In today's Overdrive Radio edition, catch points of view on the absolute necessity of work-life balance for your personal sanity, and for the success of your business. That balance can be particularly elusive for independent owner-operators, as Silver Creek Transportation owner Jason Cowan well knows -- he spent much of his early career in those shoes with just a single truck himself, and in some ways balance might be hardest for you who fit that bill.
In this edition, we’ll walk through a variety of strategies to achieve the goal of healthy success. The podcast features the bulk of the late-May webcast presentation and discussion Overdrive hosted with Cowan, our big 2021 Small Fleet Champ winner, and Adam Wingfield, who’s head of the Innovative Logistics Group consultancy, also a past independent owner-operator himself.
Though home time and other personal-life concerns play a large part, work-life balance isn’t all about those things -- in part of the Q&A at the end of the live webcast, which was sponsored by the Bestpass company, Wingfield responded to a question about how to cope with the stress a down market puts on everyone. Direct that stress toward the right spot, he advised, invoking the calls to protest that have accompanied falling rates in the spot market. "One thing you can protest is how you're running your business," he said, to look closely at it to make sure you're utilizing the right "day-to-day policies and processes" for maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
There's plenty more from Wingfield on that score. And small fleet owner Cowan, throughout, offers perspective on ways to build business with driver employees and owner-operator contractors in mind. He mentioned the difficulties so many have attracting younger folks willing to stay in trucking as drivers. All trucking companies -- from those who pay the most to those who pay the least -- seem to need drivers 24/7/365. “Maybe this is not a money thing,” he said of fleets' effort to keep the best among operators. While getting drivers home more often and/or on regular timetables is part of his mission as Silver Creek Transportation owner, that’s certainly not all there is to it.
Find the full video of the webcast above, or listen via the players below.
Todd Dills: All right, why don't we get going? We're right at right about 1:00. I just want to introduce myself. I'm Todd Dills, the editor of Overdrive, and I want to say thanks for joining us live for this event. We're going to go ahead and get started here with two presenters speaking to work-life balance challenges over the road, and plenty in the way of ideas for solutions, whether you're a one truck owner-operator or managing a small fleet. But before we dive into the meat of this, I wanted to go ahead and introduce Michael Coleman. He's a sales manager with the company Bestpass, today's event sponsor. Michael's going to share a little brief introduction to the company and today's event for you.
Micheal Coleman: I will. Nice to be here. Thank you, Todd. So Bestpass is a toll management provider. We cover 100% of the major toll roads coast-to-coast. We work with over 15,000 fleets and drivers customizing solutions to fit your needs. We recently signed a partnership with Drivewyze to provide weigh station bypass service, and the ultimate goal is to integrate everything so it makes everything easier for you and that's why we're excited to sponsor this event. Anything we can do to help you guys free up time, get you back to doing what you want to do and have that work-family balance, that's what we're all about and that's why we're here sponsoring this. So, we thank you for the opportunity.
Todd Dills: I appreciate it, Michael. Now we'll move on to our two panelists. A little later in the presentation, we'll hear from Overdrive's 2021 Small Fleet Champ competition winner, Jason Cowan. Cowan is the founder of Silver Creek Transportation based in Henderson, Kentucky. It's a fleet that grew out of his purchase of Bob Clark Trucking back in the early 1990s. He grew the business slowly through its first couple of decades and then began executing a plan to scale further beginning in 2018 when the fleet was just at nine trucks. And just five years later, Silver Creek has now passed 30 power units with a diverse customer base pulling liquid and dry bulk tanks, flatbeds, anhydrous ammonia, dry vans and more. We'll hear a lot from Cowan about the systems he's put in place with a goal of to help operators working with them to fundamentally improve their life experience.
But first, let's bring in Adam Wingfield. Adam's the founder and CEO of Innovative Logistics Group out of Charlotte, North Carolina. He specializes in solutions and services of carriers of all sizes, owner-operators, independent dispatchers among others. Adam developed a love for trucks from a young age and his truck driver uncle inspired him to pursue a career in trucking himself. Through the years as we'll hear, he's worked as an owner-operator leased on, then with authority and growing a small fleet before founding Innovative Logistics Group. As he goes through his first portion of this presentation, like I said, if you have direct questions, go ahead and type them using that Q&A button you see at the bottom of the screen. I'll be able to see them and relay them at the end of the presentation portion of the event.
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Adam, big thanks for joining us and why don't you go ahead and dive in. Marlin, if you can move that slide forward for us, that'd be great.
Adam Wingfield: Thanks Todd, and thanks to the panelists, Michael with such a great product with Bestpass. Wish we had stuff like that back when I was operating, but wanted to just dive right on in. And Todd gave you a little bit of a backstory to who I am and what my journey looked like, which is very different from what the journey of an independent or an owner-operator would look like today. However, it's very similar in a lot of different ways. One of the words that Todd just used that I thought was such transparency there was elusive when he described work-life balance. When we think about trucking as an industry and we think about the truck driver itself, I remember when I first began as an independent driver, I remember my actual coach at that time, who was my driver trainer ... I looked at him as my coach. He was my driver trainer. He said, "Hey Adam, I want you to think about this. Home time is one of the things that's going to be elusive to you, so you've got to be prepared to spend more time on the road than you do at home."
And then he subsequently said, "Well, to be more honest with you, you're going to visit home and you're going to live on the road." And that hit me hard because I was a young kid coming out of high school, really didn't understand what being away from home would look like until I got out there. When I first started, I started as a company driver. I was working for a mega carrier and at the time I was making $.23 1/2 cents a mile. When we think about driver pay and we think about all that good stuff, back then when I started we had the eight-hour breaks versus 10.
There was a lot of things that were a lot different. But that initial experience as a company driver really opened my eyes up to a lot of things when it came to having control of my own time and having control of my work-life balance. I moved on. I progressed quickly into lease ownership at the age of 23. And the reason why I wanted to do that is because I wanted to have a little bit more control over that work-life balance. What I found was almost the opposite because at that time when I shifted into that of an owner-operator, I didn't have that fail-safe to fall back on that a company driver would. Every single bit of responsibility was my own. In order to make sure that I was able to keep the truck note going and able to keep the wheels turning and being able to keep the lights on at home, I had to make sure I had kept that truck running.
So it was very, very challenging for me. The balance that I saw as an independent was really one of those things, almost like a mirage or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The trucking industry as a whole, and when it comes to deregulation back in the 1980s and what that did to the trucking industry, it really didn't even provide us with an oversight of what to truly expect as a truck driver.
Now, I love trucking. Trucking was always in my blood. I've always loved the smell of diesel fuel. There's nothing like coming out of your bunk and waking up, stepping out of the truck and smelling the good old smell of diesel at a TA Truck Stop on a Tuesday morning. But realistically, when you come back and look to it, one of the main reasons why I got into the trucking industry was number one was my love for trucks.
But number two most importantly was a personal story. It helped me get out of depression. When I got behind the wheel of a truck, it's just you and the road. It's just you, the road and some of the things that come with it that are not so good and some of the things that come with it were good. So then I really, really decided that as I progressed through as an independent, I realized that when I was leased onto a carrier, I realized at that point that maybe I could change and I can challenge that ideology by getting my own authority as I continue to chase that independency. Being an owner-operator and being leased to another company, I found out very quickly I still have some of those same ties as responsibility ties into a company driver. I just had the responsibility of owning a truck.
So I said, "You know what, self? Let's go ahead and chase a different level of independency," and I went out and got my own authority at that time. As I continued to challenge myself to really, really seek and seek out what that looks like for me as work-life balance came to, I decided to say, "Hey, you know what? Maybe I need to stop chasing load boys. Let me find some direct freight to provide me with a little bit more consistency and stability." Some of the things that I dealt with, both of my children when they were born, they were children to that of a truck driver. So you got to imagine on top of that, I had two girls and the thing I can tell you about being a girl dad, it's a little different. You got dance recitals. You've got all the cute stuff that I unfortunately wasn't able to be a part of.
And one of the things that really, really hit home for me is that I'll never forget. My youngest daughter, right before she was born, I had a load that had me out in the middle of Missouri, and it so happened I had a load of shingles coming back into the east coast that was delivering out in eastern North Carolina. The crazy thing about it is that as I was coming back, I was probably about two hours away from home when I got the call that she was about to be here. That really shook me to the core because once I got back to the hospital, she was born and called my dispatcher at the time and even though he said, "Hey congratulations," the next phrase was, "Hey by the way, what time you going to get those shingles delivered on Monday morning?"
That's when I knew that that work-life balance was one of those things that continuously were things that in my nature that were challenging for me. So what I decided to do from my own control perspective was really focus on that word independency. And, I tell independents, I tell owner-operators this all the time, especially ones that are looking to take control of their own circumstances. You've got to get your own customers. And, one of the things that I hear, and we hear it a lot throughout the industry ... and to me, it's propaganda-ish ... is that a single owner-operator or a single truck fleet owner or two truck fleet owner can't go out there and get direct freight.
That's not true. The very first thing I did was I got on the phone and I started calling farmers in my area on a Sunday. It so happened, the third telephone number that I talked to was the customer that provided me with the most stability that I ever had. At that point, that was when I had just one or two trucks at that moment but I was able to scale using that particular strategy. And as I continued to evolve and I continued to grow, I never changed what I did. I always went out and I was making phone calls.
So, even during the winter time when things slowed down on the farm, I had a dedicated contract with a Christmas tree manufacturer. Well, I don't want to say manufacturer because you can't manufacture Christmas trees, but they were actually a tree farm. And, that kept us busy during that time so that way during the springtime we were ready to rock and roll when things picked back up again.
But you've got to pursue direct contracts with shippers that load directly out of your area. I always call it the green mile. The green mile is if you look at your address and wherever that truck is sitting ... I don't care. Where you set that yellow and red valve, wherever you pull that yellow and red valve out and say, "Hey, this is where I'm going to lay my head," you need to do a zip code search of that area. You need to do a zip code search and search manufactures, distributors and shippers. It'll give you a listing of all of those that are in that particular zone.
And, one of the things I challenge the folks that are on this call and I challenge those folks on this webinar is that when you pull that listing out, be honest with yourself. Do all those people that showed up on that listing, do they know who you are and do they know what you do? Have you established a relationship with them? Because if not, then you're leaving some opportunities out there on the table. You want to make sure you're establishing those relationships with brokers as well to get you back to the house because a lot of times when you do dedicated freights, you're only going to be a one-way.
Now, there's times you'll have a two-way situation but dedicated freight is usually going to go one-way. Well, that's an opportunity for you to build that relationship with a broker to get you back in that area. And everybody wants to go out and bash the brokers, but I can tell you what. There's bad in every single level of this industry. There's also good at every single level of this industry. The people that are representing titles are still at the end of the day people. Just like you are an owner-operator or an independent, you are a person. Just like you're a driver, you are a person. Just like it's a broker or a shipper, those are people.
And one of the things that a lot of folks fail to realize is that people skills are very, very important. One of the things that as an owner-operator, and I can tell you transparently and for anybody else that was an owner-operator or a driver, being out there alone, out there on the road all the time, 70 hours a week behind a wheel, that takes a lot of your interpersonal skills and puts it to the back burner. So we don't have those practice moments where we're in there having conversations engaging with people. So a lot of times our people skills are not where they need to be, and when we don't have those people skills in place where they need to be, it's very, very difficult for you to be able to go out and have those conversations. And then number two, we're apprehensive to have those conversations because in the truck stops, we hear those folks saying, "Oh yeah, nah. You can't get it. It won't go that way. It doesn't work that way."
Well what I'll tell you is this, is that don't be most people because if you listen to what most people are saying, then you become most people. And if most people can't get direct freight, then you become the most people that can't get direct freight. The thing when you establish those relationships, this industry is relationship based. If I ever looked in any other industry that I've ever come in contact with, whether it be retail or whether it be food service, it doesn't compare to the relationships that trucking hinges off of. I can't tell you how many times where we've guided and we coached somebody to really speak about being on the relationship side, and once they got out of their own way and got out of their own internal fears of going out there and having conversations, they go out and they get their own direct freight.
I had a customer just two weeks ago that has been putting off that conversation and his green mouth for a year. He made one phone call, and obviously there is exceptions to every rule, but he had made one phone call and he sent me a text a week ago and said, "Hey Adam, I need some trailers as a resource because I just landed my first direct shipper." These are the things that are the result of that. More frequent home time because at that point you can reject the lanes that won't put you in a position that you want to, and then you can also have some planning predictability to where you can actually have that frequent home time and be able to have better family and community connection. And one of the things about the community side is ... and I'm from a small town and I know that in small towns there may not be the same resources. You may have to go out, you may have to deadhead a little bit. You may have to have to be a little bit more creative.
But the result of all of that is really having that community connection as, "Hey, you know what? I know a guy that knows a guy that has a truck that might need to do this." That's why it's so important for you to own your backyard. And here's the thing, now all of a sudden we look at where we're at right now and we look at what we call a freight recession. We're staring down a freight recession, and these are usually the times that owner-operators and small fleets start to really want to get out of their comfort zone because they know they can't rely on the spot market. But it's just like when you have a fleet, and one of the things that you're going to hear from Jason, who also has a fleet, is that one of the best times to recruit a driver is when you don't need one.
And it's just like the best time to look for freight is when you don't need it. It gives you that opportunity to be able to source other opportunities, create different lanes and make sure that you're involved in it. One of the things that I recommend when it comes to home time, get your family involved. Have them doing the Google searches. Have them getting you contact information. And even if you feel its comfortable, have them as the ones that make a couple phone calls just to break the ice. That first phone call that you have when you're reaching out to a shipper is not going to be the home run. You don't ask a woman to marry you on the first date. Well, some of you may do but that's not the whole plan of the action.
But, the same thing when you go into shippers is the first thing you want to do is, "I just want to introduce myself and let you know a little bit about me. I want to get an opportunity where I can sit down and I can talk to you on the side at a time that might not be as busy, but I just want to put a name to the face. This is what I do. I'm in the area. I wanted to get an opportunity to meet you and I would love to have an opportunity to see if we can do business together." Then one of the things that I found, which is really, really important is that those times, especially when the market is the way it is, you're going to spend a lot more time on the road than you want to. This is the time that as a business owner, as a CEO, you're going to make decisions that you like and there's going to be decisions that you're going to have to make that you don't like.
You're going to have to focus on the needs so that way you can focus the wants at a later time. Your needs is to keep these wheels turning and keep making money. One of the things that I wish that I was better at was adopting a rider and keeping a rider in the truck. Because when you bring a rider in the truck, whether it's the spouse, whether it's the kids, whether it's a close friend, it allows them to get the opportunity to see things from the windshield, see what it's like. I can tell you, folks that are non-drivers don't know what it really, really feels like to be out there. 10 years ago, 15 years ago, I remember there was this huge things on SportsCenter where it was like, "Oh, race car drivers are not athletes."
Well, until I got behind the wheel of a race car and realized what it felt like, it really changed my perspective on what it was like to be an actual race car driver. It's the same thing as a truck driver. And if you haven't been behind the wheel of a truck going down the highway, just going down 100 miles, depending on the terrain, depending on the load that you're hauling, it does some work to that body. And you've got to imagine doing that every single day for six consecutive days. I just recommend just putting that rider policy on there. As an owner-operator and as an independent fleet owner, even if you don't have the insurance under the policy that you currently have, seek alternative insurance so that way you can put somebody into the truck. And then most importantly, one of the things that I wish that I had back then when I first started was technology.
Back then honestly, I didn't have a cell phone until about six months into when I was doing my thing. When I first started, it was all about payphones and pay banks, and payphone banks. When you go to a truck stop, you got to sit there and you got to wait until someone else is done and get out on the phone, and that was the only contact that you had. There were no text messages like, "Hey, W-I-D or H-R-U." There was none of that stuff back then. Now things are advanced to where they have that, and one thing that some folks are really, really apprehensive to, they're apprehensive to adapting to technology. But in some cases, you've got to use technology for what it is and in using that technology for what it is, it'll help you get there. Man, if I had this back in the day where I was able to do FaceTime, I can't tell you how many loads that I would've FaceTimed on.
I can't tell you how many scenic overviews that I stopped on that I could just do a FaceTime from. And it really, really helps because when I think about mental health, there's two different healths that you really got to focus on as an independent owner-operator, as a driver owner-operator and even as a fleet owner itself. Because as a fleet owner, obviously you're not going to be the one that's dealing with these type of things, but you got to be able to provide the support when those folks need it. And when I think about the technology that we have now, to actually do FaceTime, and I think about back then that I didn't have that, man, I wish I had that. Making sure that you use that because the thing is that mental health ... and you got to just imagine it's lonely out there, very lonely.
You have very few people to talk to. I mean, when I was operating, the only people that we could talk to was on the CB radio. Well things advanced now and those folks that were on the CB radio, 90% of them you didn't want to talk to anyway. Things are a lot more advanced now and things are a lot more friendly to you to be able to do the things that are necessary. Now, I don't recommend using technology while you're driving down the highway, no texting and driving, no FaceTiming and driving. I want you to focus on the road and I want you to be safe. But during the times that you're taking those breaks and during the time when you're sitting down and having dinner, when you're having those 34 hour resets, one of the things that I tell all of my fleet owners is that make sure that when you're planning your 34-hour reset, you do just that. You're planning.
Don't just end up somewhere, and if you do, make sure that you have some alternatives and some options. Get away from the truck stop, y'all. Get away from the truck period. It's good for yourself to give yourself a little break, give yourself a chance to recharge and regroup and be able to go back behind the wheel of that truck. Because the thing about it is that I've been in situations where I'm a little frustrated. Whether you're having frustrations from a shipper, whether you got on the phone with a broker and got frustrated, and it immediately impacts the way that you drive. So when I think about that, and I'm not an aggressive driver, but at that point it changes your own perception of the motoring public. So you've got to be careful with that and you got to make sure that you're achieving that same type of tone when you're moving through.
So some key takeaways that I just wanted to give in this brief discussion is number one, first and foremost, is you got to be make sure that you take care of your mental health just as much as physical. One of the things is that when you think about success as a whole and you think about the folks that you're around, typically as a person, you mimic the five people that you're around the most. You mimic the five things that you listen to the most and you mimic the five behaviors that you've been involved in the most. And when you think about how important that is in mental health, and when we think about mental health, back then we didn't talk about mental health. That wasn't even part of the conversation. That wasn't part of the training. Nobody would tell you that man, you'll be extremely, extremely homesick and this is how you're going to have to handle it.
Make sure you take care of that. Also from a physical standpoint, I'll never forget, man, I was at a truck stop down in Florida and it was probably like 10:30, 11:00 at night. I went to a Flying J and I ordered the biggest breakfast I possibly could order. And I mean I'm talking about big, big. And I went back into the bunk and I went to sleep, and I felt like trash the next morning when it was time to run because I was so heavy at that point. The thing about that is that you got to take care of your physical being as well. There are not really good alternatives out there. When you go to a truck stop, and I don't want to call them out because you all know them, but think about the restaurants they have associated with these particular truck stops.
The great thing about it now where it wasn't back then when I was driving, Walmart's didn't have the Olive Gardens and the nice restaurants that were outside where you had enough room to pull a truck in, go get you a nice little dinner and be able to pull out and have access to major roads. Use those as your opportunity to go because honestly, you end up spending the same money at an Olive Garden or at a Red Lobster as you would at some of those restaurants that are at truck stops. Make sure you stay connected with home using that technology. The technology is important. Whether you're playing TikTok, doing TikTok dances with your four-year-old, all of that stuff bridges that gap and keeps you connected. I didn't have that when I was growing up and unfortunately my two children, one of them is grown now. I'm playing catch up. I'm playing catch up to all of the things that I missed out on. I'm playing catch up to all of the recitals.
And even though I won't be able to get those things back, I'm doing the things on the front side now that I wish I had done on the backside. Be careful with the food that you put in your mouth, and what I mean is we've all seen the professional drivers only little sections that they have in restaurants. Back then they allowed smoking at that point, so you'd go in there, it's like a puddle of smoke when you walk into them and everybody is Negative Nancy at that point. Just be honest. The trucking industry is an $875.7 billion dollar industry as of 2021. There's money to be made within the industry and it is a thriving industry. Don't let anybody else make you think otherwise.
Now are there ups and downs with it, just with anything else? Of course. But you direct that path, too, with your attitude. Your attitude plus your aptitude will determine your altitude. And when it's time to go home, guys and ladies, don't put a dollar sign on that. There is no load that is more important than those engagements that are really, really important at home. There's certain things that you can't get back, and sometimes just showing up for a football practice instead of taking that $5.00 a mile load will work wonders for your children.
So, when you think about the overall work-life balance, and you think about the industry as a whole, it is not designed for work-life balance. You have to create that. You have to take the action steps to do that. It's an action that is required because the industry itself is not designed for that.
Thank you for the time on these few minutes that I had the opportunity to share a little bit about my experience. I'm going to pass the microphone to my partner Jason, who's going to bring it on home for us.
Todd Dills: Adam, thank you. Before we jump over to Jason, I did want to just reiterate that if anybody's got a question, drop it down there in the Q&A. And before we move on to Jason, I did want to do a little bit of a transition here. What you see on the screen here is a couple of ... this one and the next one too will be from our Overdrive sister publication, CCJ. They do this annual What Drivers Want survey. And this will help transition to the next portion of the talk with Jason Cowan. I think the results from both of these questions offer some perspective to any of the small fleet owners in the audience and owner-operators thinking about making that move to add trucks and employ other operators in future years.
So what you're seeing here are the top four vote getters among the biggest concerns earmarked by both drivers and leased owner-operators among these survey respondents. When I look at this, it just stuck out to me given that all these point the way straight back toward home, as it were. Speaking to that technology piece that Adam mentioned to, results of a recent Overdrive survey that we conducted about cost and benefits of various communications technologies showed the second most appreciated benefit earmarked by all the respondents was the increased connection to home and family life enabled by technology.
Marlin, go ahead and hit that next slide for me, will you? With this question, I think one thing that it illustrates is that it is clear there's room for improvement in that work-life balance. As Adam emphasized just a moment ago, the industry's clearly not set up for it, but there's a lot we can do to create it. And what this also shows is some areas where I think there's a new generation of operators with somewhat different priorities than prior generations, and that's really impacting the choices carriers of all sizes are making when it comes to improved scheduling, particularly to get the operators home more often. But it's not all about home time of course, but it does play a big part. Jason Cowan of Silver Creek Transportation here will start out with what he's seeing from the younger generation of operators coming aboard with his fleet as it's growing. Take it away, Jason.
Jason Cowan: All right. And there again, I just want to reiterate thanks Michael for sponsoring this for us and doing that good work. And one of the things when I began to be thinking about taking our operation from an owner-operator mindset to a company mindset was one of the things that I think that we ought to do is we begin with where we want to end up in mind. So the things that we do today, how does that affect tomorrow? And some of the decisions that I've made as we have grown Silver Creek is not necessarily what would I do with at two, three, four, five trucks, but what systems do we want to place when we have 30, 50 or 100 trucks? It's always really been inside of our culture to say, when we get there we want to be ready for that opportunity, because I understand as well as many of you do that if your opportunity is there and you're prepared, then you can take advantage of it.
But if it's not, then it's there. So the driver issue has always been one of the things that has been at the forefront of our operation, because without a driver we don't have a truck that can go down the road. So I want to begin to look, and as you hear that term thrown around so much, "We're a family company or a family culture" but what does that really mean and what does the new generation of driver want? And one of the greatest things that I think that we can find is just to listen to what they're telling you and listen to what their actions are as to what they want. I think some of the things that's different with our younger generation of drivers that are coming along now is the need that we all have for a driver. As I was coming up through the ranks and began as a company driver and then I drove for a local small company here in Henderson, and then as we bought our own company, those times were different.
We had pretty much all of the driver pool that we needed. There were always plenty of drivers available. They all tend to want just to work. It was a different time. I think the younger generation is seeing the value of a home-work life balance, and I think in this industry, sometimes in the past we thought it's a badge of honor is how much have I stayed away from home and how long have I been gone? And I almost would hear guys talk about, "I didn't get to see my kids or my family. My kids grew up." So, when we begin to look at the younger generation of drivers, I think they're looking at their home life balance different than maybe even what we did. They're wanting that time off so that they can participate in the things that they do.
One of the things as we were talking about it this week that has changed so much and actually we have dealt with in our operation just this week is it's the end of school, and at the end of the school year, maybe a generation ago we would see you would graduate from kindergarten, then maybe graduate from sixth grade or middle school, or high school and you'd have those two things. Well, what we see now is every grade, every level has some type of recognition for their kids. You might have a second grade graduation or third. Well, all of our drivers, or a majority of them that have young kids, they want to be a part of that. And so, it has been a struggle for our load planners just this week to try to strike that balance for them where they can see their kids do the things that they do in school.
Whereas, I don't think maybe the generations ago that would've been as much of a concern. It would've been less. So what we're seeing is that we have to change our attitude toward what home time really is for our drivers. And to me, if we have a driver who has a healthy home life balance, if he has a healthy marriage, if he's married, or she has a healthy marriage if they're married, we see that that makes them also a better driver while they're in the truck. The big one is time off. I think what we've seen at Silver Creek in the last couple of years through the pandemic and the need for drivers is that the tendency is to get a driver, we need to throw more money at it. And then one day we realized, "Wow, the guys who pay the most need drivers, the guys that are paying the least need drivers and the guys in the middle need drivers."
So, maybe this is not a money thing. Maybe this is something else that we need to do for them, and time off is a big one. So many of our drivers would prefer a Friday or a Monday versus actually more money in their pocket, as we saw on that slide. Just making sure my bills are paid is a big, big thing that I hear, and I think that we make a mistake sometimes if we are as a company owner or maybe even an owner-operator, we tend to have a different mindset than a company driver. A company driver may have a different set of objectives in his life. He or she may want to pay their bills and set some back for retirement, things like that, but they may not necessarily have the same goals as an owner-operator or a company operator who may want to put as much money back as they possibly can because they want to expand their business or do something, retire early.
So I think the big thing is as we look at the younger generation of drivers, we begin to just see what are their needs, and that is almost to each specific driver. When we bring a driver in and we interview them and they become a part of Silver Creek, we want to know what makes them tick. Where do you like to run? What is it that you like to do? What do you expect as in home time? What does the company expect of you? And then we do our best to try to fit those things together because another of the core values that we have, we want every person in this company to have a purpose. No one is just a truck driver. We're all moms or dads, sisters, brothers. We all have goals, we all have dreams. And so as a company owner, what can I help a driver do to fulfill their purpose?
And, we hear that a lot among the younger generation of drivers. They want to be connected to something that makes a difference. I'm just not out driving this truck because I'm driving it. I want a company that I believe has a purpose, a connection. How can I do that? How can I connect with other drivers on the road? And I think it's funny because as we see through the generations, each generation thinks the next generation are slackers. We talk to old men today, "Well, we all worked hard. We drove trucks with no heat, no air conditioner. We drove them backwards." All of that you hear at the truck stops. And the younger generation, and I think it's a great thing, they're not going to understand what it's like to sleep on a board on the back of a truck. We have et equipment, we have those things but yet they still want to connect to what maybe their grandad did or their dad did, or their moms.
Whatever that was, they want to have that connection not only with the company but with the work that they do as well because there has to be some gain for them to be out on the road all week because the fact is, many of them could make a good living at home. So why do they want to be out on the road and why do they want to do that? And many of them just want that lifestyle and they want that connection, and they want to be able to do that, but then they also see maybe it wasn't good for the generation before us to be gone all of the time and miss the graduations and miss the birthday parties, and how can we be a part of that as well.
And I think where we are as an industry, there is enough work of different types that you can pretty much get those things that you want. But I think that when we begin to see our drivers as the lifeblood of our company and we just work together and we communicate as to what each other expects ... The thing that I've seen that kills relationships, whether it's our home relationships, relationships with our children, relationships with our shippers, with our brokers, with the people we deliver, and even with our drivers is that we have to navigate those unmet or unrecognized expectations. When I have an expectation of a driver that I've not communicated to him, then when he fails on that, then we have an issue. When he feels like that he has communicated something to me that he thinks that I should be doing, those unmet expectations will kill relationships no matter where we are. And, we see that even with a shipper. Maybe a shipper thinks that we're supposed to be doing something that we're not.
So it's almost to a place that we want to over communicate with everybody and talk about those things that we want. And we encourage our drivers if you see something or if there's something going on in your work and your work-life balance, say something to us and don't just assume, "Oh well, the company just wants me to do this or the company would like for me to do that." In the same way we tell our load planners, "Don't just assume those drivers can do that," because they want not only that time off so they can be home. The purpose of saying I'm out here doing something either for my family, or for my goals, or my dreams, I want to connect this but then also a chance to prove their abilities. I can do this, and throw me a challenge.
One of the cool things about drivers that I see, especially our younger drivers today, is that they want to be challenged. You raise the bar, they will come up to it. So many times I think that old thing holds so many true that truck drivers through the years might be known to fuss a little bit ... I don't know if you guys have ever heard that ... or might gripe a little bit about things from time to time. But, what is it when we hear them, when we hear what they're wanting, when we hear what they're saying and then we bring that back, and then for me as a company owner, how can I help my team help them? Everybody wins. And, I've noticed because we try to take detailed notes of why did a driver come, why did they leave and all those things in between, we begin to see that a lot of times those were those unmet expectations that somehow that we missed.
So we want to give them a chance to prove what they want to do. As we said, it's not all about money. In fact, we find that most of the time money's often not the driving force of it at all. But unfortunately it takes a lot of money to get by these days. So we have that, that's a lot of things of what's going on. If we can move I guess to the next slide there.
So we talk a lot about, and you hear this word, it's almost like a buzzword, the culture, what's the company culture? And one of the things that we seek to change at Silver Creek about the culture of the transportation industry is the culture of how can we all come together? How can we work together and how can we build this industry together? I love the trucking industry. I grew up loving the trucking industry. We love all the things about the trucking industry, but some of the culture things, how can we change that? How can we change some of the things that we all believe that may or may not be myths? And, we all know those things that we've heard and we just keep hearing them and then finally we repeat them and we accept them as true. But what is that?
I think the new age of driver, they don't want to work until they're 75 in a truck. Not all of them. And if they do, they want to do that because they want to, not because they have to. So how can we begin to help them have a retirement plan? Somehow where the company can match what they're doing so that way as they get older, they don't have to be in that truck till they die. We've actually seen and known men and women who have been that way, and that's not something that we want to see. And also, how can I take care of my family? Health insurance, that's an important part and an important component of every company. How do I have that in case something happens? We all know that we can do well for long periods of time, and then one thing comes along and it can wipe out everything that we worked for a certain period of time and it feels like we start over again and we definitely don't want to do that.
Third thing, the open-door policy. One of the things that I love to hear in a driver is when they will say to us the word we. Then I know that they're buying into our culture. "We got that load there on time. We made that happen. We worked with a shipper." And when you hear the word we instead of you or you guys or something like that, we know that they are beginning to accept the culture that we have and that they really take initiative in that and they really begin to care. And I think that all begins from the very beginning. We do have a policy here, if somebody calls and wants a job here and the very first thing they say is, "What do you pay?" Then we try to redirect that conversation and say, "Let's make sure that we're a fit for each other before we talk about money." And if they just say, "Nope, money's it," then we understand they're probably not the driver that fits the culture that we have because there's so much more to this.
Even though it is about the money, if money's the only thing that we're chasing, then they're just going to continue to move and to move and to move. And so, we're like everybody else. We want to cut back on what our turnover is. We want people to stay here. We want people to be happy and to be a part of this company from now on and to watch us grow and to look back over the years. So, we do those things to help the culture. Another thing that we do for our drivers is that we try to do for our spouses. The very last thing that we want is for spouses to be fighting while they're in my truck going down the road. And so, if we can have things that they can take advantage of all year such as we provide a lot of educational opportunities for them to be able to ... maybe it's something they want to learn about their finances, maybe it's something they want to learn about how to have a better relationship.
We do that inside of our company for them so they can take advantage of it on their off time, because one of the things that I learned early on was that a driver has something that I don't have, and that's time. And they have time and they have a lot of time, and when I tell our load planners when you give them a load, you go on and you're working on something else, but that driver has a job to get that load there safely. And, they may have eight or 10 hours in a day to think about everything that you've said to them. They may think about everything they have and they think, and sometimes that's a great time to be able to give them, as Adam said, the technology, maybe podcast, things they can listen to while they go down the road to better themselves and to help themselves.
And if we can incentivize that for them, then at the end of the day they become not only a better driver, they're a better husband, wife, family, person, and hopefully a benefit for our company as well.
And then the last thing I see that they want is people love doing what they love to do. And, I know that's just a weird saying, but we have drivers that love to do certain types of freight. If we can hook them in a groove and get them into that freight, the things that they like to do, we just see that it helps our company flourish tenfold because it takes the pressure off the load planners, it takes the pressure off the safety people because they're doing things they like to do. They're doing things they're comfortable with. We call it the driver friendly freight because then they know "I can leave at this time on Sunday night or I can leave on Monday morning. I know that I'm going to stop at these certain places. I know these are the places that I can find for parking."
They begin to build a relationship with the shippers and the receivers. And so, that is going to help them have more home time because then they can plan what they do. So as much as we possibly can, we do want to help them try to fit into the place where they love to be and do the runs that they love to do. Because the big thing that we've seen, if you're a truck driver, you're nomadic in nature. You really want somebody to give you a job and leave you alone and let you do it. And with all the regulations that we're bound under and all the things that are in the trucks these days, that's more and more of a difficult thing that can happen.
But we see as much as we can just turn those folks loose and let them do what they do, and let them do it in the way they know how to do it and do it safely, then it just seems to work better for all of us. So I think the very thing of all of that starts with just the conversation when they come to the company, "What are you expecting? This is what we need as a company. This is how we operate and can we work together?" And it's okay, I think, to tell a driver, or driver to tell the company, "Hey, you have good equipment, you have this or that, but the culture's just not what I'm looking for. This is not the job that I'm looking for and I'm wanting that." Those things, I think so many times we're under the pressure to fill that truck, fill that seat, fill that seat, fill that seat, and then when we bring in a driver that's not a fit for us or we're not a fit for them, then it causes more issues for us than we solve.
And so as Adam said, it's a lot easier to get drivers when we don't need them and freight when we don't need them and those things, but that's a balance in and of itself is just to be honest. I think it's a culture of integrity just to say, "This is what we're going to expect." And, they tell us what we expect, and when it's a match, it's a match. Basically, Todd, it's like when you and I first began to talk. We had, I think, nine trucks at one time and the very first thing I did was hired a full-time safety director. And of course, all of my friends, everybody in the industry is like, "Are you crazy? Why would you have a full-time safety director with nine trucks?"
And I said, "Well, because when we get to 30, 40, 50 trucks, I want that person to be up to speed." One of the things, especially in a tight market, in the tight margins, we begin to look and see where can we cut and what can we do? And some of the things we just can't compromise on. Our safety office, those things need to be there. Our shop people, we need to invest in them and make sure our trucks are maintained and those type of things. But also as things tighten up in the market, as an owner, it's my automatic nature to go, "Okay, we got to pull in. We got to pull in. Don't spend money where you don't have to. Try to get those guys more loads."
But sometimes we just need to realize that hey, it doesn't matter if we're talking today about trucking, if we're talking about the car business. No matter what business we're in, ultimately we're in the people business. And so, it's still about our people and we have to realize hey, if inflation's up, they're struggling at home, they're struggling to keep food on the table and those kind of things, it's the same way in a company. We want to keep the main thing the main thing and not get too thin in the back office or in our shop and keep those guys going as well.
Todd Dills: Next slide there, Marlin. I think that's a good setup for this.
Jason Cowan: So if you're going to be a company owner-operator, these are just some things that I've found myself. This company has to be able to operate without me here. If not, then I'm just working my own job. Are we delegating things to people and then letting them do it? Do I train my load planners the way that we want to do it and then turn them loose to do their thing? Does my safety person have the authority to do the things that she needs to do to be able to be successful? The shop, I think we give all those folks the parameters just like we do our drivers and we have to be able to trust them. Now, is it always going to work the way that maybe I would do it? Probably not. But that's when we come back and at Silver Creek, we have regular staff meetings, and then we're able to address, "Okay, what did we do right? What did we do wrong?"
Train those folks, delegate it and let them go. And then, I think as a small fleet owner, I had to realize that my job is not what it was as a driver. No longer am I out day-to-day making the customers, flipping rocks, doing the contacts. I spend a lot more of my days doing administrative things, so I realized that I could work 24/7 myself but I want to go home, too. And I need that home life balance in my life. And I think that we can spend, especially a small owner-operator, you're doing the maintenance, you're doing the driving, you're doing the book work. Delegate some of those things out. It may be worth paying somebody a few hundred bucks to do something for you that maybe you could do, but it gives you time to be home with your family.
Not every emergency is your emergency. Prioritize what's going on and the big thing is go home. You can get another job, you can't get another family. So, those things are very important to realize what do I need to let go of and what do I need to delegate and what takes priority in my day?
Todd Dills: If anybody's got questions, go ahead and type them in the Q&A. We've got a couple teed up here already. I wanted to thank both of you, Adam and Jason, for running through that with us. Marlin, if you could go forward here to the next slide. And first up, this is one that I've gotten from a few people here just before we got on the live Q&A, but it has to do with just the nature of the market now, and both of you guys touched on some of this already. It's a stressful time for particularly for independent owner-operators out there looking for loads to get back home, getting offers of as low as I've heard recently $1.10, $1.20 a mile. The pressure's on a lot of people, I think, to just run. How do you deal with the stress that comes with that and not getting overwhelmed by the market conditions that you really can't control in a lot of ways? What are some of the tips there for dealing with those kinds of things?
Adam Wingfield: If I could take the beginning part of that and it's just like what I say all the time, man, you got to control what you can control. It's just like for fuel for instance. We've got two ways of controlling fuel. You control it at the pedal and you control it at the station that you select. You can't control what they put on the sign. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to focus on the two things that I can control. I can control where I'm going to select my fuel and I can control how much pressure I'm putting on my right pedal. Those are the things that you can do to lower that because we can all get riled up about the things that we can't control. I can sit up here and talk about rates all day long, but it's not going to move the needle one way or the other.
I've got to focus on the part of the business within my business that's going to move the needle. And the thing that most people don't realize is that within your business, if I go in and I go into your breakeven point analysis and we do our financials, if I just focus on two lines, which is MPGs and overall price per gallon, I can change your financial outlook by thousands if not ten thousands on your units because you got to focus on the things that you can control.
Jason brought up a point about there's some things that you've got to cut out. Yeah, you got to cut out sometimes. We may not be able to eat steaks every night, might have to pack peanut butter and jelly every now and then, but you got to do what you got to do and you got to control what you can control.
Now, I'm not going to say this. I'm not going to say by doing that it's going to make things better. It's going to make anything less stressful, but I'd rather worry about the things that I can control. If I got my hands on something and I got 100% control of it and you give me the ability to do that, I feel a whole lot better about the results of it than if I had zero control over it at all.
And tied to that question, it's simple for me. Control what I can control. But then, a lot of people don't realize because of the noise and the Negative Nancy's and what everybody else is talking about ... everybody's talking about rates right now. All right, I get it. I got the tee-shirt. We've heard enough. Can we talk about something different. Let's talk about something different right now.
And I think that when you put yourself on an island and focus on the business side and focus on the dynamics of the things that you can control on your own, it'll help alleviate a lot of that stuff because then you'll start seeing things within your own inefficiencies like, "Dang, yeah man, I wish I knew this two months ago because if I was doing this two months ago, I probably would've saved X" as opposed to me just banging the doors down, trying to worry about what rates are doing or where fuel prices are going and things that I have zero control over. And I don't care what protests that you want to be involved in, none of that's going to change anything right now.
But one thing that you can protest is you can protest how you running your business. You can protest being that operator over your business. You can protest your day-to-day policies and your processes to ensure you're doing the right things that can help move your business forward.
Todd Dills: Jason, anything to add to that?
Jason Cowan: Yeah, I think one of the things that brings this into light is that when things are going great, nothing cures bad business like profitable sales. So when things are really good, and if we didn't take the time to learn the reason why things were really good, then when they get bad, we need to take that time to learn those. I think the times that I get nervous in my business are the times when I don't know exactly what I should do. So if I realized that somewhere in my career I needed to learn how to read a balance sheet, I need to learn how my depreciation works, I need to learn how to budget, then those things when someone comes to me and says, "Can you haul this load?", then I don't just guess and go, "Oh, well the market stinks. It's $1.50 so I guess I better do something."
I have the tools. I've already invested in the tools to go, "Okay, I know I have to do this. This is what it takes to cover my expenses and I either can or I can't." But then I make a decision from a place of power, just exactly like what Adam said. I come from a place of knowledge instead of just guessing, "Well, that's $1.50. I guess I can do it." I will know hey, I either can or I can't. But then, do I make the decision do I want to do it to either keep a customer, do I want to do it just so I don't lose more? Those things, but try to make all of your decisions coming from a place of knowledge, and that only comes with learning what you don't know, because what you don't know you don't know.
Todd Dills: Right. And so in some ways, times like these become opportunities to improve when it comes to just basic business but also cementing the personal relationships that you have. Jason, I think it was you that said, and this is a notion that's been offered to me recently, that when you find folks that have really good personal relationships, turns out they're going to be really good business relationship wise as well. It's a chicken and egg question there? Maybe, but how do the two dovetail and I don't know, what comes first?
Jason Cowan: Right, right. Well, it's like we say here at Silver Creek, we love to do business with people we love to do business with. Our best relationships are those that we've made, that we outlined the expectations and had those things in advance. I have to realize in my life I have a certain set of skills and then if I hire an accountant, they have a different set of skills and our personality ... I love my accountant friends, but their personality is nothing like mine. But I realize those are personalities I need for that position. Maybe the same with safety or there may be things where I can see the big picture and I need somebody on my team to come together and put the details together.
And so, that's where all the relationships are about. We may have some driving positions that don't take as much detail as others, so you put the wrong folks in those seats and it can cause you a lot of frustration, but at the same time, when you get the right personalities in the right places, it makes the magic happen.
Todd Dills: Adam, I know you work with a lot of folks that are independents with a goal of moving into small fleet owners themselves. You also spoke to this, that practice that comes with developing those personal skills, getting on the phone, making those calls to direct shippers. We had a question from the audience that asked a little bit about that. In the drive to do that, to secure that direct customer to help build those lanes that get you back home, to deliver on that work-life balance goal, how do you avoid ... I know there's a lot of people out there that in the drive to do that might have a tendency to over-commit themselves to a particular customer. The question was how do you avoid doing that? That overcommitment with a direct customer that you get to a point where you're running yourself ragged, I guess?
Adam Wingfield: Well, so the thing is with that is that, and all business ain't good business and a lot of times what you want to do is you feel compelled when you land that first opportunity, you feel compelled to throw the entire farm at them. And what happens is that you over-promise and you under-deliver. And you never want to put yourself in that perspective. One of the things I'm a very, very big proponent about, and I'm very clear as a business owner period, is I set clear expectations in the beginning. And if I can't meet that or if those expectations that we lay out there doesn't align with my business alignment, then it's just not a fit. It doesn't mean that we can't go two, three years down the road and revisit it again, but at this point and where we're at right now, that's not going to fit our model.
For example, if you're not big on 100% driver assist, don't focus on those situations where you're going to position yourself into that where that shipper might be needing driver assist and then you've got a committal, a 50/50 committal to be able to do that. Don't commit to stuff like that. Just move on to the next shipper. Move on to the next opportunity. Because the worst thing that you can do in any business is to overpromise, under-deliver with that particular relationship because it's just like bad service anywhere else. All it takes is that one bad experience and folks talk. So you may have committed a bad experience with this particular shipper, but guess what? Those things can resonate throughout the industry that you're trying to put yourself and influence into. The thing that I always say is that you want to be honest with yourself and your offerings, and you've got to be able to articulate exactly what those are.
And then when you're having those conversations, when you're finalizing that agreement with that shipper or you're finalizing that agreement, make sure you go back over it. Make sure you're really, really clear on expectations and it's okay to say, "Okay listen. All right Todd, I just want to run this past you one more time so we can make sure from A to Z, from dock to dock that I'm clear on what we're going to be doing." And if there's anything that comes down within that that's a little muddy, make sure you back up and punt and then reevaluate that particular situation. But there's opportunities there like that all the time. And I can tell you just to land business, sometimes you go outside of the box that you normally wouldn't be outside of, and I get it, there's sometimes where you might be able to give a little, but at the same time you got to expect the same as well.
It's all about negotiation. And sometimes with the shipping, you might have to expect a little bit more on their end. Maybe it's, "Hey, you know what? I need to make sure that when I'm FCFS, when you see a Silver Creek truck, let's just say everything stops so that way we can go ahead and we can get in and we can get out." But those are the things that you've got to establish in the beginning and then after that first week or so, those first two weeks or so that you're working with that customer, reevaluate that relationship. Make sure things are going the way that they're supposed to. It's okay to survey to find out exactly the things that are landing the way that supposed to land. And in those first 30 days, you want to make sure you continue to keep that touchpoint high so that way you'll know if there's any inaccuracies in which you agreed upon. You guys can go ahead and correct it at that point.
Todd Dills: Yeah. Have you found yourself in those kinds of situations, Jason, where you're-
Jason Cowan: I have, and he's exactly right. You tend to go in going, "Oh yeah, we can do whatever we need to do," and we do that, and when you give them the expectation that they're just going to do everything that I ask ... And, I think you do have to be careful of the things you say. If a customer comes and says, "Can you give us a truck every day?" Well yeah, I'll give you a truck every day, but then you don't define exactly what that means, there again, that's one of those unmet expectations. They may understand that different than what you're understanding that.
And so just to be clear and realize that, especially as you grow your company, if you're going to try to get more than one, two, three, four, five trucks, is to realize what are the things that I'm leaving on the table? What are the things that I can provide that someone else can't, but yet for your service, your time, those things that you provide are worth something. And so, you have to realize that they're going to pay that service and that relationship's going to work. But you do have to set those boundaries very clear, or they'll expect things that you didn't necessarily communicate.
Todd Dills: Well, we're getting past the 2:00 hour here. That was our scheduled time to end, but I wanted to give you guys an opportunity to give us some final thoughts. We do have some questions that touch on training. Any thoughts on training the office staff there, Jason? And also I know Adam, you talked a little bit about physical health, mental health, maintenance of that. I was curious to hear from you anything else you might have to add on that as well, if you want to put that in your final thoughts. But let's go ahead and each of you give us some final thoughts and we'll start to wrap it up here.
Adam Wingfield: So I’ll take the physical health and the mental health thing, very important. And there are resources that are available out there. I mean, Google is your biggest friend. There is a service for everything out there, and what inspired me to really open my eyes to that is when I saw this business that was in my neighborhood that was a dog poop scooping service. I was like, "Wow." There's a business out there for everything. So, if you think about that as an independent owner-operator, there's a business out there that's going to provide you with the retirement plans if one doesn't. Some will, some won't. So what next? Keep driving, keep finding those solutions to help you get exactly what you need.
And then most importantly, man, just stay healthy. I really look at some of the alternatives and these options out there that are available. Those things are not one of those things that are beneficial to us as a trucking community, whether you're a driver, owner-operator. Even beyond that. But stay healthy, use the resources out there that are available. There's so many different retirement plans that are out there. Just like Jason hit on, just the fact of everything's going great when it's great but all it takes is that one thing and all of a sudden you've got to start back over again.
So, when you think about those retirement plans, man, you always got to put something to the side. Find a resource that'll allow you to do that and don't stop at the word no.
Todd Dills: Jason?
Jason Cowan: Yeah, I think you speak to my heart when we talk about training, because I love to train our people. I love for them to grow. And there are just, as Adam said, tons of things. And we use a lot of resources. We're actually kicking off a new training module for fleet manager, for safety, for our maintenance guys. And we take advantage of everything that we can. Maintenance wise, some of our local vendors will provide workshops. They'll have OEMs come in and how better to service and those things. Take advantage of every bit of that.
There are a lot of resources. If somebody wants to shoot me an email, I can share with them what we know. How to be a better fleet planner, how to be a better dispatcher, how to be better in accounting, how to read a balance sheet. Many of us get in this business because we love trucks and we just need to learn them. I think we need to learn every day.
Todd Dills: Well thank you, Jason. Thank you, Adam. You can see their contact information on the screen here. Do definitely reach out to them with further questions that you have or reach directly to me. I know how to get in touch with them, of course. And I'd encourage you to visit their websites and keep tabs on them. We'll try to keep up with them as well at Overdriveonline.com. Big thanks to Michael with Bestpass. Find them at Bestpass.com. And I tell you what, everybody share this around. This thing will be available on demand after we wrap up here. If you feel like there's an operator out there, a small fleet owner, owner-operator that could get something out of this, and I do believe that's the case, definitely share it with them and spread the word about it. And otherwise, keep in touch and we thank you for taking part in this.