It all starts with the driver
After seven years away, Jaanus Karro was drawn back into the transport industry in 2011, when the opportunity to start working for Ahola Transport came up. Since then, his fleet
has grown from one truck to six.
Jaanus Karro (to the right) manages Kilekaubandus together with Keiri Ruusand. She
handles the daily administration in the office in Tallinn.
When you meet Jaanus Karro, it is clear that, even though he is a man with a passion for logistics, he has a calm approach to his work that comes from years of experience. Karro has, like many small entrepreneurs in the field, progressed from a childhood interest in trucks, to training as a mechanic and eventually to driving a truck himself.
“In 1988, I completed my training as a mechanic. Then I had to serve in the Soviet army, but in 1994, I started up a company with two trucks and drove them up until 2004,” he says.
Just before quitting as a transport entrepreneur, Karro chose an entirely different path and established a wholesale company for an Estonian plastic manufacturer. The company was founded in 2002 as Kilekaubandus OÜ, and in 2004, Karro chose to focus fully on the new business.
“Those were tough times for the transport industry. The transport culture was very different back then,” says Karro.
Ahola enticed him back
Karro had not, however, completely given up on the transport industry. In 2011, he was drawn back in.
“Our first new driver worked for Ahola and was really happy with the company. Since he was interested in starting to work with me for Ahola, I got to thinking. So one day I said, let’s buy a truck and start working together. Let’s just do it,” he says.
Karro founded his transport company under the same name as his wholesale business and started working as a contractor for Ahola immediately. Since Karro’s wholesale business is just a stone’s throw away from Ahola Transport’s optimisation centre in Tallinn, the operations were familiar to Karro.
“We saw Ahola every day, after all,” he points out.
Since then, Karro and Kilekaubandus have been loyal to Ahola Transport and their fleet has increased from one truck in 2011 to today’s six.
“All trucks drive for Ahola and that’s how it’s going to stay,” says Karro.
Happy with the terms
Karro is very happy with many aspects of the co-operation with Ahola.
“The terms of our agreement are excellent and payments always arrive on time. The agreement is also flexible, among other things, with a fuel surcharge that we get in case fuel prices suddenly rise,” he says.
This is, according to Karro, an exception in the Estonian transport sector.
“Estonian companies do not have uniform practices and many companies also make payments when they feel like it,” he says.
These factors, combined with his still-fresh memories of the tough times in the Estonian transport industry in the 1990s, made Karro happy to see how much had changed and how much easier it was to operate as a subcontractor for Ahola Transport.
“It was much simpler starting up in 2011. The business culture had improved, the contract with Ahola was good and prices had risen,” he says.
Ever since its establishment as a transport company in 2011, Kilekaubandus has had a good momentum going. Investments in new vehicles have given rise to more investments and Karro is satisfied.
“Last year, we purchased two new trucks and this year we sold an old one and bought a new one to replace it. We replace old trucks at the latest when they are five years old,” Karro explains.
In 2015, Kilekaubandus had four vehicles and in 2016 the number rose to six. Half of them make runs in the Baltic countries and to Poland, while the other half drive from the Baltics to the Nordic countries, sometimes as far away as Norway. The cargo varies a great deal.
“We transport whatever Ahola wants us to, it’s as simple as that,” says Karro, with a grin.
The driver comes first
Although the co-operation with Ahola brings both stability and peace of mind, Karro still sees certain problems in the industry.
“We don’t have that many good drivers in Estonia right now. Drivers are paid better as domestic drivers in Finland and Sweden, so many Estonians are moving to work there. The same thing goes for Western Europe,” he explains.
The Estonian pay levels can simply not compete with wages to the north and west. At the same time, competitors from Estonia’s southern neighbours are entering the Baltic markets with lower wages.
“We are smack in the middle of two regions. Our drivers are moving away, while Polish drivers are coming here willing to work for lower wages,” says Karro.
For Karro this poses a major problem. Before all the investments in new trucks made by Kilekaubandus throughout the years, Karro has wanted to be sure of one thing:
“We don’t buy a new truck unless we first have a capable and skilled driver.”
Since 2011, all of the investments in new vehicles have been made because a new driver has wished to begin working for Kilekaubandus. Now good drivers are becoming hard to find.
Personal experience is what matters most
For Karro, it all starts with the driver, and the drivers’ well-being is close to his heart for a number of reasons.
“When our drivers are on holiday, I usually do some of the driving myself. It helps me understand the drivers and identify improvement areas.”
His personal experience from his time behind the wheel and his training as a mechanic also help.
“Today, the problem is, of course, that it’s no longer possible to service everything yourself, unlike 20 years ago,” says Karro.
Generally speaking, he is happy, however, with the standard of the modern trucks that Kilekaubandus buys through Ahola Transport.
“Of course, everything is much better and more comfortable than at the outset of my driving career. The basics are the same but new innovations are made all the time.”
The collaboration with Ahola will hopefully continue to develop. Right now, Karro hopes to improve communications, which have inevitably become more complex as Ahola has grown.
“It was still simple when I started out in 2011. Now that the organisation is larger, it’s not always as easy to get fast decisions and responses, but Ahola has promised improvements on this front,” Karro says with a smile.
Karro cannot really say precisely where Kilekaubandus is headed. There is definitely potential for growth as long as there are drivers to be found, but at the same time, he is happy to be heading a small company.
“It is good to be small. It helps with communication and creates a positive atmosphere,” Karro concludes.