Radio Supply Chain Interview

Franck STEPLER: We’re going to have a lot of fun today travelling a few thousand kilometres, to a place I love. I’ll tell you right now: it’s not very warm there, but they themselves are warm, even though the weather isn’t the greatest. Welcome, Gaétan Jetté!

Gaétan JETTÉ: Yes, hello, how are you doing?

FS: Very well! So, you’ve placed the accent I hope; we’ve gone off to Montreal, in Quebec, to meet Gaétan Jetté who founded GMR Safety, 25 years ago. The purpose is safety on the loading dock, restraining vehicles so they don’t move. We’ll get to talking about all that. You, and one of your innovations, were honoured during Nuit de la Supply Chain in Paris, at the end of the year. What was the thinking behind your founding of GMR Safety, 25 years ago?

GJ: Well Franck, we actually started from very humble beginnings, where, well, we had this solution we were developing, but it wasn’t yet very effective. It began with light systems and small rubber chocks, 25 years ago. Obviously, the solution has evolved over time, with market knowledge, and with the industry’s changing needs.

FS: So, when you started, what you were doing was something really very, very simple, meaning: you put… instead of a rock, you’d put a rubber chock under the wheel so it didn’t move. Basically, that was it: very quick-and-dirty.

GJ: Yes, exactly, just the basics. Well, the communication systems are still there, but we’ve added features that are… that add to the performance of a system more in line with industry standards.

FS: So, generally speaking, exactly how, over 25 years, has innovation for these wheel-restraint systems evolved?

GJ: Breakthroughs have happened, but for, say, 19 years, there were more or less two solutions being sold in the United States, and, as of 2015… 2014, 2015, our business in Europe, specifically in France, began to grow, and the adapting of our solutions and the response to market needs in an environment very different from what we knew in the United States led the company to develop more than two solutions, where now we have nine solutions, some of which address the most significant economic changes, meaning the boom in e-commerce.

FS: I’d like to stop you on that point because you’re saying you discovered a market very different from your own; this is sometimes hard to understand, because shipping, logistics, the supply chain… ultimately the jobs, tools, and machines, one might imagine they’re the same in France, the United States, or in Canada. What was the major difference you found, on arriving in the European market?

GJ: You can see the difference at any level: at the loading dock, in loading and unloading spaces, on ground surfaces; you don’t see any cobblestones in the United States, but you can find them pretty much everywhere in Europe. But with respect to vehicles, it was more important to be able to adapt because in Europe, often there are obstructions between a vehicle’s wheels which prevent American-made chocks from being placed in front of the truck wheel to secure it, so we had to review the designs of all of our chocks and, given that we had to reduce chock height, we improved the design to get the same or better level of performance than what we’d had with a taller chock in the United States for restraining truck wheels.

FS: True, we don’t tend to think about this kind of thing at all when we’re not involved in it, because a chock really is a very specific thing. How do you explain these major differences when, in the past, the usual thing to do was to establish warehouses, build vehicles differently, equip loading and unloading docks differently, on both sides of the Atlantic?

GJ: Yes, exactly, it’s pretty much cultural, the design of different solutions ensures that needs… often there are underride guards on vehicle sides that you don’t see at all in the United States, so the POWERCHOCK was adapted. In fact, POWERCHOCK is the most commonly used solution across the United States and now around the world for wheel restraint systems, and adaptations have enabled us to make all different types of vehicles (like swap body trucks) secure as well as, more recently, small vehicles (also known as cargo vans) that handle e-commerce deliveries within cities.

FS: That’s great, the advantage is that, in Quebec, you say it like we say it here: cargo vans; so there are still commonalities there. Can you tell us exactly which innovation was honoured; I’d said before you were honoured at the Nuit de la Supply Chain in Paris at the end of the year: what exactly was the innovation that earned you that recognition?

GJ: We quickly brought it to market a year and a half ago, when e-commerce vehicles really started to emerge, it was a modified POWERCHOCK chock, but for smaller vehicles that have smaller wheels and aren’t as big, so the smallest chock is still a POWERCHOCK and still effective, but where we made the advancement, the solution, we looked at the market needs… sometimes some docks work with or handle either semi-trailers or cargo vans, or both, so to avoid the need for two vehicle restraint systems, what we presented at the Nuit de la Supply Chain in December, was a solution where  a single chock incorporates two separate heights: one lower, to secure the smaller e-commerce van at the loading dock during loading, as well as a portion of the same chock whose height allows semi-trailers to be effectively restrained.

FS: So that’s it; its adaptability was the thing being recognized. In fact, we don’t realize the degree to which e-commerce is changing things, and we see it when we look at a line of work such as yours, because we could say, as we did earlier, that 25 years ago, things were very quick-and-dirty: You stuck a bit of rubber under the wheel and that was it. Now, things are so much more technological that even in your own sector, e-commerce has really shaken things up.

GJ: Right, delivery with smaller vans, we’d never have given it a thought. But today, to get around quickly in cities, it’s the smaller vehicles that let you do that, to have a relatively small load, one that allows you to make very quick deliveries, and today, we know it’s speed that enables businesses like Amazon, which have built many warehouses, IKEA warehouses have been built across Europe, in Germany, there are 56 warehouse stores, in Austria, in addition to France, so needs are changing over time and, if we’re able to properly adjust, to then deliver solutions that are simple, guaranteed; that helps us get ahead of the competition and to deliver solutions that meet the needs of the market.

FS: Are you already looking to see how things might change tomorrow, because it’s well known that innovation is also foresight; at this point, particularly in these pandemic times, we know that looking ahead is tricky, but are you already thinking of solutions for the future, trying to understand how the delivery market might change?

GJ: When you realize that, at some point in the future, at two in the morning, you’ll order a pizza, a vehicle will come to the door, you’ll use a credit card to pay for it, and when you open your door, there’ll be no driver, but you’ll grab your pizza box –

FS: From a self-driving vehicle.

GJ : – from a self-driving vehicle; but semi-trailers will, at some point, be equipped with a towing vehicle, a cab hauling them at the front, also driverless, so our POWERCHOCK solutions will evolve too, as designs will, which will enable serving the market for self-driving vehicles at loading docks, and we’re working hard to find durable solutions that fall within the POWERCHOCK concept and conform to the unique five-year warranty offered by GMR on POWERCHOCK products.

FS: Yes, that’s very clear, you had the conventional trucks, and the light vehicle market grew tremendously with e-commerce, the step after that being the self-driving vehicle, that’s clear. One last word, we’ve got a minute left, just a quick aside, but how do you, right now in Quebec, with winter in full swing… you talked about pizza delivery at two in the morning, is there more of a history to the culture of food delivery and does it happen more often where you are, whereas over here we could potentially go out on mild evenings… but over there, in the depths of winter, when it’s minus 10 with 70 centimetres of snow, and you don’t want to go out to get your pizza, has culture, that culture of delivery, taken the lead specifically because of the different climate over there?

GJ: Just the opposite… I’d say you see that lead happening with delivery more in Europe, in Germany, in France, in England, obviously not at all hours of the night, maybe we see more of that in the United States, but central to our line of work is people’s safety, and e-commerce delivery is very robust for vehicles like small vans across France and all of Europe, and that’s where, really, our first sales are being made, even though we’ve also started making sales to North American companies.

FS: That’s good, once in a while, I really like hearing that Europe has a bit of a lead, that’s super; we don’t hear that every day. In any case, thanks very much, it’s been a delight to talk a bit with you. I always enjoy my quick forays into Quebec. Gaétan Jetté, President and Founder of GMR Safety, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, thank you. I wish you at least as many years of further success, and work hard on the future of those self-driving vehicles. Thank you so much!