By Brian Dunn

As founder and owner of Zac-Tranz Intermodal, Ken Bursey will often arrive at his office next to Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport at 4:30 a.m. and not leave before 7 p.m. to avoid traffic on his 35-minute commute home Northeast of the city.

The decision to base his bonded carrier company near the airport as opposed to the port of Montreal and all its container traffic was simple. “The port is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., whereas both CN and CP have their terminals out here. CN is open 24-7 and CP from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” explained Mr. Bursey who named his company after his son Zachary.

In his former life, Mr. Bursey was a truck driver who transported air cargo to and from Montreal’s Mirabel Airport before launching Zac-Tranz in 2000 to specialize in container cargo. With a $2,000 deposit (“All the money I had in the bank,” he noted,) Bursey bought his first truck and chassis, and picked up his first client, Imperial Logistics, which is still doing business with Zac-Tranz today.

From that modest beginning, Zac-Tranz has grown to 50 trucks (70 per cent company-owned and 30 per cent owner-operators) and 250 chassis in configurations of 20-ft, 40-ft, 45-ft and 48-ft chassis in tandem, tridem and ‘B’ train configurations. For temperature-controlled containers, Zac-Tranz has upgraded its fleet with Genset Chassis in 20-ft or 40-ft configurations, with GPS tracking units to monitor running time and to minimize the impact of possible theft. In addition, the company recently purchased a top lift container handler, allowing it to lift customer containers off their chassis, to store them off-chassis in the yard. “This allows us to continue to use the chassis in our operations, and allows us to reduce storage charges for containers,” said Mr. Bursey. Three years ago, it opened a division in Brampton, ON through a partnership with Air & Oceanland Inc. Averaging a growth rate of 15 per cent annually, Zac-Tranz recently moved from a nearby 100,000-sq.-ft facility in two buildings to a single and more secure 150,000-sq.-ft. operation.

Asked what sets Zac-Tranz apart from the competition and why the company has been so successful, Mr. Bursey points to a document sitting on his desk called “Zac-Tranz Intermodal Operating Standards” as one example among many. “I don’t know of any other company in our industry that has a similar operating manual. It’s our equivalent to the ISO 9000 [quality management system] standards. We often use the document as a marketing tool.” The seven-page document covers a wide range of topics including standard of conduct, hiring standards, driver training stands, maintenance shop standards, the role of the President and the role of the operations department. It is signed by Mr. Bursey who said it doesn’t just collect dust, but is often referred to in the company’s daily operations.

Security is another trump card when potential clients come calling. Although theft of empty containers is a major industry problem, Zac-Tranz has never lost a container on its premises. To be extra cautious, containers with high-value cargo are housed inside Zac-Tranz’s garage. The premises contain large slabs of concrete left by the previous owner which Mr. Bursey has placed in strategic locations around the perimeter, making it virtually impossible to penetrate or exit the enclosed fenced property. In addition, there are 16 security cameras which Mr. Bursey can monitor from his home or iPad at any time and highly-trained German Sheppards were recently acquired for added security.

Another selling point is that the company is self-sufficient, with its own fuel supply, snow-removing equipment and inspection bays to ensure company equipment meets all government inspection standards, while virtually all repairs are done on the premises. “We’re also one of the few trucking companies in Montreal with advanced EDI (electronic data interchange) software for dispatching and invoicing, and other software programs for tracking containers which is required by the major industry players,” Mr. Bursey pointed out. “And when a load is delivered, the customer receives an electronically-generated email confirmation. This reduces the amount of communication between ourselves and the customer, yet they are fully informed of the status of their shipments.”

Another plus is that Zac-Tranz is located next to Permax Permit service, one of the top permit companies in Quebec, which enables the company to obtain permits quickly for new trucks. “We bought five new trucks from Volvo and walked next door to pick up the new permits for Quebec and Ontario without having to go downtown,” said Mr. Bursey.

With 65 employees in Quebec, Zac-Tranz is one of the top intermodal carriers in Montreal, Mr. Bursey estimated, moving some 20,000 containers a year. Most of his business is generated by word of mouth which comes from the major shipping lines, freight forwarders, brokers and logistics companies. Zac-Tranz is also an active member of UIIA (Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement), a standard industry contract between intermodal truckers, ocean and rail carriers and equipment leasing companies. “Truckers must be members of UIIA to move containers. It basically protects the steamship lines and makes truckers fully responsible for all the containers they move and it takes all the administration work away from the steamship companies,” explained Mr. Bursey.

To help cover overhead, Zac-Tranz has opened its eight service bays to the public where other truckers can bring in their rigs for repairs and overhauls. More mechanics are being hired to help existing staff.

Asked how the industry has changed since he began Zac-Tranz in 2000, Mr. Bursey noted that about six or seven years ago, a customer would ask if he could handle a shipment and then a price would be negotiated. “Now, it’s a rate service industry where everyone is looking for the cheapest deal.”

If anything keeps him awake at night it’s the shortage of qualified drivers, but he manages to attract them through his good reputation and salaries above the industry norm plus bonuses. “I have a lot of qualified and dedicated people working here and I treat them well, because you don’t want others raiding your staff.”

While he has considered expanding into the U.S., Mr. Bursey concluded it was too much of a hassle with all the administrative and security requirements and is happy to continue servicing the Quebec-Ontario market with the occasional assignment in the Maritimes.

In terms of growth opportunities, Zac-Tranz is aggressively targeting the export market, particularly the newsprint industry in order to generate “turnaround” business or reutilization of containers so that they don’t discharge their cargo and go home empty. “We’re in the service industry and we’re here to make it happen every day,” said Mr. Bursey. That sentiment is reflected on the cover of Zac-Tranz’s Intermodal Operating Standards which states: “Our Objective…Do the best job…the first time.”