Top dollar

| December 12, 2008

Even after putting down $18,000 in cash toward his 2006 Peterbilt 379 a year ago, stepdeck hauler Larry Kogl, leased to Landstar, still earned $40,000 last year.

Alvin Baldwin of St. Louis, a heavy-haul owner-operator leased to Greatwide subsidiary Dallas & Mavis, made a New Year’s bet with his dispatcher: He would gross $100,000 in the first 100 days of 2006. To Baldwin’s annoyance, a wreck that wasn’t his fault put his paid-off 1999 Western Star out of commission for part of January, so his 100-day earnings was only $85,000. Still, he expects to net $115,000 this year, on a gross of $350,000 – even better than the $102,000 he netted in 2005 and the $94,000 he netted in 2004.

When contacted in mid-September, Baldwin had lined up a load from Florida to Maine that would gross him $13,000, of which $10,000 would be profit. So what if he had to deadhead 1,000 miles to pick it up? Baldwin says he’s doing too well to waste time “bitching like a driver.”

“If you want, you can make money out here,” Baldwin says.

American Truck Business Services in Denver knows this to be true, because it handles the books for approximately 30,000 leased owner-operators. But what do its most successful clients, and their fleets, have in common?

To find out, Overdrive, asked ATBS to check average net incomes for its clients, who are spread throughout most of the nation’s leading carriers, and identify the three fleets where leased owner-operators take home the most money at the end of the day. Then Overdrive asked owner-operators and officers at each of those fleets – Greatwide, Landstar and FedEx Custom Critical – to share their success secrets. The consistent answer: partnership, mutual support and mutual respect. From the executive side, those qualities make perfect sense: Being 100 percent owner-operator, Landstar and FedEx Custom Critical hardly can afford to alienate their partners. (Dallas & Mavis is also exclusively owner-operator; Greatwide is not.)

“The driver bears 95 percent of the company’s reputation on his shoulders,” Baldwin says. “I do good customer service. I take pride in what I do.”

Such dedication warrants dedication in return, says Virginia Albanese, vice president of operations and customer service at FedEx Custom Critical. “We not only need to recruit fabulous contractors to come in the door, we need to listen to them, to communicate with them, and to help them find ways to be successful,” Albanese says. “If contractors are not enjoying what they’re doing, not keeping busy, not putting money in their pockets, they are not going to stay.”

Irving, Texas
4,487 Owner-operators
controlling 5,460 trucks
Average net income: $65,000 to $75,000

Told about Alvin Baldwin’s latest income projection for 2006, Brian Kinsey, president of Greatwide Truckload Management, is impressed – to a point.

“He’s good,” Kinsey says. “He hustles. But he is not in the least bit unique. There are 80 others at Dallas & Mavis like him.”

Baldwin’s most recent load from Florida to Maine, for example, paid him $6,500 plus a $3,500 surcharge, $10,000 total. But more important than any surcharge, Baldwin says, is how he chooses his loads, controls his expenses – in short, how he runs his business.

He figures his revenue not only per mile but also per hour, because of the nature of his business. Hauling a 16-foot-wide, 65-foot-long yacht, or an oil-rig generator down a Wyoming logging road, Baldwin might run only 100 miles in a day; DOT regulations don’t allow him to haul oversized loads after sunset.

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