February 26, 2022 at 12:54 a.m.

A cut above the rest

Caledonia Haulers finalist in Best Fleets to Drive For contest
CEO Dennis Gavin is pictured next to one of Caledonia Haulers many trucks Feb. 15 near Caledonia, Minnesota. Caledonia Haulers was a finalist in the Best Fleets to Drive For contest.  PHOTO BY KATE RECHTZIGEL
CEO Dennis Gavin is pictured next to one of Caledonia Haulers many trucks Feb. 15 near Caledonia, Minnesota. Caledonia Haulers was a finalist in the Best Fleets to Drive For contest. PHOTO BY KATE RECHTZIGEL

By Kate Rechtzigel- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CALEDONIA, Minn. − CEO Dennis Gavin was shocked when not one but two over-the-road truck drivers nominated Caledonia Haulers in the national Best Fleets to Drive For contest.
“I think it shows we care,” Gavin said. “We try to recognize our people and answer the phone; you’re not just a number. We truly try to listen to the driver.”
Marketing manager Megan Sobieski agreed.
“It all goes back to that small town hospitality,” she said.
Caledonia Haulers, of Caledonia, was nominated in September 2021 by Royal Manley from Missouri and James Lanfair from New York. They were chosen as a finalist Jan. 5 in the Best Fleets to Drive For contest which had 207 nominations from all across the United States and Canada.
The contest consisted of a 17-page questionnaire, a 90-minute interview and driver surveys.
“We were a little bummed that we didn’t get in the top 20,” Gavin said.
Sobieski agreed.
“But it was definitely a learning experience,” she said. “It opened the lines of communication between our team members because we had to dig into the safety, recruiting, accounting, marketing and operations parts. It brought our team together and reminded us of our values and what we strive to be.”
The company employs 250 people, travels over 22 million miles a year and hauls 50 loads of milk every day.
Gavin first heard about the contest at an insurance meeting.
“Every year they try to recognize the best fleets, and we decided collectively that this is something we would like to be a part of,” Gavin said. “But, we needed someone to spearhead the contest so that’s why we have Megan.”
Sobieski promoted the contest on Facebook, determined the steps involved and sent surveys to all 180 truck drivers; the company received 100 survey responses.
“We were supposed to get 65% completion, but we did better than that,” Gavin said. “Good or bad we don’t know, but it makes you feel pretty proud that the guys appreciate the work you are doing.”
Caledonia Haulers was also one of a few milk haulers competing in the contest and the only one from a small town in the Midwest.
“Some of those fleets were from big, big towns,” Sobieski said. “So, it’s pretty cool that we can represent our small town.”
Caledonia Haulers began 64 years ago in 1958 with 10 can routes; the company later purchased a bulk truck.
“We hauled dairy products into a local creamery here,” Gavin said. “And then our milk started going to Illinois, and we started back hauling corn sweetener to Keokuk, Iowa.”
As the times changed, Caledonia Haulers expanded to 45 milk trucks and an additional 180 over-the-road trucks that haul corn sweetener or bakery ingredients, such as soybean oil, coast to coast. They also haul eggs, juices, liquid smoke and enzymes.
“We are always looking at how to improve, find more products to move and how to make this a better place to work for our drivers,” Gavin said. “Years ago, drivers used to go wherever, but now, we’re trying to find more products that put them in a certain lane that they like doing better, trying to find products and move loads that are more regional.”
Sobieski agreed.
“We try to have a better work-life balance for people with younger families,” she said.
In 1985, Gavin came off the road and started working alongside his dad, Joe, who was the CEO at the time. He became the CEO in 1995 and the sole owner of the company in 2013.
“It’s been a challenge over the years as with any business, and now I’m excited to look toward the future and hope my son, Zach, or daughter, Ashley, will take it over,” Gavin said. “But it’s not just me, it really takes a team to do what we’re doing here in Caledonia.”
One of Gavin’s favorite memories is working with some of the same farmers he worked with when he was doing can routes to cooperatives.
“Some of those dairies have been in business for 65 years,” Gavin said. “It’s pretty cool to still be able to work with them.”
Today, the company hauls to six dairy cooperatives all within a 200-mile radius of Caledonia. Caledonia Haulers also has facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Janesville, Wisconsin.
“We haul to cheese plants as far as Melrose and down to Stockton, Illinois,” Gavin said.
Gavin also takes pride in having an open-door policy for all of the drivers.
“Dennis is always willing to listen,” Sobieski said. “It just gives them another avenue of how we can continue to grow and become the best fleet.”
Gavin agreed.
“Drivers get a voice,” he said. “And, we hope this contest helps people recognize that we care.”
Come March, Gavin and Sobieski plan to have a team meeting with other employees and the Best Fleets program to look over the contest results and survey responses to determine how to implement feedback and prepare to compete in the contest next year.
“It was a really big project, because it looked at everything from how truck drivers are recognized to the amenities in their trucks,” Gavin said.
Sobieski agreed.
“Next year, we’ll be ready,” she said.


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