Auto pilot

Jam Gil Relocation owner-operator Jim Gillman, after being burned by hiring bad drivers, now hires experienced car haulers.

Jim Gillman has a simple business philosophy: “If somebody pays you, you work quickly, and you do your best.”

Gillman lives and works by that mantra, and it shows. His Jam Gil Relocation System in Vero Beach, Fla., is stable and profitable, but reaching that point hasn’t been easy. He learned to avoid crooked brokers and found out the hard way that not all drivers share his work ethic.

Gillman bought his first truck in 1988 and leased to a large household moving company in Connecticut. He moved to Florida in 1995 but continued to be disappointed with the temp workers needed for household moving.

“One guy rolled a washing machine down some stairs,” he recalls. That cost Gillman $2,000.

He quit household moving in 2002 and got into auto transport with his own authority and broker’s license. His girlfriend Elizabeth, stepdaughter Angela and her husband Chano all help.

Jam Gil Relocation hauls cars to the Northeast and Midwest with an owner-operated Peterbilt 379 and three employee-driven trucks, two Peterbilt 378s and a Volvo. Gillman also runs a Dodge pickup with a two-car flatbed. He drives about 60,000 miles a year.

Gillman goes the extra mile for his customers. He expects the same from his employees and pays them accordingly – a hefty $1,500 a week.

“The drivers make more than I do,” Gillman says. His business grossed over $400,000 last year, but his personal pay was only about $50,000.

“This is the first job where I ever wanted to buy my own equipment, because the money’s here,” says Steve Ossolinski, who drives the 379 Pete with owner-operator Robert Arrington. “I’ll spend money to make money.”

Ossolinski did just that when he bought a new, diesel-powered Chevy pickup with king cab and dual rear wheels. “Robert and I have a three-car trailer for it up north,” he says.

“We have a cradle that fits on a pickup’s flatbed, so we can haul boats, too,” Gillman says. “The cradle comes apart and fits in the pickup bed. We backhaul cars, golf carts, motorcycle trailers, anything.”

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

In addition to having proper equipment, making a proper first impression is crucial in their line of work.

“It seems easy, but you have to work at it,” Arrington says. “You’re constantly dealing with the public, and you have to show courtesy.”

“Some guys arrive at a customer’s house, and they haven’t shaved or showered in a week, they’re not in uniform, wearing pants with holes and a T-shirt with a pot leaf on it,” Gillman says. “They have cigarettes flopping from their mouths and flip them into a customer’s bushes while he’s watching out the window. What impression does that make?”

Such experiences with drivers led Gillman to hire car haulers with more experience, such as Arrington. “This is the third time I’ve hauled cars,” Arrington says, “and the third time’s a charm.”

“I went with inexperienced guys before, but the last guy I did that with wrecked a truck and a car on his first trip,” Gillman says. “We’ve had trucks stolen and wrecked. One driver just disappeared. They found the truck a month later in the Everglades, stripped down.”

Another driver ran Gillman’s Cat-powered 378 out of coolant, even though alarms were buzzing and warning lights were blinking.

“He said he didn’t want to stop,” Gillman says. “He called and said, ‘I think something’s wrong with the truck.’ When I got there, the oil temperature was over 300 degrees. The dipstick handle burned my fingers.”

The pain went beyond his fingertips. “Paying $15,000 for a new engine really hurt.”

One driver sold fuel from the truck. Another innocently borrowed the freight. “He parked the truck in the yard, backed a car off and came here,” Gillman says. “I asked him about the car, and he said, ‘I got it off the truck.'” Because pre-transport mileage is noted, any unauthorized driving creates a problem.

Gillman still has nightmares about one of his drivers wrecking a customer’s car. “Just one of those really big claims will put you under,” he says.

Gillman’s other big problem has been brokers. He doesn’t do business with about half of those dealing in auto transport.

“A lot of them aren’t licensed or insured,” he says. “They don’t have trucks, but they sound like they have fleets.”

While freight brokers deal with companies, auto transport brokers deal with individuals, Gillman says.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates freight brokers, but fly-by-night auto transport brokers just set up fancy websites and ignore the rules,” he says. “To be a real broker, you have to be registered with the FMCSA and insured and bonded.” Gillman says some brokers underbid: say, $680 instead of $700 to ship a car to Boston.

“They fish customers in with $20 discounts, then hit them with $250 or $300 down payments and keep it all. That leaves $400 or $450 for shipping. No reliable carrier will haul cars from South Florida to Boston for that. The cars sit, sometimes for weeks.”

Gillman plays it straight. “When we get cars we can’t haul, like to Washington or something, we broker them out at an average profit of about $75,” Gillman says. The remaining lion’s share quickly attracts quality carriers. The car moves quickly, and the customer is happy.
Not so with some brokers. Dissatisfied customers who cancel lose their down payments. Others can’t even find the broker.

“Sometimes they broker out a lot of cars and then they disappear, and so does your money,” Gillman says.

“One guy who owns a Porsche went with a bad broker before he came to us,” Gillman says. “He got his Porsche a week late with 500 more miles on it.”

“We have regular customers who won’t deal with brokers.” Gillman says. “They’ve been hosed before. They want their cars hauled on our trailers.”

Carriers get burned, too.

“That’s only happened to us once,” Gillman says. “But we’re lucky. Others have got burned a lot more than we have.”

“If we have to bill the broker to get paid after we deliver the car, and he’s only been in business three weeks, and we’ve never heard of him before, then I won’t deal with him, especially if he has a lot of cars out,” Gillman says.

Some brokers withhold payments owed to carriers, sometimes for months.

“The carrier takes all the risks,” Gillman says. “He has to pay for insurance and do all the work. All a shady broker pays for is the Internet.

“They tie up our money. We’re financing them, and they’re the ones with no overhead.”

Gillman has learned how to spot and avoid shady brokers, and he’s formed relationships with ones he trusts.

“We have a couple of brokers who we use, and their system is the same as ours,” Gillman says. “They charge $75 or $100 to set up a load, they don’t charge a down payment, and they get paid when we do – when we hand over the keys.”

With such solid practices and the invaluable asset of a good reputation, Gillman will be successful, Arrington says. “He’s very good with people, his customers and drivers. He goes the extra mile.”

Gillman’s success has meant success for his drivers, too. Repeat business, often to customers living in $2 million homes, means his drivers get heartfelt praise and tips as high as $50.

“Customers thank us over and over for delivering their cars clean and undamaged,” Arrington says. “They’re satisfied, and that matters to us.”

Showcase your workhorse
Add a photo of your rig to our Reader Rigs collection to share it with your peers and the world. Tell us the story behind the truck and your business to help build its story.
Submit Your Rig
Reader Rig Submission