Driving trucks with values

Family-owned Wilson Brothers taking new spin on trucking

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/15/19

BEAR CREEK — Jeff Wilson was more or less destined to end up working for Wilson Brothers.

The company, originally called W.A. Wilson Poultry, was started by his grandfather Walter Wilson in …

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Driving trucks with values

Family-owned Wilson Brothers taking new spin on trucking

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Posted

BEAR CREEK — Jeff Wilson was more or less destined to end up working for Wilson Brothers.

The company, originally called W.A. Wilson Poultry, was started by his grandfather Walter Wilson in Moore County in 1940, who made a living hauling live poultry. The company moved to Bonlee in 1950, then to its current space in Bear Creek in 1956. When Wilson’s grandfather died in 1970, his father Jerry and uncle Jimmie took over.

Jeff Wilson worked for 25 years at a different company in Siler City, but joined Wilson Brothers in 2010 to work with his parents. The company had shifted into feed manufacturing to accompany its trucking work, but when he came on board, it was trucking only.

The company faced a difficult time in 2018 when Wilson’s father and cousin Michael died after a car accident during a snowstorm.

“He loved working,” Jeff said about his father. “He was doing what he loved to do. It was a hard time. The suddenness was the hardest part. We lost two great men and a huge void was left in our family. They each had strong faith, and certainly that gives us some comfort to know that he’s in a better place.”

Wilson, who was elected chairman of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday, stressed that most of his team came with him to Wilson Brothers and that his team’s priorities are faith and eternity, family and then work, in that order.

Now the third generation leading the company, Wilson spoke to the News + Record about Wilson Brothers, the state of trucking in 2019 and what family-owned companies mean to Chatham County.

What’s the biggest difference between a big company and family-run operation?

At a large employer, you’ve got a lot of depth of resources. For example, here with HR, my wife and I, we’re doing everything from the basics along with our team here, whatever it takes when you’re guiding somebody through the process of hiring them. At a large company, you’ve got multiple clerks to do all the paperwork process. You don’t have a specific job description at a small company. You must be willing to take on whatever responsibility there is at the time to get the job done. You’ve got a little bit more control, having your values that you can really instill in the company and drive that through.

What are the values that you want instilled at Wilson Brothers?

Going back to our mission statement, our basic objective is to provide a safe workplace, for everyone to have the opportunity to work to provide for their families. That’s what we’re ultimately trying to do. We want to serve our customers, serve them with excellent service but at the same time do so in a manner that everyone involved, as far as employees, is part of a safe operation, as well as those who come into contact around us.

We influence a lot of lives in the business that we’re in because we’re out there on the road. I’ll tell you up front that we’re not perfect. We get calls of concern from other drivers about our vehicles and we handle each one of those with the utmost importance and take them very seriously. We have opportunity at times to make corrections.

We’ve got basically 75 personalities representing our business every day. They are Wilson Brothers. They’re the ones who are interfacing with our customers. They’re our direct link to the community and to the customer base. We try to make sure they understand that and have them understand and know that they’re the ones who have to be professional at all times, to conduct business in a manner that we require as far as mutual respect and treating everyone in that respectful way.

What’s the biggest misconception about trucking as a job and as an industry?

One of the biggest struggles we have now, as a lot of the industry does, is securing people. Trucking is a sideline. We’re in the people business. We’re doing our best to work with people, and the by-product of that is that we’re hauling loads. Securing good employees, it is a challenge. Fortunately, our turnover is less than a third of what the industry average is.

One of the things that people probably don’t have a full perspective of, trucking is very heavily regulated. Drivers are structured on how much they can drive, how long they can drive. The minimum standards, minimum criteria to get a driver to work, it’s a very rigorous process. It’s a very highly-skilled job.

We require a minimum age of 21, and right now our minimum driving experience requirement is two years. But we can bring in certain individuals with 18 months experience, if they meet certain criteria, as a probationary period. We do a background check, driving history record (check) that goes back to the day they were 16. At that point, drivers have to be physically and medically fit. Our drivers, even though they may come in with an approved medical certificate, are sent to our doctor to be qualified for what we’re doing.

What is the state of the trucking industry in 2019?

The state of the industry is, as a lot of the economy, pretty robust right now. There’s more freight to haul right now than there is capacity, in most instances. The industry went through some regulatory changes in 2018 that had some impact. You had some capacity that was changed due to some of that regulation. The industry had some drivers that were maybe not in the picture anymore. These were regulations that not only impacted hours of service but some health initiatives, which are good things. They’re trying to improve the quality of the individual out there driving, and that’s important and I support all that.

We’re competing for drivers, for young individuals, with a lot of other promising opportunities out there. Trying to attract young individuals into the life of a truck driver, that’s probably one of the biggest things the industry is facing right now.

In today’s environment, more than 90 percent everything we touch or use was transported or came in contact with some type of commercial vehicle. I think as time goes on, it’s going to become more challenging to maintain that same state of how positive it is on the consumer side for pricing because the transportation piece is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. We’re probably going to see continued increased rates. In the end, it will impact all of us at the retail price side.

The energy piece is more and more volatile. We see how much (gas prices) swing of the course of seasons or a few weeks here and there. It used to be you’d go months at a time and you’d see a penny or two movement. Now, especially with diesel fuel, it moves every day. Diesel fuel is one of the first pieces that’s refined out of crude oil, yet it’s more expensive.

How do you sell people on entering trucking as a career?

We’re trying to provide an environment for people to work safely, to do so at a competitive wage and benefit. And for a small company, we try hard to have a pay and benefit package that can draw people in and provide for their families.

Probably one of the things that sets us apart compared to the overall industry, the life of trucking is very challenging. Most of the trucking opportunities for people with no experience, they’ll go into a truck over the road and be gone for eight weeks, maybe 12 weeks at a time. That’s a hard life out there, that long without being able to come back and have that family time, that home time. Even though you have your down time — a driver has to have 10 hours of rest every day, and you get your 30-hour once-a-week restart — all that’s in a truck. I think it’s a pretty grueling, challenging life.

We’re able to provide a driver an opportunity to drive that shift and come home mostly at the same time every day and have that home time, have the family time. Even though the days are long, they get that home time, that family time every day. For the most part, our drivers are working five to five-and-a-half days.

What role do small, family-owned businesses like Wilson Brothers play in Chatham County?

Not only in Chatham County, but in general, small business is important. But it’s got to be a blend. We’ve had this great opportunity to partner and do business with one of the largest employers in the county [Mountaire Farms] now to expand our business and provide 28 additional jobs altogether, 25 drivers and a couple other support people. But the small business piece is so important because the majority of people employed are working for smaller size operations. I think they’re the backbone for providing the infrastructure and support for the larger business.

As far as Chatham County, I think we’ve got a great business base. We’ve got so many well-established small businesses. We’ve got so much to offer in this county. We’ve got a lot of family operations that are second and third-generation, and that’s a rarity. People tell me all the time that it’s very rare to see anything beyond third generation. The fourth generation gets pretty scarce.

I think we’ve got a lot of potential here in this county, and I think we need to be mindful of what has brought us success in the past, what has made this county. I’m going to be biased in this, but agriculture has a strong presence in this county. It has been a positive. As a result of poultry, you’ve got a lot of beef and cattle growth. To me, agriculture has been a strong positive for Chatham County. That’s not saying everything we do has to be centered around that, but we need to be mindful of that and have that strong presence.

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