No Lone Rangers Here
In the midst of economic downturn, the survival efforts of individuals typically rise to the top of the heap of stories in my mailbox. But increasingly I’m noting a trend that holds the seeds of hope for the entire community of drivers and owner-operators, survival tales not just about one hauler making his way, but about the operators he brings with him.
One such story is that of independent hauler W. Joel Baker, who’s been running on his own authority since 1999, when the local firm he was driving for in Pontiac, Ill., went out of business following a union contract dispute. Baker, presciently predicting the business’s failure, set himself up with a rig and his own authority.
Today he runs a solid one-truck operation out of Clarksville, Tenn., hauling a variety of dry and refrigerated freight with a 53-ft. reefer hooked to a 2006 Peterbilt 379 with “Baker & Sons” lettered on the Unibilt sleeper.
When he started out, on top of the usual difficulties identifying shipper customers and booking freight, one of the biggest hurdles he felt he was jumping was the at-the-time dearth of solid, easy-to-use business management software designed specifically for trucking. “I was really discouraged by how much time the paperwork took,” he said of his new business, “and the software packages I bought — there were three of them — just really didn’t get the job done in a timely manner. Some of them were overkill. There was one that just didn’t work altogether.”
In that first year, Baker spent a whopping $5,500 on software. “It was a lot of money,” he says, “and a lot of the programs out there have a ‘maintenance fee,’ where you have to spend a certain amount to receive” program updates and IFTA rate updates, among other information.
Baker was, even then, an “open source software kind of guy,” he says. And he thought that, with the right partners, he could do a better job at a much lower price point for himself and, eventually, other owner-operators feeling the same pinch.
With a programmer based in West Virginia he developed TruckBytes (TruckBytes.com), free trucking software today utilized by owner-operators, small fleets and some company drivers to make a seamless connection between dispatch and truck operation; fuel expense tracking, trip reports and customer invoicing; and more. Additionally, for $15 a month, paid annually, TruckBytes’ “Standard” version makes IFTA accounting easy, cross-referencing trip-report data to calculate quarterly IFTA at the push of a button.
For those paying customers and others, furthermore, Baker makes good on what he saw as particularly lacking among other software providers in the early days of his business. Says TruckBytes customer and New Jersey owner-operator James Caldwell, “Joel gets back to all his customers.”
Occasionally, as Baker told me, “getting back” to customers can mean more than just problem-solving. For independents and small fleets, Baker often serves as a kind of consultant. For instance, “I do encourage all our customers, ‘Free’ or ‘Standard,’ to consider getting their own authority if they do not currently have it,” he says. “As I point out to them, if they are leased to a carrier and that carrier goes out of business, it could be hard finding another company to lease to during this economic downturn.”
Moving pictures For a video interview with the subject of this month’s Exit Only, visit www.youtube.com/truckersnews. We caught up with TruckBytes founder W. Joel Baker at a shipper warehouse while his reefer was being loaded to talk about his military background, trucking career, two sons and the genesis of his efforts to develop the TruckBytes software.
Desiree Wood, subject of the “TruckerDesiree” column in September, shared coffee and recent efforts advocating on behalf of the “Jason’s Law” truck parking legislation with us at a Nashville, Tenn., truckstop. Her dog, Karma (also pictured) added to the conversation.