Meet the Fleet

Change Orders

When the economy hit the skids, Big M improved efficiency and reduced deadhead miles

Most of Big M Transportation/Diesel Express’ fleet are Volvo trucks, since owner Michael Massengill’s first order in 2005.

In a recessionary economy, Big M Transportation/Diesel Express made changes to become more efficient. “We’ve had to be more creative about making money and searching for new business that’s profitable,” says President Michael Massengill.

For instance, the Blue Mountain, Miss.-based general freight hauler began looking for new customers. The company adjusted some of its routes and sought out business in areas of the country where it could find more profitable back hauls to northeast Mississippi that would reduce deadhead miles, Massengill says.

For another, the carrier started monitoring its equipment more closely. “In this tough economy, I went out and bought satellite tracking for all of our trucks,” he says. “We continuously monitor our trucks and went to 24-hour dispatch. We cut our out-of-route miles and are more efficient in our back hauls, cutting our deadhead miles to 9 percent.”

Also in 2009, the company made a move to better control its maintenance spending. It bought the maintenance facility of a furniture manufacturer that dropped its trucking operation, expanding from its former three bays to a 12-bay shop in 30,000 square feet.

The moves may be paying off. Massengill says freight began picking up last October and is continuing strong this spring, especially compared with a year ago.

Massengill, 44, comes from trucking roots. His father was a trucker who owned a small trucking company. After his father died when Massengill was 17, he, his brother and mother spun out Massengill Trucking from his father’s business. They started with six trucks and grew it to 180 when they sold out in 1998. Two years later, Massengill was at it again, launching Big M.

The company specializes in hauling furniture but transports commodities ranging from insulation to home products to tires and groceries. Most of its trips are east of the Mississippi River, with average length of haul at 650 miles.

Its fleet covers 200 tractors and about 500 53-foot dry vans. All but about 10 tractors are Volvos, and the trailers are from Trailmobile and Wabash.

Massengill’s relationship with Volvo began with a salesman who introduced him to the trucks. He used one as a test truck for a few weeks and liked it. He soon placed an order for 40 units in 2005. “We liked them, and the drivers liked them,” he says. The following year he ordered another 90 trucks. “It’s a nice recruiting tool down here because we run nice Volvos with sleepers. The ride, safety and performance are what we like. I’ve been buying trucks since 1988, and [Volvo is] the first company that I’ve dealt with people who are up the [corporate] chain.”

Pointing to the economy and the uncertainty over 2010 engines with new emissions-control technology, Massengill says he likely won’t buy new again until 2011. He may, however, consider buying late-model used Volvos later this year.

When Big M hires, it looks for drivers with at least three years of accident-free experience and a work history free of job-hopping. Drivers are paid 30-35 cents a mile and can earn drop, pick-up and layover pay.

The company slip-seats its trucks frequently. Drivers typically are on the road for four days before making it back home for two or three nights.

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