Fast Freight

| April 07, 2005

Davey and Terri Barnett say hauling expedited allows them more time to enjoy their hobbies like shopping for antiques and visiting historic sites.

Terri Barnett will often wake from a nap in her sleeper, turn to her husband and partner in their one-truck business, and ask what state they’re in. Davey will tease back, “We’re in Missouri, but you’re in the state of confusion.”

“We’re in a different state every day,” Terri says, explaining their fast-paced, expedited trucking business, a rapidly expanding transportation niche drivers say pays better and offers more freedom than conventional applications. The expedited industry, in which loads as small as a fist and as large as a truckload are ferried across towns, states and even the country on tight schedules, has exploded since the early 1980s. Tens of thousands of truck drivers and small vehicle carriers have carved out the segment as shippers and manufacturers have moved away from warehouses to just-in-time delivery.

The expedited industry, which began with companies like Robert’s Express, now FedEx Custom Critical, and mom-and-pop carrier operations, has even attracted the attention of mainstream truckload giants like Schneider National, which launched a division three years ago and has 750 teams dedicated to expedited today. The reason? Money.

Automotive manufacturers, high-tech firms and the medical industry are willing to pay a premium for door-to-door services that guarantee fast delivery times and exceptional customer service. For truckers, that premium translates into better pay and fewer miles. But don’t think it comes without it’s own unique stresses.

“I cried for the first six months we were on the road,” says Terri Barnett, who hauls for FedEx Custom Critical out of Arlee, Ala. “Davey would look to make a right turn, and I’d glare at him.”

The Barnetts, who hauled and set up mobile homes locally before joining FedEx Custom Critical, had just built a house and were waiting for the birth of their fifth grandchild. But the opportunity was too good. Now they relish their time on the road because they can take themselves out of service to see historical attractions and shop for antiques.
For Ben and Melanie Easters, owner-operators from Houston, Tex., with Panther II Transportation, the transition was easier because they already hauled over-the-road. They were attracted to expedited by the promise of fewer miles on their Volvo 770 and more respect from customers.

“We get to see a different side of the freight business,” Ben Easters says. “It’s not as bad on your truck for the same money. And we’re not treated the same way as in the regular side of the freight business. We’re treated as somebody, as professionals.”

Typically, expedited drivers receive higher per-mile rates and drive fewer miles over the course of a year. Drivers say their annual salary works out to be the same as it would be in other applications, but the wear and tear on their trucks is less.

But on the other side of the coin, carriers expect more out of their haulers: spotless motor vehicle records, a high-level of efficiency, an eye towards customer service and strong business habits.

The Barnetts, for instance, are part of FedEx Custom Critical’s White Glove Service and must have government background clearance and meet other rigid standards to accept their loads. The loads pay better – the couple once hauled a load in Utah for $12 a mile – but their customers expect a load to be on time and in perfect order.

“We live on a pretty short fuse,” Davey says. “On-time is where it’s at.”

That means very few stops and no time at truckstops along the way. The couple once picked up a load destined for a factory that had shut down. The factory, which is located in a Southern state, was waiting on the load to restart operations and was losing thousands of dollars an hour. A blizzard that had closed freeways in the Midwest threatened to delay their arrival, so the couple had to reroute hundreds of miles to make the delivery on time. Their load: a 3-pound bearing the Barnetts stored in their sleeper.

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