service partner that is committed to professional on-time freight delivery. They are the leading specialized carrier in Canada, providing flat deck, step deck and specialized van services in 10 Canadian provinces and 48 US states.
Big Freight joined Daseke, Inc. on May 1, 2017. Daseke is the leading consolidator and largest flatbed and specialized transportation company in North America. Daseke’s combined fleet of more than 5,200 trucks and 11,000 flat bed and specialized trailers serves 49 US states as well as Canada and Mexico and offers comprehensive services to some of the world’s most respected major industrial shippers.
Don Daseke, CEO of Daseke, says, “We’re truly a North American company and with Big Freight as our anchor in Canada, it just solidifies our position further. Gary and his team have built a fantastic company. Not many trucking companies can say they’ve been around for 70 years, let alone 70 years and still run by the same family. That speaks volumes about their culture. We are so proud of what they have accomplished and will accomplish.”
Asked how he felt about joining Daseke, Gary Coleman says, “I genuinely still enjoy the work I do and since joining Daseke, that excitement has ramped up. The people at Daseke are extremely smart, very hard working, and completely supportive of what we’re doing in Canada. I’ve been very fortunate to have an equally bright and dedicated team at Big Freight that understands our short- as well as long-term objectives.”
As Gary states, a large, successful carrier depends on a large, smooth-running team. Big Freight’s team consists of:
- Asset Based Freight Management: Their professional transportation specialists utilize Big Freight’s fleet of 750 pieces of rolling stock to optimize and manage the transporting, tracking, and warehousing of freight.
- Logistics Team: Their logistics team provides an intrinsic system that combines their freight services, information management and partner carriers in order to maximize value and opportunities for their customers. Over the years, Big Freight has structured a comprehensive partner carrier program that strengthens their ability to meet supply chain objectives in a cost-effective, efficient manner, allowing their clients to focus on their core business.
- Fleet Maintenance: Big Freight provides truck & trailer preventative maintenance and repair services through its FleetPro facility in Steinbach, Manitoba. In addition to commercial truck & trailer repairs, FleetPro offers professional fleet management services that can be customized to meet their customers’ needs.
- Warehousing: Big Freight’s Warehousing facilities are located in Winnipeg and can offer short and long-term storage options. Their warehouse solutions also include inventory tracking with state of the art inventory control software and providing customized KPI reporting.
Big Freight’s business philosophy becomes clear when you see its motto, vision, and core values:
Its motto is “Better Drivers… Better Service.”
The company’s Vision:
To be an innovative service partner committed to professional “damage free” and “on-time” freight delivery and storage.
And its Core Values include:
- Commitment to Continuous Improvement
- Dedication to a Safe Workplace
- Execute – we do what we say we will do
- Honesty & Integrity
- Mutual Respect
- Solve Problems as a team
- Value – we give our clients more than they expect.
Big Freight earned the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) National Fleet Safety Award (small carrier division – less than 25 million miles annually) in 2016. When Big Freight Systems was examining its safety data from a few years ago, it discovered that most of its accidents were occurring between the first snowfall and the end of the year. This ‘eureka moment’ helped senior management recognize that the company’s culture was due for a change. It set a higher priority on the need for safety above all else. Beginning with two bold ‘Road Challenge 75’ initiatives, the Big Freight aimed to massively reduce its accident and claim costs. The process to shift its culture took significant time and effort, but eventually Big Freight Systems achieved buy-in from its people. Soon, the number of accidents and claims began to go down even as customer satisfaction ratings remained steady.
Now, Big Freight Systems has stopped ‘preaching’ to its drivers about safety and instead educates them by using real-world examples. The company beefed up its driver recruitment practices and training, adopted electronic logs and dash cams, and adopted the slogan “Safety first, on-time delivery second.” Fleet and non-driving team members regularly receive messages empowering them to shut down if weather is poor and not to take risks.
In its application to the TCA, the company wrote, “Big Freight operates under a Continuous Improvement (CI) model, philosophy, and culture. A few years ago, we formalized our CI journey. Every team member has been trained and empowered to use specific tools to improve processes and eliminate waste as they pursue excellence. Since embarking on this journey, our company has implemented 1,765 new ideas. A journey is just that – a journey – but we believe that our CI commitment will continue to pay dividends in the months and years to come by ensuring we stay safe and competitive.”
“Our company succeeds when all members of our team have the opportunity to excel and reach their highest potential in a work environment that reflects dignity, encouragement
and respect,” Gary Coleman says. “The Continuous Improvement program encourages everyone to participate, communicate and be recognized for their achievements. Having a good team in place is especially important in the trucking industry’s current environment.”
Big Freight Systems is an innovative service partner committed to professional and on-time freight delivery. With a fleet of more than 600 tractors and trailers and a large pool of trusted partner carriers, their transportation specialists will ensure that their customers’ products are moved quickly and delivered safely anywhere in North America.
Big Freight’s differentiators include:
- Providing single-source capacity solutions, including surge management. They pride themselves in helping their customers manage surge or seasonal volumes by relying on their secure storage solutions, asset-based capacity, and partner carrier network.
- They provide the power sports industry with innovative enclosed trailer and loading solutions, helping them to reduce their distribution cost and ensuring their products are delivered damage free.
- Safety is at the core of their culture. Everyone at every level works hard to make sure that every driver gets home safely and that they operate safely on public roads.
- Their mandate is pick up on-time, deliver on-time, damage free.
ELDs and other challenges
Big Freight was an early adopter of ELDs and starting implementation over four years ago. Their fleet has been 100% on ELDs for over three years now, so the recent ELD mandate had little effect on their operation or capacity.
The ELD mandate, combined with several other market forces, did tighten capacity in the cross-border market, and they were able to continue to provide their customers with the capacity they expect, and then some. Early adoption worked out really well for Big Freight, and their drivers appreciate the benefits of ELDs.
In terms of challenges, driver recruiting and retention are high priority issues at Big Freight, and they focus a lot of effort on finding safe, quality drivers – and then keeping them on the Big Freight team. The driver shortage creates all sorts of opportunities for well-run companies.
Gary Coleman says, “The driver shortage is more prevalent than it has ever been and this creates all sorts of opportunities for well-run companies. At the end of the day, he who has the driver, hauls the load. We plan on Big Freight being the one that has both.”
Involvement with the MTA
Big Freight has been an active member of the MTA since the company’s inception in 1948. For more than 55 years, company founder Red Coleman held a seat on the MTA board, leading committees and organizing events that helped build the association into the leading voice for the trucking industry in the province.
Earl Coleman, Gary’s brother, served the MTA in the capacities of board member for many years and as President in 2008-2009.
In December 2017, The Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) renamed its Service to Industry award, given annually to recognize professional achievement and leadership, in honor of Red Coleman. From now on, the Red Coleman Service to Industry Award will be bestowed on those who have “conducted themselves in such a manner as to have gained the esteem of their fellow members and brought credit to the trucking industry through their outstanding contributions.” That, says Terry Shaw, Executive Director of the MTA, sums up the 92-year-old Red Coleman. “Red is a pioneer in our industry,” continues Terry, who worked at Big Freight before joining MTA and can testify to Red’s unbelievable work ethic. “He’s highly thought of in the industry and the broader community.”
Gary was a driving force in having the award renamed after his father. He says, “My father taught me a lot about trucking and the values and philosophies of running a business. I wanted to recognize him in some way that was meaningful. His service of more than five decades to the association reflects his belief in the importance of giving back to an industry that has given so much to him.”
The Service to Industry Award, which the association launched in 1961, was already something of a family affair. Red won it in 1987, and his son Earl Coleman was the award’s recipient in 2011.
Joining Daseke in 2017 was a milestone. It opened up a tremendous amount of opportunity for Big Freight (which is still managed autonomously) to collaborate with Daseke sister companies. “We’re able to work with the other Daseke companies to provide our customers with more services and capacity; we can provide cross-border services to our sister companies’ customers; and we’re able to learn from the other companies in all areas of our business (driver recruiting and retention, maintenance, purchasing, operations, etc.). It’s been a little over a year since we joined Daseke and we are just getting started” says Jeremy Messner, Manager of Network Analytics and Development.
Jeremy adds “we’re also looking to grow Daseke’s presence in Canada by attracting more flatbed and specialized carriers to join our team. We’re looking for successful, like-minded carriers and managers to join Big Freight and Daseke in building Canada’s leading flat deck and specialized carrier.”
The entire team at Big Freight is proud of our history and heritage. How George, Red and later Gary and his brother Earl grew the company into the 150+ truck operation it is today is a fantastic story about grit, hard work and perseverance. The company’s history was documented in 2014 in a book published by the Coleman family, On the Road with Red, written by Byron Rempel-Burkholder.
It’s a terrific story.
Big Freight’s management team is very proud of their dedication to safety and people throughout the organization – that’s at the core of their culture. “We ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to safety and to attracting the right people, and giving them the opportunity to develop and succeed on their own merit,” says Jeremy.
Big Freight celebrated with a special anniversary ceremony at their annual employee golf tournament on June 2 at Quarry Oaks Golf Course in Steinbach, Manitoba.
They also held a barbeque and cake-cutting at each location on the date of our anniversary, June 15.
“Otherwise, we remain focused on the tasks at hand – maintaining our record of excellence in operations and building Canada’s leading flat deck and specialized carrier,” says Gary Coleman.
Time Line - Company History
1948 The Coleman family purchases South East Transfer in Steinbach, Manitoba with a general freight operating authority to haul between Winnipeg and South Eastern Manitoba.
1957 As the business grows, larger headquarters are built on the original Main Street site in Steinbach.
1959 South East Transfer purchases Sarto Transfer, a three-truck operation with routes in Steinbach and to the Southwest.
1960 South East Transfer partners with Penner Transfer to form Bulk Milk Haulers, which operates successfully until being sold in 2006.
South East gains authority to haul poultry.
1972 The new South East terminal is built on Highway 12.
1975 South East purchases the Short Haul business (Manitoba general
freight license) from Penner Transfer, which is held until 1996 and then
sold to Dawson Road Transfer.
1980 South East acquires various general freight operating authorities
for Canada and the US.
1991 South East merges with flat deck division of Reimer Express (“Big Freight”), which doubles the operation.
Gary Coleman becomes President.
1995 Company moves into the new facility in Steinbach, Manitoba consisting of three buildings totalling over 43,000 sq. ft. on 30 acres of land.
1996 Company name officially changes to Big Freight Systems Inc.
1997 The Coleman family acquires 100% ownership of the company and installs state-of-the-art Satellite Tracking System for all trucks.
Big Freight receives the prestigious Top 50 Best Managed Privately Owned Companies in Canada Award.
1998 The company celebrates 50 years of service.
The operation consists of 650 pieces of equipment, specializing in Flat Deck and Step Deck freight running throughout Canada and the US.
2004 Big Freight acquires a small freight brokerage operation and officially opens the Logistics Division.
2006 The company opens its retail maintenance operation under the name FleetPro Maintenance Services.
2011 Big Freight acquires the warehousing operations of Paramount Storage and officially opens its Warehousing Division in Winnipeg, MB.
2012 Big Freight is recognized with the Shipper’s Choice Award.
2013 Big Freight is once again recognized with the Shipper’s Choice Award.
2014 Big Freight receives Shipper’s Choice Award and the Carrier of Choice award.
2015 Big Freight operates across Canada and to and from the US.
2016 Founder Seaton ‘Red’ Coleman celebrates his 90th birthday.
2017 Big Freight is the first Canadian company to join Daseke, Inc.
Big Freight is once again recognized with the Shipper’s Choice Award.
2018 Kelsey Trail Trucking merges with Big Freight Systems.