Farmington-based trucking company staying strong during pandemic

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In March, the nation's 3.5 million professional truckers shifted into high gear to keep stores and businesses stocked as consumers worried about riding out home quarantines prompted by the coronavirus outbreak. With restaurants, schools and many businesses shuttered, shortages of hand sanitizer, outbreaks at meat packing plants and a patchwork of changing safety regulations, truckers are experiencing their share of challenges.

Farmington-based Leonard’s Express is weathering the storm.

The family-owned trucking company covers 48 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. Last year, Leonard’s bought the former cabbage processing plant in Manchester and converted a portion of the building into warehouse space for food-and beverage-grade products.

“They are great neighbors,” said Manchester Town Supervisor Jeff Gallahan. The company has plans to expand at the site on Clark Street, he said.

Ken Johnson, Leonard’s chief operations officer, said “2019 was a soft year” for business and they hoped that 2020 would be better. “We never thought we’d be hunting for sources of hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes,” Johnson said.

Leonard’s hauls a lot of food and demand was up, especially from grocery stores and markets with the onset of COVID-19. The company runs with about 640 employees. New rules were instituted for reducing person-to-person contact, Johnson said. Local suppliers came through with hand sanitizer and masks. Among those who answered the call: Black Button Distilling in Rochester and Hollerhorn Distilling in Naples supplied hand sanitizer; and Adrian Jules Custom Clothier of Rochester provided hundreds of cloth face masks.

Johnson recalled that one of Leonard’s drivers, who had arrived in a Texas town early on in the coronavirus outbreak, experienced for the first time what seems now the new norm. The town had just instituted a face-mask requirement. Fortunately, the driver had a bandana handy and was able to comply on the spot.

Among the challenges drivers are facing: Keeping up with a hodge-podge of evolving regulations nationwide and taking special care to stay healthy on the road. Truck stops are overall doing well to meet the needs, and drivers are more apt to carry their own food, Johnson said. Some of the company’s older drivers, who are more at risk for COVID-19, have temporarily come off the road. “We have been able to backfill with other available drivers,” Johnson said.

Leonard’s adjusted operations to account for social distancing, and employees who can are working remotely. The company upgraded technology to stay connected and in tune during the pandemic.

“We’ve gone from desktops to laptops,” Johnson said.

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