By Brian Dunn

Montreal terminal operator GT Group is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year as the company reflects on its humble beginnings. In 1965, company founder Giuseppe Terrigno (hence GT Group) arrived in Canada as a welder. Four years later, someone approached him who needed a container repaired. At the time, Terrigno was building trailers. He tried to convince his boss that there might be a new business opportunity, but his boss wasn’t interested, although he said Mr. Terrigno could do the job in his free time. He put a welding machine in the back of his car and repaired his first container.

“In 1978, he went out on his own and started a business repairing containers,” recalled his son Danny Terrigno, 41, who spent his youth working for his father. “I spent all my weekends and summers there. My first job was washing trucks. It was a fun job, because I was the only 10-year-old who could drive an 18-wheeler. By age 12, I was driving bulldozers.”

In the mid-1980s, the company opened a location in Toronto, but closed it a few years later due to labour problems. It re-opened in Toronto in 2012, this time limited in scope to trucking and container storage. It was also in the mid-80s that the company started storing containers when someone suggested they buy a truck to haul containers between Montreal and Toronto.

By 1987, trucking was in full force at GT Group with cross-border trips to the U.S. But at the end of that year, the company was forced to look for a new location when leases on two properties were not renewed. “My dad bought some farmland at our current location (in the East End of Montreal). In the 1990s, we faced some tough years and the business almost went under from a mixture of the economy, bad management and debt.”

Danny Terrigno studied architecture, but lost the passion for it and ended up joining his father full time in 1997. A younger sister works in customer service and a brother-in-law works in container sales. An older sister, no longer with the company, worked in payroll. “In 1997, trucking regulations really started to get strict. That’s when we bought a fleet of trucks. We were also building containers and converting used containers for use as housing units in underdeveloped countries.”

Today, GT Group is the largest privately-owned terminal operator in the Montreal area with over 2.5 million square feet, 10 kilometres from the port of Montreal and storage space for up to 22,000 TEUs. The company has 270 employees and is also involved in container repairs, inspection and refurbishing, in addition to its transportation division. It also builds custom products by chopping up containers and transforming them into other uses such as sales offices for construction sites and condo developments, and other purposes.

The trucking division accounts for about half of GT’s business and transports containers throughout North America, but concentrates primarily on Quebec, Ontario and the U.S. Northeast., primarily in the Philadelphia and New Jersey areas. Warehousing represents another 15 per cent of the business with the balance in terminal operations and repairs.

Danny Terrigno became President of GT Group in 2006, but his father has never fully disconnected from the company he built from scratch.

“A very strong economy drives a lot of goods in transit. When the economy is slow, the terminal is full of unused containers. Two years ago, it was not unusual to have 21,000 containers in the yard. Today, there are fewer than 7,000 units.

“On the trucking side, we may get a phone call from a freight forwarder or a shipping line to pick up some containers. A client is not always local, but a truck will always get goods to its destination faster. A customer will often take a container off the rails, and truck it to its destination if it needs to be there tomorrow.”

The company’s main shipping customers are MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg Süd and OOCL. On the freight forwarders side, it’s Kuehne + Nagel, DHL, DB Schenker and Bolloré Logistics.

The company wants to expand to an adjacent property it owns, but is getting pushback from the city. “Residential housing is growing around us and they don’t want us around,” said Mr. Terrigno. “We had an agreement in 2010 for a property exchange with the city, but nothing has happened.”

Another major concern is labour shortages. There is currently a shortage of 55,000 drivers across Canada and another shortage of mechanics to work on the company’s trucks. Luckily the government realizes how dire the situation is, Mr. Terrigno said, and “We’re now allowed to bring in people from Europe on a two-year work permit as long as we pay them the same wage rate as our other employees.”