“If a job is worth doing,it’s worth doing right!”
A simple statement but a sound principle that has built a successful business over the last fifty years.
Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales is a place where everyone is welcome – and our doors are always open. Come in for a coffee, a visit – see what’s new, what’s happening. Coffee shop talks in our industry have become a thing of the past. But not here. Here, when you come into the building, you feel like you belong. If you notice an elderly gentleman with a little grease on his trousers – but walking at a pace it takes effort to keep up with, you have probably just met our founder, Sterling Hornoi. He is a man who walks with ambition, purpose, and his mind on a job of some kind that needs to get done.
This was life on a small farm just outside of Rouleau, Saskatchewan.What many Canadians have come to know as “Dog River” was home for Sterling Hornoi. Growing up, the principles of farm life were simple, but they were deeply important – ingrained into who a person of character was. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If the tool’s not right, the man’s not bright. Why replace it if you can fix it. On the farm, you learned to do much with little. And with a God-given talent for mechanics, a person learned to do just about anything that was necessary to get the job done. If you worked hard and did things with integrity, you were blessed with some level of success and hope for what tomorrow may bring.
In 1959, Sterling began his dream of starting in the trucking business. He persuaded his father, Eddie Hornoi, to give trucking a try. That was the beginning of Hornoi Transport. His years behind the wheel of a truck had a way of teaching him just about everything he needed to know about the trucking industry. Long days, breakdowns, hand-bombing loads, and sleeping over the steering wheel of a day cab truck was an honest life built by hard work. That same year, he married his bride, Patricia Hornoi, and they soon began their family. Pat worked hard with her husband to get the business off the ground and running. She was fundamental in those early days, all the while with a baby in her lap and little ones at her feet. They had a family of seven children and a growing business to take care of. With Pat by his side, Sterling had the support he needed to grow their business and take his dream to the next level.
In 1972, they began Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales Ltd. Back in those days, you could become a successful service shop by working on all makes and models of trucks and trailers. This was where our roots as a company really began. We started with one shop in Regina, SK. A small handful of people embodied the parts department, the service department, technicians, and the administration department. There was always a sense of family from those early days. Sterling and Pat’s daughters, Tammy Hoffart, who joined the company in 1978, and Shannon Hornoi Ross, who joined in 1985, were involved with the company’s day-to-day administration and are still managing that department today. His youngest son, Shawn, would soon be learning the ‘ropes’ of the business the old-fashioned way – starting from the bottom, sweeping out truck bays and doing whatever job he was given. Sterling’s work ethic from farm life created a different ‘brand’ of a company team. Back in those days, the true talent of our business was being innovative and creative, helping each other between departments, and going the extra mile for our customers. The goal for our team on any given day was to get the job done properly and quickly. Get the driver back on the road. Find a way. Make it work.
During these years, we began adding truck sales to our offerings for our customers. Sterling would fly out east to Ontario and piggyback home 3-4 trucks at a time to put on the sales lineup. In later years, Shawn would join him on these journeys to bring trucks back from out east. A young son would be hard-pressed not to fall in love with the industry when seeing it through the windshield of a truck alongside his dad. These early years took a lot of effort from one man with a vision, the support of his wife, his family, and a really great team of staff around him.
In 1972, Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales became a Hayes truck dealer. Things had gone to a new level for the company at that time. To offer new truck sales to our customers opened up a new frontier for our business. It also gave Sterling Hornoi a special love of the Hayes truck in general. Many of which he still has in his antique truck museum today. It is an unexpected love, as Hayes went under in 1975, and it nearly took Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales with it. The stress of the country’s economic state at the time (15% interest rates, fuel costs at an all-time high), the downturn in the industry, and the fall of Hayes – made things seem grim for the future. On the farm, when things got tough, you rolled up your sleeves, got dirty, and plowed ahead. That is precisely what we did as a company. There was a job to get done. Our family and staff relied on our success – and our customers depended on us.
Over the next ten years, our staff rallied feverishly behind our leadership to keep going. When you’re under pressure, you show what you’re made of. Our team had an incredible dedication to the company’s vision. It was not just a ‘job’ to them in those times. It was the challenge to keep the business they believed in healthy and strong. Our customers back then were also feeling the pressure of the economic times. Doing more with less and expanding into new territory was not uncommon in our industry throughout these years. Our customers leaned on us as their ‘partner’ in their growth and success. In those days, it was all about the RELATIONSHIP. A person’s word was his bond. When difficult times arose, or new challenges came up, it was routine to see a customer come in, pour a coffee, and start the heavy conversations. Sterling would sit across the desk from them, and they would talk - develop a game plan. They would work together to get the goal they set out on accomplished. We took great pride in being part of those conversations with customers – and our commitment to their success was just important as our own. The tireless efforts of our staff in those days allowed us to forge these relationships with our customers and be able to meet our commitments to them. While Sterling found ways to gain more business and keep things running smoothly, Pat, along with Tammy and Shannon, continued to work on the administration side. This was the “unseen” part of the business that took diligent work and creativity to deal with an expanding workload efficiently and new ways to keep up with the fast pace of our growth. We were more than just a family business; we were a business that became a family.
During those years of selling used trucks, Sterling added a variety of new trailer lines to our customer menu. This was something that set us apart, to offer both truck and trailer services to customers in all areas – sales, parts, and service. We were determined to become a one-stop solutions provider. Our attitude was always “why wouldn’t it work?” when looking at a problem or challenge. Thinking outside the box was in our DNA – and we worked on the problem together until we found the solution. In 1989, Shawn Hornoi officially began working in the business he had been immersed in since he was a small boy. Shawn started by pulling wrenches, driving trucks, and fixing reefer units for one of our large customer accounts at the time. If a reefer broke down at 2 am, he would get paged and head out in the service van to get the unit going. Shawn did a lot of the after-hours work for both Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales and Hornoi Leasing Ltd., the leasing/rental company that was added in 1973. He did a lot of truck driving in those days, and just like his father before him, he got to learn from behind the wheel what the challenges were that faced our customers – and how to navigate and find solid solutions. As he had heard over and over in his life from his father – if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing RIGHT. That was the foundation on which he began his years within the company. His inherent mechanical know-how was further developed through the guidance he had from his grandfather Eddie, his father, and the technicians he had the privilege of working shoulder-to-shoulder with for many years. The team continued to grow, with a new generation twist to the everyday operations. With most of the family working together now within the business, the future looked bright and promising.
In 1992, Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales became a Volvo truck dealer, as well as a GMC medium-duty truck dealer. With the addition of the Volvo truck product, we were now able to compete with any other dealer in Saskatchewan and be a real contender to new customers in representing the Volvo brand. In our minds, we now had the very best the industry had to offer in a truck product for our customers.The medium-duty line also allowed us to break further into a customer base that had great potential in our province and seemed somewhat untapped at that point. Things began to take off at a feverish pace, and our staff and leadership were up for the challenge. Every facet of the business grew beyond what we imagined possible back in those days.
The first major expansion for Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales was in Saskatoon in 1995. It always was a natural lean to grow into the Saskatoon market. With the transport industry ‘trade-winds’ of the north, this was an exciting new venture for Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales. Sterling Hornoi would work tirelessly in finding the right space to put down roots there, as well as finding the right people to add to our new team in the north. With Regina leading the way, Saskatoon enjoyed early success. Many of our loyal customers from Regina also had a presence in Saskatoon. Our hard work in the early days in Regina made our chances for success much greater for our Saskatoon expansion with our pre-existing customer base. Again, we were fortunate enough to add a group of staff in this new location who exemplified loyalty, commitment, and hard work. Our relationships with our customers strengthened, and they came to know Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales as a name synonymous with “getting it done.” The team in the north began to develop a new customer base as well. Their success and determination as a secondary location were second to none.
In the fall of 1996, Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales broke ground for a new location in Regina. At the time, the bones of the facility seemed massive to us compared to where we came from. But once we were up and running, it became apparent that we had easily grown into our new home. The new building provided a renewed confident outlook for us as a whole – because we could now offer our customers access to a cutting-edge facility for all of their transportation needs. Experience had taught us what would be required to serve our customers better, and we were thrilled to be able to give them the best we had to offer. We also were able to expand our parts department, including offering new parts networks and options for customers to have a greater parts selection and a more extensive inventory to work with. With the addition of the Volvo and GMC truck brands, we focused heavily on specialized technician training and further development of our parts and service staff. This was a very exciting time for us and also a reflection of the success of the customers who had worked with us over the years.
In 1999, we broke ground in Saskatoon and added the same facility we had built in Regina a few years prior. It felt as though things had come full circle for us. It meant a great deal to us to be able to offer customers in both locations a state-of-the-art experience when looking after their needs. Our staff in Saskatoon rose to the challenge by expanding their training and further developing their skills to keep up to pace with what our customers expected and deserved. These expansions in business lead to others. In 2015, we added a dealership in Lloydminster, Alberta. “This was a great expansion, as it allowed us to look after our customers in the northwest part of the province,” says Shawn Hornoi.
This was another opportunity to expand our reach to new customers in the north, as well as enhance our service to existing customers who had routes into Alberta. This team has enjoyed strong leadership, and although they are a much smaller group in numbers, they have given us a huge impact in the Lloydminster market. In 2017, we expanded with a satellite location to the Global Transportation Hub just outside of Regina. “The satellite facility at the GTH was really customer-driven. There were a few big fleets out there, so we positioned ourselves ahead of the curve. We wanted to be the first on the scene, so we took the leap and built the facility to look after those dedicated accounts and grow other businesses. That took us from two to four dealerships in 2 years.” says Shawn. The GTH provided us with a full-service parts and service location strategically positioned where we see a lot of potential for growth. Serving our customers better has been the main factor in our expansion plan and has provided more options with Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales than ever before.
When we look back over the last fifty years, many things remind us of how we came to reach this milestone. We will always be grounded in our humble beginnings and the principles Sterling and Pat began this journey with. Sterling’s work ethic is woven into the fabric of who we are today and always will be. In the beginning, Sterling’s pioneering attitude to creating a one-stop-shop for customers was really ambitious, and it remains our standard. “My dad was thinking outside the box, this was something no one had done before, and he decided to take a gamble on it,” recounts Shawn. “He’s a pioneer in the sense of what he did and where he came from. It’s all in the attitude ‘why wouldn’t it work?’ We are very much that way today. If we’re going to take something on, we will make it work and make it successful.” Shawn strongly believes in the values upon which the company was formed – hard work, perseverance, customer service, and family. “From the beginning, those principles make us who we are,” says Shawn. “You figured out how to approach problems. If there was a challenge, you figured your way around it and worked through it. You have to be able to get your hands dirty and say, ‘How am I going to get this done?’ Thankfully, our employees have completely adopted that mindset. Over the years, they’ve seen how we operate, and they have helped us become successful by having that kind of commitment to our customers. It has been the common thread and the one thing that has made us strong. No matter what the business environment was at the time or what the challenges were – and there have been many of them over these fifty years – the kind of attitude and work ethic throughout our people, throughout the decades, has been the big thing for us – and we’re very grateful that they’ve carried that attitude onto any challenge for and on behalf of our customers today.” He also says, “When we make a commitment to our customers, we find a way. We never turn away from a situation because it’s not what we thought it would be – our commitment and reputation to our people are everything.”
From day one throughout his 33 years of working in the business, Shawn learned from the outset that superior service was the cornerstone and standard for the business’s success. He knows that for the family business to thrive, that standard will always be fundamental. “We always try to make sure that our people do the right thing,” says Shawn. “My dad taught me that you treat people the way you want to be treated; whether it’s a customer, supplier, or employee, you treat people with respect. The world is a different place these days – like everywhere else, we have struggles and areas where we drop the ball, but we always want to do the right thing for our customers because that’s all that matters at the end of the day. Whether it’s a truck sale, parts sale, or a repair – we are only as good as the last customer’s perception of us. When it’s all said and done, our reputation is our name, and the buck stops with us.” Under Shawn’s leadership, we have a loyal, strong group of staff who share a common respect with Shawn and our managers. “One of the most powerful principles between our employees and me is that they know I would never ask anything of them that I have not done or would not do myself. Our employees are always willing to go the extra mile for the customer and for us. That has helped us tremendously over the years,” says Shawn. “You always gain new customers, and sometimes you lose some of them, but we’ve managed to maintain our long-term customers and staff – and the two go hand-in-hand. If you’ve got good employees, you maintain good customer relationships.” He adds, “As an organization, we strive to have that family environment. We’ve had people retire with us that have worked here for 45+ years. That says a lot about the people we have in place here.”
This success has not come easy, as the industry and world change around us. Shawn recounts how in the past few years, the customer base has changed from hundreds of smaller companies to something else entirely. “There’s more consolidation, where larger businesses are buying up smaller businesses. We’ve gone from dealing with 500+ accounts to dealing with 250+ accounts,” he states. “But the thing is, with those 500 accounts, those were people that we dealt with for 20, 30, 40 years. We had a relationship with those people – if there were ever a problem, they would sit down and talk with us. Now, it’s an entirely different world – a lot of those people are gone, and we’re dealing with a corporation from Ontario, or British Columbia – or even out of the US, and they don’t know who we are, and we don’t know who they are. They’ve come in and bought up this company and that company – and it has vastly changed the dynamic of how we do business.” Although the landscape of our industry has changed a lot, what has not changed for us at Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales is that we are a local, family-owned group of dealerships. That is a rare thing these days. The same holds true for both our customers and our staff – when you deal with us, you are dealing with the owners, the decision-makers. There is never a situation where our people have to wait for answers or decisions from someone in another location. We believe this is a huge value to our customer base. It also empowers our staff to be very quick with effective solutions to our customers. The farthest a customer or staff member needs to go for a final word or a solution on anything is down the hall. We still believe in sitting across the desk and figuring out a solution to a challenge a customer has. And we still believe in seeing things through for our customers from start to finish. We have always felt like a business where not only do our customers and staff know the owners by name, but our owners know them by name as well. “There are a lot of dealerships out there that don’t come from the same roots we do.” Says Shawn. “This gives us a completely different perspective with our customers – and that has been the backbone of our success because we come from those roots. Dad started back in 1959 and
built a business with all of the pains and gains that came with a life dedicated to this industry.”
Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales has made its mark within the trucking industry as well. In 2017, Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales was awarded Volvo Trucks Canadian Dealer of the Year, Volvo Trucks Canadian Top Commercial Straight Truck Sales, and Hino Trucks Canadian Parts Department of the Year. In 2018, the company received Volvo Trucks Canadian Top Customer Satisfaction Award and Hino Trucks Canadian Sales Department of the Year. In 2019, Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales was awarded Volvo Trucks Canadian Top Dealer Leasing System and has continued to be recognized as one of the top dealerships in North America for customer satisfaction year after year. The dedication of our staff is reflected in these accomplishments, and we are proud to share this recognition with our team.
Fifty years is a benchmark that carries a lot of meaning for us. It certainly brings a sense of pride that we still are here, and we are still going strong. And yet, we are most humble and grateful for this journey over the past fifty years. We are proud of the customers we have helped serve along the way, and we have been honoured to see them grow and evolve here in Saskatchewan. We are truly proud and blessed by the people who have trusted their careers to us and become part of our business family. Without each and every one of them, we would not be where we are today, enjoying these incredible milestones.
We have all seen our industry change, and the world change for that matter, from when we started Sterling Truck and Trailer Sales in 1972. But some things will always remain the same. Our doors will always be open, and the coffee will always be on. You are always welcome to come in, sit down for a visit, and talk about “what’s new.” We will always have time for that. And if you walk quickly enough, you may be able to catch up to Sterling walking through the halls on the way to his next project.
Thank you to our staff, our customers, and our family for the last fifty years. You have made all of the difference. We look forward to the future with you.