Keeping it in the family at Berry & Smith

Around Penticton, Berry & Smith is perhaps best known for operating both the city’s transit buses and the school district’s bus fleet.

Members of the Berry family

Members of the Berry family

Around Penticton, Berry & Smith Trucking is perhaps best known for operating both the city’s transit buses and the school district’s bus fleet.

But while that is an important part of their business, Matt Berry said the bigger part of the business is on the trucking side. “We have over 200 staff total and the majority of that is made up of the trucking component and that is a combination of employees and owner operators,” said Smith, explaining that they have kept the transit and school bus contracts for decades.

“For the school bus contract, we started with just one small vehicle running out to Naramata and then bought a company called Carter Bros., which had the school bus contract in the 60’s,” said Berry. “We managed to hang on to that contract since then.”

The trucking company was started by Stu Berry and partner Ted Smith,  with a couple of trucks in the early 50’s and incorporated in 1958. Smith sold his share of the business in 1970, Berry explains, but remains a good friend of the family and his parents.

Berry and Smith Trucking is still a family business after more than five decades, with Matt and his brother Mark as president and vice-president.

“The ownership of the company has passed on to the kids and my brother and I are actively working in it,” said Berry. “Recently we just had one of our sisters join the business as well.”

The secret to such longevity for the company, he said, is the people working for it. That, he said, goes for all the positions, from the drivers on the road, to the yard and the administration staff who keep it organized.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the quality of job our staff do,” said Berry. “If we have a role to play, it’s trying to foster good relations with our staff, treating them fairly and working closely with them. We never give any of them a job that we wouldn’t be prepared to do ourselves, so that is one of the philosophies that we have.”

In fact, Berry said, Mark is often out there driving a truck.

“If something needs to be done and we’re short, he’ll jump in a truck and the same for me with a bus,” he said. “It’s just all about customer service. Our employees and certainly a focus on providing good customer service.”

And with the amount of equipment they operate — some 100 trucks, 200 trailers, nine transit vehicles, 12 school busses and assorted other equipment — keeping it all operating is another big factor.

“We have  five mechanics that we have hired in the shop right now, who also do very good jobs,” said Berry. “We have a reputation in the business for providing good equipment and that is a comfort to the drivers as well, that they are going to climb in a piece of equipment that is well maintained and in good shape and is safe to operate.”

There is no question in Berry’s mind about the importance of trucking firms like theirs.

“Everything you see around you has been delivered by truck,” said Berry, who adds that being a driver is the most common job in North America and possibly beyond.

However, he said, there is a real need in the trucking business to get the pay to a higher level to both attract and keep drivers.

“Trucking is a very competitive business, so the margins are small in it, so it is always a fine line between having something stick to the bottom line and paying the drivers as fair a salary as we can,” said Berry, who said that his firm does as well as anybody as far as hiring and keeping staff, but the industry needs to do a better job to attract people and to offer them the amount of dollars they need to be comfortable in it.

“It’s an ongoing problem that we are constantly pushing the envelope on, but it is not an easy fix, it’s not something that happens overnight,” he said.