Fleet struggles when the show won’t go on

MONTREAL, Que. — As of March 12, Truck’N Roll had 125 trucks on the road. Then, within 24 hours, everything collapsed. It had a niche in the trucking industry: the transportation of stage equipment.

Among its clients are Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Cirque du Soleil. With the Covid-19 pandemic banning the presentation of any shows in Canada and the United States, the carrier has lost 100% of its customers in one fell swoop. Truck’N Roll president Ghislain Aresenault found out by listening to the news.

Most of the Truck ‘N Roll equipment is parked as concerts come to an end because of Covid-19. (Photo: Truck ‘N Roll)

“I had 150 trailers and on March 12 I had to park them all,” says the fleet executive, who remembers the day “as if it were yesterday”.

“It was uncertainty, but there was hope. At first, everyone thought we would shut down for two weeks. We did not know the extent of what was to come,” he recalls.

The company has to keep paying for the trucks, but there is no income. “You make agreements, postponements. The debt accumulates, but it never goes away and we will drag it around for a long time.”

To add to the challenge, collecting receivables has become a difficult exercise. Payment deadlines are stretching and the pandemic is obviously the reason given to excuse the delays. “It’s becoming a cashflow battle for companies like mine,” Arsenault says In April, projections suggested that shows and concerts would start again in September 2020 or January 2021.

The worst-case scenario led to April 2021.  “Now our worst case scenario is two years before there are shows again,” says  Arsenault. Truck’N Roll lost 50% of its drivers because the company did not have a job for them. “A good driver wants to work.

They found jobs with trucking companies declared an essential service.” About 30 trucks from the fleet are currently on the road, though. They sometimes pull containers, sometimes flatbed trailers. “I have good drivers and good equipment, so I am able to provide good service.”

People in the industry want to help him, hand him a load here and there when it’s convenient. “I have great friends who are very empathetic about our reality, but each has their own issues and challenges,” he says. Why not switch to more general freight? That’s not Truck’N Roll’s specialty.

Also, Ghislain Arsenault wants to be there when the entertainment industry takes off.  “I don’t want to let go of everything I’ve built to start a new company. My market will come back, I just don’t know the date.”

For now, the pandemic forces Truck’N Roll to survive month to month. Government grants are helping to keep the business alive. But these subsidies are diminishing.

“I don’t have a cultural business, although I depend on the culture.

The beauty of Truck’N Roll is that we are unique,” he says. “But right now, Truck’N Roll’s ordeal is that we are unique.”

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