How A Family-Run Business Keeps Up With The Times

Building a legacy on the move requires a different kind of thinking.

Back when I was a teenager living at home, I worked for my dad in the business. I started with the dirty jobs – working in the shop, changing tires, changing oil, and working on preventive maintenance. Even when I returned to the business after studying internal combustion engines in college, I still felt drawn to the areas of the business that focused on equipment repairs and maintenance.

For a while I also worked as a truck driver with the company. It gave me great insight on the challenges our drivers face on the road each day. Then I moved back to the maintenance and service area. Although we started with just one maintenance facility, we expanded when our company became more involved with petroleum distribution.

Over the decades, we’ve grown and developed into the leading transportation company in the New York state region. Now, the most frustrating part of my job is trying to remember all of our 700 Wadhams employees by name. But I try – after all; it’s our team that makes our company work.

It seems like the pace of our industry has sped up in the last few years. The expression that change is constant has never been truer than in this business today. Staying loyal to our legacy of great service and safety standards requires tremendous effort, but our team takes pride in being part of that tradition.

If I had to give small business owners one piece of advice, it’s this: never rest on your past success. You can’t afford to. It’s not necessarily just competition between you and other businesses that you need to focus on – it’s the big challenges our industry faces as a whole:

  • Regulations and Regulatory Industries: Keeping up with government regulations and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines is a full time job. Most new regulatory changes will impact many aspects of your business. For example, changes to emissions regulations can mean having to install new technology in your facilities, purchasing new vehicles, and investing in specialized employee training – and that’s just to name a few.

  • Technology: We try to completely turnover or replace our power units in a six-year cycle. This means each year we need to replace about 16 percent of our vehicles. We’ve also moved toward using trucks with automatic transmission, which new drivers tend to find easier to handle.

  • Costs: Trucks today, with all the new components, sensors, and technology tend to become less dependable after 5-6 years – it’s the main reason we need to replace 20 percent of our fleet each year. Once a warranty runs out, component replacements tend to make trucks too expensive to operate for more than 500,000-600,000 miles.

  • Workforce Development: In an industry that trends toward 100% employee turnover, we’ve always prided ourselves on retaining more talent than most. Still, one of our big challenges is a shortage of capable drivers.

In spite of these challenges, the transportation industry continues to grow. There are plenty of rewards for business owners who are willing to commit the time and effort it takes to succeed. It’s all about striking that balance between valuing your legacy and working towards the future.

Rick Wadhams

Rick Wadhams

As co-owner of Wadhams Enterprises, Rick has spent his life and career in the freight business, with experience in everything from maintenance to driving to management. Rick takes particular responsibility in overseeing the petroleum and milk divisions of Wadhams. His committment to seamless process, teamwork, integrity and support, coupled with the fabulous family atmosphere at Wadhams has helped grow Wadhams' reputation as the "Carrier of Choice, Employer of Choice."