Trucker of the Year 2007: Dream team
The success of Albert Transport is evident in the home Henry Albert and his wife, Karen, built on a wooded lot for $380,000. Albert estimates its current value at $460,000, but given the area’s growth, he expects it to continue to climb.
“Failure is not an option” reads the motto on owner-operator Henry Albert’s favorite coffee mug purchased during a family vacation to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Those five words sum up the 43 year old’s philosophy of trucking — and of life. They have motivated Albert to succeed in his many competitive endeavors, from showing jumper horses as a youth in Pennsylvania to racing stock cars and launching his own independent trucking business, Albert Transport Inc.
Albert’s “perseverance and consistency” have brought him success, says Karen Albert, his wife and business partner for 18 years. After 10 years as an independent, Albert now enjoys a network of loyal customers and an income that enabled him to build a 2,800-square-foot brick home on a 2 1/4-acre lot in a gated community with lake access.
Albert, who now pulls a flatbed from his home near Statesville, N.C., to the East Coast and back, equates building his business to baking a cake. “You can’t be successful if all you have is icing and confection on top,” he says. “We built a consistent cake with solid business.” He started with general freight, then slowly moved into higher-dollar loads. Now that things are running smoothly, Albert is happy to add a little more icing. Being named Overdrive’s 2007 Trucker of the Year, he says, makes his success all the sweeter.
While Albert takes a methodical approach to business, speed is his first love. Every weekend from 1985 to 1989, he raced stock cars at the Port Royal Speedway in Pennsylvania. In 1988, he won 10 of the 20 races in which he competed – and a street stock car division championship.
With dreams of entering NASCAR sporting divisions, Albert moved with his new bride to Charlotte, N.C., where he financed his racing ambitions by working as a company driver for Grinnell Supply Sales, hauling pipe out of the Northeast. Money was tight. In the Alberts’ rental house, “if you bumped into the coffee table with the vacuum, it fell over,” Albert says.
Unable to land a lucrative racing sponsorship, Albert instead focused on starting his own trucking business using the lessons he learned on the track. “Racing taught me to set realistic goals,” he says. In racing, rather than focusing on winning, “we started with the goal of finishing.” Taking the same cautious approach with their business, the Alberts began researching and planning long before they bought their first truck. “We spent a good two years running the numbers on it before we did it,” Albert says. Too many owner-operators “get on the hamster wheel running fast,” he says. “They buy a truck before they have customers, end up running brokers and can’t get beyond that.”
Karen, who has a background in hotel-meeting sales and real estate, started looking for customers. At the local library she researched companies in the lumber, brick and steel industries. “I’d call them and say: ‘If I had a truck, would you have business for us?’”
Albert consulted with a U.S. Small Business Administration representative in developing a business plan. “He made us cross a lot of problem areas,” he says. For example, Albert estimated his costs higher than he thought they would be, assuming tires would last half their normal life and calculating his income 25 percent less than he would probably make. “By doing my calculations like this, I was able to determine if I could survive financially in less than ideal conditions,” he says.
When Albert was ready to launch his business, the SBA representative asked him: “Why’s anyone going to use you?” Albert responded that he would ask potential customers to let him haul for their hardest-to-please clients. That’s just what he did, and he quickly won them over. “I’d show up first thing in the morning with a box of doughnuts,” Albert says. “They couldn’t be mad.”
Albert averages 115,000 miles per year, running north or south 500 to 600 miles, hauling granite, wallboard, building materials and, during the holiday season, Christmas trees. Covering the same ground “gets boring, but boring is good because you know where your next dollar is coming from,” he says.
When going after business, Albert learned early to strike one term from his vocabulary: backhaul. “As soon as you use that word, they know where to go with the rate,” he says. In his world, there are only “loads in the other direction.” He also learned to maximize revenue by getting an early start. “If you haven’t made most of your money by Wednesday, it probably won’t be as good of a week,” he says.
In 1999, the Alberts decided to expand their business by leasing owner-operators, and at one time had four trucks leased. Karen left her job in real estate to handle dispatch, billing and sales. She describes the experience as “mentally and physically draining. One owner-operator had heart problems. Another one had truck problems. The third one learned from us, and he and his wife went out on their own.” Finding owner-operators with a work ethic comparable to theirs proved a challenge. “One asked for time off the second week on the job,” Karen says.