A local investment

Randy L. LaValley, owner of LaValle Transportation Inc., at his 20 Madrid Ave. headquarters in Potsdam. The trucking firm has invested millions in new equipment in recent months. Jason Hunter/ NNY Business

Randy L. LaValley, owner of LaValle Transportation Inc., at his 20 Madrid Ave. headquarters in Potsdam. The trucking firm has invested millions in new equipment in recent months. Jason Hunter/ NNY Business

Potsdam-based LaValle Transportation secures $8.6m in new equipment

Owner of Potsdam-based LaValle Transportation Inc. Randy L. LaValley laughs and hesitates when asked what his day-to-day job at his rapidly growing trucking company looks like today. Launched in 1994 with one carrier, LTI today offers regional and long-haul transportation with a fleet of 175 trucks, more than 500 trailers and about 190 employees.

“My main goal here is trying to move the company forward,” Mr. LaValley, a Potsdam native, said. “My job is to steer, not to row an oar.”

In a business that requires 24-7 vigilance, he acknowledges that he does sometimes get tied up in rowing an oar, overseeing operations and scheduling trucks, as well as meeting with dispatchers and helping map out optimal routes. But his day-to-day consists of strategizing on how the company can obtain more drivers and equipment and improve efficiency of current operations.

It’s a mission that has proved successful in 2013 — a year in which the company has grown by 70 percent. LaValley Transportation and Body Shop Fitness & Salon, both of which are owned by Mr. LaValley and his wife, Penny, received the Potsdam Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Business of the Year award in May. LTI got its name as a hybrid between Mr. LaValley’s last name and that of an original partner, William A. “Bill” LaVallee, who worked at LTI until his passing in 2011; Mr. LaValley said he would never change the company’s name though he bought him out in 1997, as a tribute to his employee.

In the last 60 days, LTI has purchased 160 new trailers for a total of $4.4 million and in the last 30 days has purchased 40 new trucks for $4.2 million, a combined $8.6 investment in new equipment. The company has also hired about 25 new employees, primarily drivers, in the last 45 days, and will add another 40 driving positions by the end of October.

The investments were in large part the result of newly acquired contracts with General Motors and Ford Motor Company, which LTI initiated in May and secured within about 30 to 45 days, Mr. LaValley said.

On Aug. 1, LTI opened a new terminal in Detroit, Mich., that will allow it to serve the companies’ Midwestern car operations. LTI is a Tier 1 carrier for both GM and Ford, which is the highest stature and means LTI is held in the same regard as companies than run 5,000 trucks, Mr. LaValley said.

On Nov. 1, the company will start a 70-truck, 25-load per day contract with Ford to its F-150 plant in Kansas City. LTI was awarded that contract based on its performance for Ford in August, Mr. LaValley said. Through its contract with GM, LTI will ship 30 loads a week to its Chevy Tahoe plant in Arlington, Texas.

The company’s revenue last year was about $30 million, and since the contracts didn’t come into effect until late in the year, he estimates revenue for 2013 will be about $40 million, but could jump to about $65 million by 2014.

“It isn’t that the economy got that much better, it’s just that we’ve been working hard and trying to grow the company,” he said. “We have good day-to-day operations here.”
LTI didn’t lay off any employees during the recession, but just “kept our heads above water and kept going,” Mr. LaValley said. The trucking business saw the recession’s impact early on when it hit in 2007, but was also the first to see it start to rebound; LTI went after new contracts in 2010 to 2011 and has been able to grow every year since, he said.

He thinks the company has the potential to expand to 400 trucks in five years, aided by the fact that many large companies like GM and Ford prefer to deal with as few partners as possible; if LTI can continue to add more trucks and equipment, it’s poised to grow with those partners. Contracts with car manufacturers provide year-round work and, with an August report from R.L. Polk that the average age of all light vehicles on the road is a record high of 11.4 years, Mr. LaValley said car sales are likely to rise.

“Our business is poised to do nothing but grow,” he said.

Locally, LTI is doing more shipping for Acco, an office supply company that has increased business from its Ogdensburg location. Since 2005 when Domtar Paper closed its Cornwall, Ont., mill, LTI hasn’t done much business with Canada, but last year began shipping with Kruger and now makes trips in and out of Canada 10 times per day, Mr. LaValley said. Shipments to Canada are expedited through a CT-PAC certification for crossing the border that LTI obtained eight years ago through a competitive and stringent approval process, Mr. LaValley said. He anticipates the company’s business with Canada will grow as it taps into the automotive manufacturers in Quebec and Ontario shipping to U.S. assembly plants.

LTI chief financial officer Mark J. Norman said the company is somewhat at the limit of its expansion in Northern New York, necessitating the expansion elsewhere, because little new manufacturing is coming to the area and the existing manufacturing isn’t necessarily increasing freight.

LTI also operates a sister company, Express Logistics Systems, a full-service freight brokerage company, through which it has been able to sign on some new agents and small fleets, Mr. LaValley said.

With expansion, Mr. LaValley said the company continues to strive to increase fuel efficiency and monitors all drivers’ speed and idle time, coaching them each week based on their performance. It also scrutinizes tires, engines, transmissions and other parts of all equipment for possible fuel-saving improvements, and constantly refines routes to find the shortest and fastest.

“We employ every possible fuel-saving technology we can,” he said.

In 2010, 10 of LTI’s tractor-trailers were outfitted with TrailerTails, four extra flaps designed to make trailers more aerodynamic and fuel efficient, designed at Clarkson University. Mr. LaValley said the technology is effective, but that LTI has had to remove most of the test units because they were a “maintenance nightmare” as they shook themselves apart from vibration.

LTI’s location in Potsdam has proved advantageous in that St. Lawrence County has an excellent workforce, but disadvantageous in that tolls and highway use taxes in New York are among the highest in the country, he said. With aggressive inspections at truck stops in most states, LTI has to be constantly vigilant about maintaining equipment and instilling safety knowledge in drivers; the company recently completed an installation of cameras in all of its trucks, which monitor what happens in front of a truck as well as driver behavior, to keep track of safety and determine events in accidents, Mr. LaValley said.

Mr. LaValley summarized the primary challenge he’s faced in his years of leading the firm as one of balance—between customer requests and what is actually feasible and between the quality employees want and personal needs.

“It’s all about maintaining a balance for employees and yourself and constantly trying to make sure everything is flowing smoothly,” he said. He also credits his wife’s support for much of his success and enabling him to travel while she takes care of things home, including his three children, the youngest of whom is 12.

“One of the main reasons I have the success is because I have her here at home, allowing me to be able to go after all these business endeavors,” he said.

Mr. Norman, who has worked for the company for its entire 19-year history and is in charge of dealing with registrations and licensing as well as paying vendors, drivers, taxes and mileage, described being part of the company’s growth as “sleepless for the most part.”

“It’s 24-7, it’s a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “It’s all day every day.”

But it’s been rewarding to see the company’s growth, he said, and he considers himself fortunate to have been able to work for the same company for 19 years, and hopefully another six to 10.

“It has been a challenge, but it has been exciting,” he said.

Leah Buletti is a staff writer for NNY Magazines. Contact her at 661-2381 or lbuletti@wdt.net.