Trucker of all trades
Trucking came naturally to Randy Munson. At 15, he was already repairing trucks his father hauled milk in from the family’s dairy farm. Now, after 29 years, he has a unique perspective of the trucking industry, having been, not only a driver, but also a driving instructor, truck financier and salesman, and a used truck re-furbisher with his own shop. “All of my experience helped me understand the business standpoint of trucking, and the ideas behind it,” says 46-year-old Munson, an owner-operator from La Crescent, Minn.
He moved from repairs to driving at 18, when he received a chauffeur’s license to haul grain from his family’s farm to the Mississippi River. Years later Munson’s father expanded the family business to include several trucks, which he leased to other drivers. Munson bought his first truck, a GMC Astro, in 1980, but the truck was leased to another driver. “I didn’t really become an owner-operator until 1984, when I traded that truck in and started pulling tankers,” he says. “I had owned, but never operated.”
After his father died in 1987, Munson left trucking to run the family leasing business. He also donated two trucks to Winona Technical College in Winona, Minn. He says he’s unsure whether it was his generosity or his reputation that earned him his next trucking job in 1989 as a driving instructor at the college.
Ready for the road again five years later, Munson left teaching and bought a new Peterbilt. “When I bought the truck, the dealership asked me if I’d be interested in a job,” he says. He turned them down, but a year later accepted the job and became the finance and used truck manager at the Peterbilt of Wynona, Minn. dealership.
“Right from the beginning, doing maintenance on my father’s trucks helped to put things in perspective,” says Munson of an unconventional career. Each of Munson’s off-road trucking jobs has helped him succeed as an owner-operator.
After 11 years with the dealership, Munson bought a 1994 Mack CH 613 and leased to Setterlund Trucking in Minnesota. Two years later he acquired his own authority. “I really do enjoy being out on the road, especially early in the morning and late in the evening on the two-lane roads,” he says.
Still, after two decades in the industry, Munson is stung by the Achilles heel of owner-operators. “Low freight rates translate into poor cash flow,” says Munson. “Without cash, mechanical repairs are put on hold, vision is lost, and desperate decisions are made.” He currently makes seasonal shuttles around Lacrosse, Wis., hauling Mike’s Hard Lemonade and hauls bagged flour for MBM Logistics between shuttle loads and in the off-season.
He says that understanding profit is critical to success. “When you do a haul and you collect $1,000, you have to understand that you didn’t make $1,000; you made pennies a mile,” he says. Munson says that without knowing their cost per mile, drivers cannot determine an acceptable minimum per-mile rate. “These are live-and-die numbers for any owner-operator, and they’re not always easy to distinguish,” he says. “Unexpected repairs, fuel cost changes and other expenses can make these numbers a moving target, so they deserve a lot of attention.”
A good business sense, some mechanical ability, a cash cushion, a strong work ethic and a career vision are essential, Munson says.
Those who know him say he applies those tenets wholeheartedly. Kurt Kramer, dispatcher for MBM Logistics, says Munson “balances work with us and other companies, and he always goes the extra mile to give the company and himself a good name,” describing him as courteous and consistent. “If he tells you he’s going to do it, you know he’s going to do it and get it done on time.”
As for Munson’s mechanical ability, Steve Bjerke, service manager at Lacrosse Truck Center Mack, has overseen repairs on Munson’s trucks for a decade. “Randy is very safety conscious,” says Bjerke, adding that Munson brings his truck in for service when the repair is one he can’t muster.
A second source of revenue comes from a truck shop Munson purchased in 2002. “Between my truck and six trailers there’s always something going on there,” he says of the shop where he refurbishes used trucks and polishes aluminum wheels. Munson balances driving, working in the shop and spending time with his wife and three grown children, now in college. He says he enjoys being home most nights now and made $40,000 in as many miles last year, in addition to the income from his shop.
“Trucking has its ups and downs like new trucks and used trucks, but overall I enjoy driving,” says Munson. He was able to find jobs near home while his children were young and still be involved with the industry. Throughout his career, Munson has been able to keep one ideal in focus: the vision to see a better future and work toward it.