Previously in this series: The lowdown on downsizing: Hauling in the cargo van owner-op niche
Load One-leased fleet owner Steve McNeal of Holland, Michigan, runs his West Michigan Expedite business from the home shop, but he started out behind the wheel of a van doing nonexpedited work.
When Lyme disease forced him out of the driver’s seat 10 years ago, he took his two vans to Express-1 Expedited Solutions until XPO bought the company early this decade and changed the rate structure.
His vans had been set up to get higher rates by being capable of handling more weight. After the change, that no longer applied, McNeal says, and “revenue dropped significantly. I had met a couple people from Load One that were on good terms with John Elliott,” the company’s CEO. There, he found a new home.
Payment at Load One for contracting owner-operators and fleet owners is based on percentage, notes Elliott and McNeal. McNeal believes it’s the “ultimate in fairness” to contracted parties, he says, including independent contractor drivers with his 13-van fleet. “If Load One gets a great rate, everyone shares in that.”
His leased fleet’s growth over the years can be seen as a testament to both his appreciation for what a driver needs on the road and his design-build acumen. Those attributes increasingly are setting his operation apart from the competition in what Elliott and others contend is a generally oversupplied cargo van market.
Years ago, McNeal began purchasing cutaway vans and designing a single-bed sleeper behind the cab. For the cargo area, he designed a lightweight aluminum-constructed box capable of accommodating up to six skids — double the pallet capacity of a stock van, if not the weight capacity.
“It certainly is a freight opportunity that nobody else has,” he says. If a load includes “four to six skids, there isn’t another option except for straight trucks, and then you have to deal with hours of service and everything else.”
The sleeper has vented and screened windows on either side. McNeal and company built side compartments for the Harbor Freight generator and spare gas can he outfits the units with for supplying power to window-unit air conditioners, useful when it’s hot and a solo driver needs a nap. (McNeal has just one team contracted to him.) He knows the details of what’s necessary for his drivers’ needs and has long experience outfitting his vans on a budget — another part of “what gives me an advantage,” he says.
Next in this series: Cargo van hauling: Operating with authority, and the ‘multicarrier’ model