Supply chain linchpin has probably moved the products you’ve purchased
When it comes to global shipping, the past couple of years may have been among the most challenging times to date. Whether it’s at the grocery, hardware or pet store, we’ve all been affected in one way or another by the added strain of the pandemic on our shipping industry. Pandemic buying, global food shortages, border restrictions and even cargo theft were just a few of the additional challenges imposed globally by COVID-19.
Despite these hurdles, the team behind Kam-Way Transportation have used the company’s extensive fleet and trained drivers to push through the constantly evolving limitations to keep U.S. and Canadian supply chains open and moving. They have been able to help keep food and goods in our stores while also growing their business, providing and creating new jobs, giving back to nonprofits and even increasing public awareness about human trafficking.
From humble beginnings to national and international transportation pillar
Back in the mid-2000s, Kam-Way’s founder and CEO, Kam Sihota, and his wife and Kam-Way human resources director, Harneet Sihota, were living in Fresno, California. Kam Sihota had grown up in the transportation industry. That’s where his dream was born to develop a respected brand in the industry that would provide innovative solutions for produce and retail transportation throughout the U.S. and Canada. To realize that dream, the pair began exploring opportunities in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, because Harneet was originally from Vancouver, north of the border.
Then, in 2007, changes in the value of the Canadian dollar gave them the opportunity they’d been searching for. The Canadian dollar made history that year by becoming roughly equal to the U.S. dollar for the first time since the mid-1970s.
“That created a situation where there weren’t as many Canadian trucks heading to the U.S.,” Kam Sihota said. “We discovered a huge demand for trucks to ship products into Canada. We found our niche. We used U.S. trucks to haul freight to Blaine, and then drivers licensed to cross the border would transfer the load to its Canadian destination. We were just in the right place at the right time. By April 2008, we’d established our own freight brokerage in Blaine.”
If you’re not familiar, brokerage serves as the shipping go-between — the company that hires owner-operators, who own their own trucks, to pick up and drop off trailers full of goods. The broker handles all the administrative work associated with drivers and vehicles, ensuring safe, legal and reliable delivery, freeing the shipper and receiver to focus on their own businesses. To date, Kam-Way has expanded its brokerage network to include about 35 contractors, totaling more than 7,700 carriers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“It was around 2012 that we gradually expanded to also develop an asset-based trucking company as well,” Harneet Sihota said. “We established our terminal and fleet headquarters in Sumner, where we hire and train our own team of drivers.”
Although the company got its start shipping to Canada, it quickly expanded to move food and retail products across the U.S. as well.
“If you’ve shopped at Costco, WinCo, Walmart, Albertsons or Kroger, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve purchased something that our business indirectly helped put there,” Kam Sihota said. “We serve as the intermediary between the growers, packers, retailers, manufacturers or shippers and their distribution centers and stores.”
The range of goods transported by Kam-Way is about as expansive as your imagination. From fresh and frozen produce, furniture and pet supplies to live fish, building materials and paper products — you name it, they’ve probably shipped it.
And Kam-Way continues to expand its capabilities and network.
“We’ve acquired two companies in the last three years,” Kam Sihota said.
Kam-Way’s fleet now includes more than 150 trucks, 500 dry vans and 360 trailers, with more than 80 that are refrigerated.
Staff: the secret to success
“We’ve scaled from a team of three in 2008 to more than 275 driving and non-driving staff today,” Kam Sihota said. That includes the addition of Kam-Way’s vice president of sales and operations, Money Singh, who joined the team in 2014 and is now a partner in the business. “Money is strategic and forward-thinking. He has played a significant role in expanding our customer base, having helped us move about 400,000 shipments to date,” Kam Sihota said. “Today, about 90% of our business involves moving shipments throughout the U.S. That includes about 1,200 to 2,500 brokerage shipments per month.”
By 2018 Kam-Way had reached reported revenue of more than $79 million.
Kam-Way has developed training and incentive-based programs to educate, retain and unify driving and non-driving teams.
“Our culture is very important to us,” Harneet Sihota said. “Shipping can be a stressful industry. Logistics has so many moving parts. We started as a small family company, and even though we’ve grown so much, those values that our company was originally founded on and the way we treat our people remains so important to us. Our goal has been to continuously improve and grow. We want this to be a place where people want to come to work every day.”
That dedication to staff includes supporting employees in their pursuit of individual education goals, training workers on the latest software and shipping technology and helping them develop their managerial skills.
“We also really look in the mirror and welcome employee feedback,” Kam Sihota said. “Every person that has worked for our company over the past 13 years has left some lasting footprint. We want to make sure everyone here has an equal opportunity to grow, develop and succeed.”
Kam-Way also participates in Whatcom Business Alliance’s YES Whatcom program, which was created to raise awareness of career options, hands-on learning experiences, paid internships and apprenticeship programs available at Whatcom County organizations. These opportunities connect youth with local careers while also contributing to the area economy.
Driving over COVID-19 hurdles
“No matter where you are in the world, everyone has been affected in one way or another by the pandemic. We had customers that had to completely shut down, and some drivers and employees were afraid to work,” Kam Sihota said. “So many things had to change early last year — the way our customers ship and interact with our drivers, the way we interacted in the office — but because we were a key piece of the food and retail sector, it was our job, our opportunity, to keep everyone supplied.”
Some areas of the business grew in response to the shifting needs of stay-at-home workers. For example, Kam-Way’s shipping of pet supplies increased significantly in response to the growth of “pandemic pets” — a rise in the adoption of companion animals.
“Being in this together, Kam-Way had to come up with our own ways to navigate and respond to almost daily changes in customer demands, public needs and shifting regulations,” Kam Sihota said. “The key takeaways from the pandemic are that we have to change fast, be fluid and flexible, and understand how we are serving our customers and staff strategically. We’ve had to become very responsive to the unexpected.”
As have companies in many sectors of the workforce, Kam-Way has faced a shortage of drivers — influenced by closed trucking schools, driver fear and health issues and a host of other factors. The company also has experienced delays in the delivery of new trucks and trailers due to slowdowns in manufacturing. Those national hurdles have increased the cost of shipping goods in general, which has resulted in an increase in the cost of the goods themselves nationally and internationally.
“We’ve instituted driver pay increases across the board and will likely have another round of increases to both retain existing drivers and help us grow,” Kam Sihota said. “We plan to add 90 power units (tractors for hauling trailers) to our existing 150 in the coming year. We have to have good drivers to get these new trucks into action.”
Giving back while fostering social responsibility
Giving back to the community is a key priority for Kam-Way. The company has instituted new programs and partnered with organizations to use the business to help and thank others.
“We take a dollar for every load we’ve brokered or hauled and put it toward a good cause,” Kam Sihota said. “That might include local animal shelters, the Blaine Food Bank, Blaine Boys and Girls Club and other charities that our employees choose.”
Using its trucks as mobile billboards, through a partnership with the Washington State Patrol’s Homeward Bound Program, Kam-Way has used 14 trailers since 2018 to feature missing children posters with age progressions to mobilize the driving public in the search. The trailers also spotlight Be the Match, a program that connects bone marrow donors with those in need. For Memorial Day 2021, Kam-Way unveiled five additional trailers that recognize the service of veterans and active-duty military. Kam-Way also pays an additional premium to drivers who are military veterans.
“We are also proud sponsors of Truckers Against Trafficking,” said Harneet Sihota, who facilitates Kam-Way’s social responsibility efforts. “We use their content to train all of our drivers and internal staff to help raise awareness and help prevent the exploitation of women and girls. They are the eyes and ears on the road and in the truck stops. They’ve learned how to spot the signs and use an app to report anything suspicious. It’s not just third-world countries. It’s happening here and everywhere. We’re doing whatever we can to help and bring hope to these families.”
An eye on the horizon: more sustainable transportation
Shipping uses a lot of fuel, but Kam-Way is always looking for ways to increase fuel efficiency and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
“We work with our drivers to focus on fuel economy, and that includes looking at the state of the art,” said Kam Sihota. “We’re excitedly waiting for Tesla to produce its electric truck. Slated for 2023, we’ve ordered two electric trucks from Daimler that will serve short-range use in the Puget Sound area. We’ll begin testing, this August, real-time use of a hydrogen fuel cell truck in California, in collaboration with one of our clients. We’re always looking toward the future.”
Both Kam-Way’s brokerage and fleet are participants in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Program. The system tracks, documents and shares information about fuel use and freight emissions across supply chains in order to help improve transportation efficiency nationally and globally, long-term.
Although Kam-Way has experienced growing pains, operational challenges and other hurdles over the years, it has helped keep the U.S., Canada and global supply chains open and moving for 13 years, even growing and providing valuable jobs during a global pandemic.
Kam-Way is currently in negotiations to acquire additional companies, and Kam Sihota says the company would like to increase revenue by 15% to 20% in the coming years.
“We will continue to innovate and grow organically and through acquisitions in this ever-changing world while trying to never lose sight of who we are and why we’re growing,” Kam Sihota said. “It’s really all about our dream of building an amazing company that is respected by our driving staff, our customers and contract carriers and the public we serve.” ■