Despite a driver shortage in the trucking industry, Kivi Bros. Trucking in Duluth has hired 24 drivers in the past year.
That’s to drive its 24 new tractor trucks.
And with four more new trucks for heavy hauling coming, costing about $150,000 each, the business is looking to hire a few more drivers in coming months.
Needing more space, Kivi Bros. built a two-story, 5,000-square-foot office addition last year, moving from cramped quarters to space big enough for future growth. The old office space adjacent to the 60-foot-by-140-foot truck servicing area was then turned into a lounge for its 71 drivers, complete with couches, coffee, mailboxes, showers and laundry facilities.
Besides over-the-road drivers, the company also added accounting and other office staff, bringing the total number of employees to 85.
And it all has happened as a new generation of Kivi brothers — Derek, 33; Tyler, 25; and Dakota, 21 — have taken over the operations from their father and uncles who started the business in 1995.
And it’s happened while many other trucking companies have been stymied in their desire to expand.
“The work is there, there’s freight to move,” said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association. “Companies would like to expand. Trucking companies say if they could get more qualified drivers they would expand. The trucking industry overall has a difficult time expanding because there’s a driver’s shortage.”
So what does Kivi Trucking’s hiring of so many drivers say about the company?
“It says that they’re doing a good job of recruiting,” Hausladen said. “That’s a very sizable growth. It says that they have an attractive compensation package, because (hiring) is very competitive.”
Tyler Kivi, the company’s chief operating officer, said the company values its drivers. With services tailored to each job, he said the drivers are a key part of the company’s success.
“It’s the way we treat them,” Kivi said of their level of applicants. “Our equipment is top of the line. You can’t really buy anything better than the truck and trailers we buy. Everything is top-notch. That attracts drivers and so does our pay. Our pay is above industry average.”
At Kivi, median annual wages for drivers is $65,000, with some making less and some making substantially more, he said.
“We have drivers who have been here since the 1990s, since it started,” he said. “We’re looking at not only keeping customers happy but our drivers. That’s who people see on the road.”
The roots of the business go back to the 1950s, when the brothers’ grandfather, Henry Kivi, began operating Kivi Trucking, a one-man, one-truck operation in the Wrenshall and Duluth areas. He transported a variety of cargo, including logs, concrete culverts, and new and scrap steel, but his business stayed small.
In the mid-1990s, his three sons — Jeff, Mark and Robert — bought their own trucks and established Kivi Bros. Trucking.
As business grew, they bought more trucks and hired other drivers.
“But the foundation was set with Henry,” Tyler Kivi said. “They started out under his wing. That set them up to proceed with new customers. And they were able to grow more and more.”
Jeff Kivi’s sons — Tyler, Derek and Dakota — grew up in the business, starting out by washing trucks as soon as they were old enough.
“Then we worked as mechanics in the shop, then transitioned to drivers, then to working the office and running the office,” Tyler said. “Our stories are exactly similar as far as what we started doing and what we went to next. We all have our Class A license. We all can drive.”
“That knowledge of all aspects of the business is important,” he continued. “To be good in this industry, you have to know about everything.”
The younger generation of brothers took over the company’s operations three years ago, with Derek now the chief executive officer.
“The future is all three of us,” Tyler said.
Their father and uncles still are involved in the business. But ownership has shifted. Uncles Robert and Mark Kivi share ownership with nephews Tyler and Derek.
Heavy hauling niche
Trucking companies tend to have their specialties. For Kivi Bros., it’s heavy hauls using open-deck trailers.
Their cargo includes building materials, new machinery and bulk products such as road salt. Last week, the company put its signage on a new end dump trailer for hauling road salt and aggregate to states, counties and cities in the Midwest.
“We try to become so diversified that anything that needs to be hauled, we can haul,” Tyler Kivi said. “Like a Swiss Army knife, we’re willing to take on anything that comes our way.”
With many of their trucks and trailers capable of hauling up to 140,000 pounds of cargo, they’ve also moved windmill generators, large excavators and big shovel buckets.
In December, Kivi crews moved two 85,000-pound ship motors to Fraser Shipyards in Superior, which required several prior route surveys and an escort that day. And in 2013, they volunteered their services to help move the 42-foot-long Viking ship replica out of Duluth’s Leif Erikson Park, which was particularly tricky because of a narrow bridge to cross.
“It’s kind of a good feeling getting a big load to move,” said Dakota Kivi, a logistics coordinator specializing in oversize loads. “It’s always a challenge with a big piece of equipment.”
Indeed, planning for hauling heavy, oversize loads can be a tedious process, even with the help of Google Maps, a Web mapping service. Road weight limits, overhead height restrictions, utilities and other obstructions must be considered when determining travel routes. And the more states freight is hauled through, the more permits that are needed.
Most of Kivi’s shipments originate in the Twin Ports and northern Minnesota for deliveries throughout the lower 48 states, Canada and Alaska. Kivi has nationwide accounts, including in Texas and California. So after deliveries are made, drivers pick up new loads around the country to haul. Meanwhile, back in Duluth, their progress is monitored through GPS tracking.
““You try to keep your truck loaded at all time,” Tyler Kivi explained. “The logistics are to keep freight on the deck and keep everything moving.”