Long-haul or regional operations?

How Far Do You Go?

Owner operational choices often hinge around proximity to home and income opportunities

Dan Heister, an owner-operator leased to Boyd Bros. Transportation, prefers to get loads in the Southeast close to his Tennessee home. “Most of the time I stay in one area and make decent money, and I don’t have to run my truck into the ground as much,” he says.

Dan Heister hauls cast-iron pipe and steel tubing mostly in the Southeast and Midwest for Boyd Bros.

Mike Burbidge, owner of Triple T Logistics and leased to Landstar Ranger, goes for long hauls. He’s single with no children or grandchildren living near his Salt Lake City home. “There’s more money in the long haul, running coast to coast,” he says.

Heister and Burbidge take opposite paths to the same goal of making a good living on the road. For many owner-operators, the choice of long-haul or regional comes down to personal priorities and revenue.

Todd Amen, president of owner-operator financial services firm ATBS, says lifestyle choices often determine the hauling choice. Being on the road takes operators away from their families for extended time periods. “Family responsibilities can suffer, and relationships can suffer in that scenario,” he says.

If you’re single, the choice might look different. “If I’m a single guy and want to knock it out of the park, make more money and run out on the road for weeks at a time away from home, long-haul probably makes sense,” Amen says.

Truck choice may differ depending on which route you choose. Running long miles over the road will probably require a newer truck with fewer miles and no significant problems. You can’t afford to break down far from home and your local repair shop, Amen says. If you’re running closer to home, breakdowns may be less of a headache. You’d be closer to your familiar maintenance facility and towing cost would be less.

You can make money either way, Amen says. “A regional hauler can make really good money, but I think the industry knows a driver will sacrifice some money to have a better lifestyle and be home more often. It might be a 5- to 10-percent swing [in favor of long-haul].”

Being flexible will pay off. Amen says today’s brighter freight environment, unlike that of two years ago, is creating better hauling options for long-haul and regional or local. At the same time, you may have to be flexible in what type of hauling you do, especially if you’re early in your career. Amen estimates that you would probably have the option of longer or shorter runs if you are leased to the top 40 fleets. “A carrier below perhaps 400 trucks may not” have much flexibility built into their operation, he says.

If you’re early in the game as an owner-operator, you might learn more about trucking and running a business on the road. Talk with other truckers about the pros and cons of their operations.

If you’re more experienced and have your sights set on building your own small fleet, a regional run might suit you better, Amen says. That way you can devote more time to adding another truck, recruiting a driver and landing customers.

Long-haul warrior

Mike Burbidge has been an owner-operator 22 of his 23 years on the road. As a solo operator, he finds his loads through the internal Landstar load board, monitoring other load boards and by reaching out to brokers and shippers. He regularly sends e-mails to solicit hauls in a specific city or area, landing about a third of his business through his own marketing. “I get some good loads out of that,” he says. “It helps the bottom line.” Yet crisscrossing the country and constantly tracking down loads has taken its toll. Burbidge is considering leaving the road and getting into the brokerage business. “I’m tired of the nomadic lifestyle,” he adds.

Regional runner

Dan Heister believes he has the best trucking combination — working close to home and making a decent living. He gets home most Friday nights to spend the weekend with his family before hitting the road again Sunday afternoons. He also finds time to ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and take care of his collection of vintage Ford automobiles.

From a pay standpoint, Heister chooses shorter runs that usually pay a percentage of revenue. He says he has friends who pull longer hauls but don’t always make more than his shorter-mileage runs. “A lot of times the 200-mile load, after [paying for] fuel, you actually make more money than the 600-mile load some days,” he says. “Miles aren’t always the [most important] thing.”