Small truck, big service

| December 12, 2008

“Melvin is a true hotshot,” says trucker John Brown, webmaster of hotshothauling.com. Today Brown’s a Class 8 over-the-road company driver with Mike Brooks Inc. of Knoxville, Iowa, but in 2004, he was transitioning out of a network technologies job in San Antonio. A friend, Robert Leonard of Poteet, Texas, had just bought a Dodge 3500 dually pickup and “was talking about running RVs and boats and stuff,” Brown says. “We got on the Internet and started looking around, and truthfully we couldn’t find a whole lot of information.”

Leonard eventually leased to a small Indiana hotshot fleet, hauling RVs to Texas. One run with Leonard was enough to hook Brown, who started his own hotshot business and began building hotshothauling.com.

Kentucky Class 8 tanker owner-operator Rick Gaskill joined the forum when he was running RVs with his Dodge dually in 2005. “I was looking for better revenue for my truck,” he says. “I found this forum and was getting good information from it. The guys at hotshothauling.com are the most knowledgeable and helpful group of individuals I have seen on a forum.”

That’s important, because hotshotting is “a tough business,” Gaskill says. Perhaps the biggest gripe among responsible haulers is the competition from fly-by-night unregistered hotshots who haunt responsible online load-matching services such as Uship.com. “They make it tough,” Gaskill says.

Many operate this way simply out of ignorance, Leonard says. Some, however, know they’re supposed to have a DOT number, appropriate cargo and truck insurance, a CDL and everything else an independent Class 8 hauler needs. After Leonard found a Uship poster had used a false DOT number, he began to look at his hotshot forum as a counterweight to the crooks, a service to educate industry newbies.

“I’ve tried to talk to a lot of the guys on the site and really make sure they have all the correct information on legality,” Leonard says. “We have a little over 2,000 members today, but we have some dedicated members who’ve been there for a while and are extremely knowledgeable.”

Similarly, broker Gary McGaha of M&H Logistics of Phelan, Calif., recently launched ltlhotshot.myfreeforum.org to spread the word about his particular niche, less-than-truckload hotshotting. “I was looking at the trucking forums and finding a lot of questions that were left unanswered,” McGaha says.

Two and half years ago, McGaha was an independent owner-operator running a three-truck Class 8 LTL fleet. He’d just bought a new Dodge one-ton as a personal vehicle, though “I had it in the back of my head that I could use it moving LTL freight.” Then fuel prices ballooned.

“I parked the big trucks,” McGaha says. “I sent my brother out in my Dodge, and we were seeing a much better profit margin than we saw in the big trucks.” The Dodge was pulling in a higher gross revenue than any of his big trucks had been, McGaha says.

Owner-operator Mike Marvel has hauled M&H loads for less than a year. Based north of Kansas City, Mo., Marvel estimates his capital investment in his start-up business to have been around $50,000, counting his Dodge cab and chassis, a 53-foot Hefty lowboy, insurance, authority and everything else. Though the LTL business model typically includes a fair amount of downtime, Marvel calls McGaha a godsend for his ability to find freight fast. “Gary comes from the old school, which says overall you ain’t making any money if the truck ain’t moving,” Marvel says.

While Acme Truck Line’s Benoit says it’s more common to see Class 8 owner-operators coming into the hotshot market than the reverse, Gaskill, Brown and Leonard all are now running Class 8, Brown and Leonard as company drivers. “I’ll be burning somebody else’s fuel rather than mine,” Leonard says.

Hotshotters such as Brooks Transport are true survivors, Gaskill says. “People talk about how truckers used to be the knights of the highway and helped each other out and looked and acted like professionals,” Gaskill says. “You still find that in hotshotters. These guys are owner-operators with pride in their equipment and service. The good haulers like Brooks Transport have established a reputation for quality service that customers are willing to pay a fair rate for.”

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