SALMO, BC — Sutco Contracting threw a party earlier this month to celebrate 20 years of success in an industry that takes no prisoners. Simply surviving for two decades is no small feat in trucking, let alone thriving the way this company has done.
Yet it started with the dream of two 19-year-olds, boyfriend and girlfriend, one of whom knew nothing about the business. They’d known each other all their lives.
With one used logging truck, a makeshift office, and a freshly minted Class 1 driving licence, the intrepid pair — Chris and Melanie Sutherland — launched their company. They obviously added a lot of conviction to the mix as well. And it all paid off handsomely.
January 2015 marked 20 years of business for Sutco. Now a sophisticated player with three locations in the lower mainland of B.C., active in logging, wood residuals, and heavy-haul work, the fleet numbers 75 trucks and 137 trailers of many different types. The company also operates a freight brokerage.
“I still remember the day in 1995 when Chris called to ask me to leave my university program and join him in Salmo as he was purchasing a log truck and was going to get his Class 1,” Melanie recalls.
“I’d never heard of Salmo before, I knew absolutely nothing about the transportation industry. But I agreed to follow my heart and join him.
“It was very quickly decided due to a massive shortage of logging trucks that we would team up with Chris’s dad, Robert Sutherland,” she says.
“We started with a little office in the spare room of our mobile home and an unheated and un-air-conditioned shop, where Chris was trucker by day and mechanic by night. His background was heavy-duty mechanics as he had completed this program at BCIT [British Columbia Institute of Technology] in Burnaby just a year beforehand.”
“Five years later we had 12 trucks, were married, and had two toddlers running around,” Melanie tells us. “We had outgrown our home office and built an office which is now the mechanics’ lunch room.”
By 2004 they had moved into a new office and shop in Salmo with roughly a fleet of 35 trucks, and the business had expanded to include chip and general-freight hauling. By then Sutco serviced most of Canada and three northwestern states.
Melanie says their mission was always to remain a family-run operation, with family being a top priority for them and their employees.
“We strive to maintain this on a daily basis,” she says. “We realize our staff is by far our most valued asset.”
The 20-year celebration was held at company headquarters in Salmo, with a turnout of some 300 people, including employees, friends, family, and business partners.
The day involved a barbecue and go karts sponsored by Kal Tire, a “bouncy castle” for the kids sponsored by Inland Kenworth, an excavator contest sponsored by Brandt Tractor, and a rock n’ roll band courtesy of Cookson Motors.
“We ended the day by recognizing and celebrating our employees,” says Melanie. We presented our five-year staff with jackets and our 10-year staff with watches.”
Chris and Melanie have two children, Cole ,17, and Courtney, 16. While Chris is the president of Sutco and oversees all operations, Melanie is in charge of all accounting and administration functions.
The Sutherlands were featured in last November’s Today’s Trucking feature story ’20 Under 40′. Read it here.