Superior Service, Adaptability and Being on the Forefront of Transport Trends Are Keys to Wills Transfer’s Success
In 1945, G.H. Wills began with two small trucks owned by a hard-working, community-oriented family. The business was created to ship items in and around Smiths Falls and surrounding communities, quickly building a reputation for excellence, efficiency and affordability.
From those humble beginnings the firm, which is now known as Wills Transfer Ltd., now boasts 160 employees working out of six warehousing facilities, operating a fleet of more than 40 tractors and 150 trailers delivering cargo throughout Eastern Ontario. The Company is still based out of Smiths Falls and is now owned and operated by Terry and Heather Wills and their son, Jordi, who is the fourth generation of this family business.
“In 1953, we became one of the founding Agents for United Van Lines and the Company soon branched out from there into commercial warehousing and transportation. Besides the moving side of the business, Wills also had started working early on with the Hershey company, and that’s a relationship that lasted until the plant closed in 2010. Besides the 40 or so rigs on the road and more than 150 trailers, between our four locations we have 550,000 square feet of warehouse space. We also manage two other locations which brings us up to a total of 700,000 square feet,” explained Colin Goodfellow, Manager of Business Development for Wills Transfer Ltd.
“We also have a fleet of intermodal trucks going to and from the port and the rail terminals of Montreal, picking up ocean containers on a daily basis and that is another division of our business, which complements our warehousing operations”.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but Wills got out of the moving business in 2014, citing a number of different reasons, including a shift in the industry and the seasonality of the business.
“The other divisions of our business had outgrown that side and we were struggling to make it work in the moving business because it had become de-regulated; there were a lot of smaller movers coming in. It was such a seasonal business that it was a struggle for us to be able to predict staffing levels and other resources that we would need,” Goodfellow said.
“It was a real tough call because it had been part of the Company for so long. Eventually it came to a time where the management team and the ownership group made the decision to put the focus on the commercial warehousing and transportation segments of the operation.”
It is a remarkable story of growth and success in a business that can be sometimes unpredictable, especially when there are downturns in the economy. But Goodfellow said one of the keys to Wills’ success has been the Company’s adaptability and willingness to pivot and make hard, but necessary decisions, like the aforementioned ending of their household moving component.
“I think even more than our adaptability is that we have always had our customers as our core focus. Even in the days when we were doing the household moving, it was all about the customers and that has never changed. Our purpose is that we provide innovative logistics solutions to contribute to our customers’ success; which means that we’ve got to make it work for our customers or we’re not going to stay in business,” he explained.
“We have kept up with the technology and best practices along the way. We have instituted a warehouse management system that allows our customers to have an online look at their inventory and keep abreast of all the comings and goings of their products and their inventory. Internally, it allows us to track and manage the inventory and in turn invoice them properly in terms of the activity they’ve had on a monthly basis. We have also installed GPS monitoring and tracking of all our vehicles and we always stay up to date on fuel efficiency and all those types of environmental initiatives.”
The largest part of Wills Transfer’s business is the warehousing component, but even there, the Company has adapted and changed the sorts of services it offers to meet the needs of clients from Eastern Ontario as well as from across Canada and international customers.
“We have a whole host of warehousing services from short and long-term storage, a cross-docking service, order distribution, pick and pack operations and our more recent focus has been on what we call our ‘managed 3PL [third-party logistics] services’ where we manage the shipping & receiving, the inventory management and the customer service functions on behalf of companies,” Goodfellow explained.
“We are doing that with companies like Shell and 3M and Mitel and a couple of others. It’s become an important service for us because it allows companies to hand that part of the business over to us and we manage it for them, allowing them to focus on their core business. In addition, on the transportation side, which besides the container division, we have 53-foot dry van trailers and the focus is on full truckload service within eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. We don’t really compete in long-haul trucking or even the Ottawa to Toronto business. Our transportation focus is on Eastern Ontario & Western Quebec. This focus area is where we’re strong and I am sure that this is where our focus will remain.”
Wills Transfer Ltd. has been based primarily in smaller cities and towns within Eastern Ontario, with warehousing facilities in Smiths Falls, Brockville and Perth. A fourth facility, in Ottawa, recently went through a major expansion, more than tripling in size from 55,000 square feet to 175,000 square feet. But the largest facility is still the one in Brockville, numbering approximately 200,000 square feet.
“Thanks to that recent expansion and accompanying projects in Ottawa, we were able to hire on more people. Through the course of our business and the projects we were working on, we had to lease different warehouse space around the city, but now we have brought it all in house. A little over two years ago we had less than 10 people working in Ottawa, and now we’re close to 30, so it’s been a good story for our Ottawa operations,” Goodfellow said.
“The fact that we had a smaller operation in Ottawa was always kind of difficult for people to kind of wrap their heads around. But we have gone to the smaller communities because we have forged great partnerships with the manufacturers in those places, and the support of the community as a whole.”
This year, Wills Transfer Ltd. made the prestigious list of Canada’s Best Managed Companies, something that Goodfellow said is welcome recognition for the many years of quality service that the Company has provided it’s customers, as well as providing a rewarding working environment for it’s employees.
“It’s something we have been striving for for a while, and it’s a huge honour for us and I think it reflects the management’s focus on our employees and our customers. It’s a reflection of the hard work and the dedication of our employees and the commitment we have to our customers and to our partners. I think it speaks to prospective customers as well as those who might be comparing us to our competitors. It’s a pretty rigorous program that you have to get through to make the list, so I think it does speak volumes.”
For more information on Wills Transfer Ltd., visit the Company’s website, http://willstransfer.com/.