The Two-Truck Transition
“It was pretty easy to say yes to more trucks. The economy was going good. I didn’t want to lease on to someone. To buy a truck and lease on to someone and expect to make a living — it’s foolish.”
Barton had a contract to haul three to five loads a week with multiple stops in Utah and Colorado. A couple of trucks had regular back hauls. “A piece of cake,” he says. “Drivers knew when they had to be back to pick up the next load. I was making good money.”
The collapse of the housing market reduced that contract to a load a week. Barton’s wife quit her job and joined his company, which he says saved his business. “She keeps dialing the phone looking for freight,” he says. “There are times my spirit gets trampled. She keeps hammering. There’s only so much you can do from the steering wheel of a truck.”
Barton and his wife picked up feed and manufacturing accounts in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, which represent 70 percent of his $850,000 in annual revenue. “We have a really excellent freight base right now,” says Barton, who expects to stay at five tractors. “We have loads available to us we can’t get to quick enough because we’re so small. We have to say no sometimes.”
Barton says when he factors in fuel costs, driver wages, insurance and taxes, total costs add to $1.20-$1.30 a mile. He’s getting $2 a mile minimum.
Jerry Kissinger likens adding a truck to gambling. “How do you make a little money? You start with a lot of money,” he says. “You’re rolling the bones.”
When Kissinger began running the family trucking business in the early 1990s, the company owned eight trucks and had more than 30 leased owner-operators . Kissinger’s Independent Operator, based in the Madison, Wis., area, now owns seven trucks and has six owner-operators. He’s had both company drivers and owner-operators bail out.
“If I had 20 trucks [with drivers] I could trust tomorrow, I could keep them loaded,” he says. “Our biggest problem is drivers start out gung ho but then start asking for time off for this and that. It’s hard for a small company with a few customers.”
Kissinger checks backgrounds and references but bases hiring decisions mostly on instincts. “I say, give it three months, because we’re not your average company. We’re a family operation and we like to run hard,” he says.
“I had a driver who had to take off for awhile, and he came back to me. I put him in a truck but had issues with the truck, so I went out and bought a brand new [Kenworth] T660. I feel that confident with him. With me, I’ve got to go with my gut.”
If Kissinger finds a driver he wants to hire, he says he can quickly locate a tractor. He says he’s considering a truck lease with an option to buy that includes maintenance. “That’s probably a pretty good thing when you want to try a driver without the expense of getting stuck with another payment,” he says.
A small working model
In 2001 Doug Bench bought a truck from an Idaho Falls company where he had been a driver, and began to earn 80 percent of each load. After a year, he used $18,000 he had saved to cover a truck down payment and repairs and hired a friend to drive for him.