'Too many scammers out there': Staying choosy about broker partners, with Trucker of the Month Candace Marley

user-gravatar Headshot
Updated Apr 20, 2024

In today’s world, the kind of choosiness with brokers owner-operator Candace Marley practices is a must for many independents, she feels. "I don't jump in with just any broker out there. There's too many scammers out there, too many double brokers, too many frauds."

In this week's edition of Overdrive Radio, Marley details the relationship-building strategy for freight in her Iowa-based one-truck business -- Calliope, LLC. The independent business takes its name from a muse in Greek Mythology and a species of hummingbird well-known for its nimble nature in flight, a quality that owner-operator Marley herself has shown in spades over the course of her career. That includes her relatively brief time with authority, just a few years in after being leased to Don Hummer Trucking.

Today we’re running through Marley’s conversation with Overdrive News Editor Matt Cole, whose feature about the owner-operator also detailed her tenacity to thrive under the most challenging of circumstancesOverdrive’s Trucker of the Month for March, owner-operator Marley’s in the running for the 2024 Trucker of the Year honor, this year sponsored by Bostrom Seating with a new seat the ultimate prize for whoever comes out on top among 10 semi-finalists we’ll profile this year. (Put your own business in the running via this link.)

Howes logoOverdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and Lifeline rescue treatment to get you through the coldest temps, likewise its all-weather Diesel Defender and Howes Multipurpose penetrating oil, among other products.For Candace Marley, it all comes after a year that's been a tough one, it's sure. As was the case for so many owner-operators, lower rates and high fuel (along with generally soft freight markets) had her trucking along fairly flat compared to the previous year. Then, six months out from finishing the note on her 2017 Kenworth T680, a major mechanical failure took the truck out from under her, necessitating a two-month transition to a 2020 Peterbilt 579 late in the year. On top of that, her van trailer was stolen while parked near the dealer, and the theft left her paying for a piece of equipment that has yet to be found.

She’s inherently optimistic, though, and it was just the kind of challenge maybe she even needed, as you’ll hear, to keep her on her toes and motivated to sharpen all aspects of the business. Just about six months after that big mechanical failure, she’s working her way back with the 579 delivering better fuel mileage than her previous unit. She’s closely monitoring costs and what she needs to meet profitability targets, and looking ahead to better freight markets where she’ll really make hay.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers
The ALL NEW Rand Tablet
Presented by Rand McNally

The owner’s journey through trucking behind the wheel starts in 2009, when her then-husband had to come off the road due to an illness, and it’s a story she tells in full in the podcast. Take a listen: 

overdrive trucker of the year 2024 logoOverdrive's 2024 Trucker of the Year program, sponsored by Commercial Vehicle Group and Bostrom Seating, recognizes clear business acumen and unique or time-honored recipes for success among owner-operators. Through October, we're naming Truckers of the Month to contend for the Trucker of the Year honor. Finalists will be named in December, and a winner crowned early next year. Nominations continue to be sought for exceptional owner-operators, whether leased or independent, throughout the year. Nominate your business or that of a fellow owner (up to three trucks) via this link for a chance to win a custom replica of your tractor and a Bostrom seat from Commercial Vehicle Group, among other perks.

As mentioned in the podcast, find the report from 2023 Trucker of the Year Jay Hosty's acceptance of prizes at MATS with the award, including a custom model replica of his 2006 Western Star 4900EX, at this link.  

Subscribe to the podcast on your listening platform of choice for early access to the weekly Overdrive Radio series -- it drops typically every Friday to the feed and follows here at OverdriveOnline.com and in Overdrive's Facebook feed the following week. You can subscribe for first access via Apple and Youtube podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, most anywhere you listen to podcasts.

[Related: Leave trucking better than you found it]


Candace Marley: I don't jump in with just any broker out there. There's too many scammers, too many double brokers, too many frauds. I stick with certain ones.

Todd Dills: In today's world, that kind of choosiness with brokers is an absolute must for independents like Candace Marley, whose voice you heard there detailing relationship-building strategy for freight in her Iowa-based independent business Calliope LLC. It takes its name from a muse in Greek mythology and a species of hummingbird well known for its nimble nature and flight, a quality that owner-operator Marley herself has shown in spades over the course of her time with authority.

I'm Todd Dills, and today we're running through Marley's conversation with Overdrive news editor Matt Cole, whose feature about the owner-operator also detailed her tenacity to thrive under the most challenging of circumstances. Overdrive's Trucker of the Month for March. Marley's in the running for the 2024 Trucker of the Year Honor, this year sponsored by Bostrom Seating with a new seat, the ultimate prize for whoever comes out on top among 10 semi-finalists we'll profile this year. For Candace Marley, it all comes after a year that, well, has been a year. Tough one, that's sure.

Candace Marley: I was like everyone else. I was staying above water. I wasn't doing fantastic or anything, but I was staying up there, moving along pretty good. I'm like, "Hey, I'm doing good. If I can just get through this until we get out of this hole we're in, I'll be great."

Todd Dills: Then the worst happened.

Candace Marley: And then the truck went pfff. I was like, "No. Why? Why do you do this to me? Why couldn't you wait until the truck was paid off?”

Todd Dills: Candace Marley is inherently optimistic though. It was just the kind of challenge maybe she even needed, as you'll hear, to keep her on her toes and motivated to sharpen all aspects of business. Just about six months after that big mechanical failure, she's working her way back with a Peterbilt 579 that's delivering better fuel mileage in her previous unit. She's closely monitoring costs and what she needs to beat profitability targets and looking ahead to better freight markets where she'll really make hay. The owner's journey through trucking behind the wheel starts in 2009 when her then husband had to come off the road due to an illness. It's a story she picks up with after the break for this word from Overdrive Radio's sponsor. So keep tuned.

Speaker 3: Loosen rust, seal electrical connections, lubricate sticky valves, and more, all with Howes Multi-Purpose lubricator and penetrating oil. A century-old secret family formula, Howes Multipurpose continues to outperform the competition, lasting longer than any other product. Howes Multi lubricates without evaporation and is safe to use on almost any surface. Try it today and see the difference for yourself. Find Howes Multipurpose at amazon.com and retailers nationwide.

Todd Dills: You can find more about all of Howes’ products at H-O-W-E-S, howesproducts.com. Here's Candace Marley setting the stage for her maiden voyage behind the wheel. As noted, starting back in 2009.

Candace Marley: I was a trucker's wife, and my now late husband was the trucker and I was a third shift stocker at Walmart and freelance web designer, and he came down with... Well, it was second time around, I guess you could say, of melanoma, and he got too sick to drive and Walmart wasn't going to pay the bills. So basically I said, "If you can't drive, I will." So I stepped in and went off to truck driving school and became the truck driver. And he lasted about seven months and he passed and I went off the road for a while and then after a while I realized... After grieving for a little while, I realized I kind of missed it and went back to it and been doing it ever since. I ended up getting back on the road because one of my mom's friends had a couple of trucks that he had leased onto a flatbed company and he put me in one of his trucks. And I learned how to flatbed the hard way. In other words, I learned how to do it by myself.

I learned it the hard way. I got kind of a fly by your seat tutorial over one day of riding with him on how to strap and tarp. Kind of had to learn really quick how to do it. And I spent a little time doing that.

Matt Cole: How long were you flatbedding?

Candace Marley: Oh, it was only for a maybe three or four months. I got to do it for probably the worst part of the year to do it. It was in the winter in Michigan of all places, Michigan and Ohio. It was a very miserable time to be doing that. And then I moved back into doing reefer, which is what I was more familiar with.

Matt Cole: Is that what you've done all throughout since then?

Candace Marley: The majority of my [inaudible 00:05:59] been reefer. Reefer and dry van. Yeah. I went into a lease purchase of Western Flyer Xpress, 2019, and I did that just long enough. I know the deal with lease purchase. I mean, I know the skinny on that and I didn't expect that to become my truck. But it was more money than I made as a company driver, so I used it to save up enough money to buy my own truck in 2020. And then I leased it on to a company for a little while until I could get my own authority in 2022.

Matt Cole: Okay. Who'd you lease on with when you bought your own truck?

Candace Marley: I went back to the company I used to be a company driver with for a little while, Don Hummer Trucking.

Todd Dills: Year, make, and model of that first rig?

Candace Marley: 2017 Kenworth T680. She was a good truck until she died, and that's where the hell was last year. I was six months away from paying her off totally. I had a trailer that I had purchased, I had been paying on it for a year. I was six months away from paying that off, the truck off, and she decided to die in Oklahoma City. And turns out that the injector cups were leaking and there was coolant throughout the entire fuel system. The tanks were full of coolant. I mean, there was coolant all through the system. It was everywhere.

Matt Cole: Oh, no.

Candace Marley: It had been going on for a while. And so I had to choose, do I replace the head for $22,000? And that was just replacing the heads and cleaning out the tank.

Todd Dills: She was also looking at other work the shop told her was going to add up to $50,000 all told.

Candace Marley: Last year was rough with the rates, with the fuel, every... The whole year was just rough for everybody, and then I just had this happen on top of all that. And then, while this is all going on, she died at the TA. I had to have her towed over to the Kenworth. When they towed it over to the Kenworth, they dropped it, the trailer, out on the frontage road. That's where all the trailers get dropped, on the frontage road out by the Kenworth, because the Kenworth has no place to drop trailers. There's no room there. All the trailers get dropped on the frontage road there.

So in the meantime, all this is happening and my trailer is dropped out on the frontage road with other trailers. All these other trailers are out there. My trailer was fine the entire two weeks. I was sitting there in a hotel room going through all this. Finally, my fiance comes down and picks me up, takes me home. We work out getting this other truck. A week and a half later, I come back down, I fly back down to Oklahoma City, and my trailer was gone.

Matt Cole: Oh, no.

Candace Marley: Someone had stolen my trailer. It has never been found. Yeah. September and October were the months from hell.

Matt Cole: So September is when the truck died and then October is when you realized the trailer was gone?

Candace Marley: Yep. The very end of September is when the truck died. And all of October, I was going through all this with getting the... Trying to figure out what to do with the truck, then making the decision, coming up with the money and finding the right truck, going through the process of financing, getting back down there, finding my trailer was gone, still going through all the financing. It was into November before I ever got the new truck. So I was down for almost two months. In the meantime, all my bills got behind, everything, and I have been working since then to get everything caught back up again.

Todd Dills: She's now in a 2020 Peterbilt 579 purchased around that time and, as noted, was back running by November of last year after that series of events that might have sent another owner-operator running for the business ownership exits. But not Marley. She's clawing her way back and benefiting from the Pete's enhanced aerodynamics and other attributes that have boosted fuel mileage quite a bit above the prior truck.

Candace Marley: So now I have a full condo sleeper and getting a lot better fuel mileage. The price at that time was, it was like around 90. I kind of got lucky and they actually gave me really good numbers on the trade-in value on my non-running truck.

They gave... Yeah. Because I still owed 12,000 on that truck. And so they gave me a trade-in value of like 30,000, so it ended up giving me a down pavement basically of 20,000, so then my financing was for like 70,000, in that range. You know?

Matt Cole: Right, right. You had to replace a trailer as well?

Candace Marley: I have not replaced it because I am still paying for it. The insurance paid most of it, did not pay for all of it. I've done some [inaudible 00:12:19] only... Right now, I am using a rental trailers that I get... I use REPOWR. You heard of those guys?

Yeah. I use some REPOWR trailers. Right now I've got a REPOWR trailer. It's a Forward Air trailer now that I'm renting for three months.

I spent 20 years as a freelance web developer and I kind of always really enjoyed the challenge. I thrive being challenged. Doing the same thing all over and over again, I get bored easily, and I've worked a lot of jobs in my life because I get bored and I'm like, "Okay, I'm done with this," and I'm off to the next challenge, next thing. I need to be challenged. So the one thing that's been good about trucking itself is it's been more challenging. Well, eventually company driving just kind of got... Wasn't challenging anymore. And being my own boss has been way more challenging, so much more challenging, and I love it. I thrive on it. I thrive on pushing myself and challenging myself. It's something new all the time. It's very stressful, but at the same time, I thrive off that stress. And I hate to say that, but I know I do.

Matt Cole: A lot of people do better under pressure.

Todd Dills: As Matt Cole intimated, and as Marley recognized in herself, that quality in part drove her fast-forward to getting her authority after first purchasing that T680. With some time active with authority, then.

Candace Marley: I reached out to a broker that I had sort of a relationship with from when my truck was leased onto a company. The lady recognized me because she remembered me running loads for them under that company, and she was thrilled to have me come on board as a carrier for them because she knew when I ran those loads for them, they never had any problems with those loads. So she was absolutely thrilled to have me come on board. Unfortunately, since then, they won't run me anymore because I have no inspections and it is what it is. I'm not going to personally go from coop to coop trying to beg for an inspection. I've been to several. I have tried. I've been turned down by Illinois and Michigan.

It is still brokers, I am still trying to find some direct shippers. Every once in a while I still jump out into my local area and try take my card out to places that I know of, places that I have picked up loads for before when I was... Or a company driver, or at least [inaudible 00:15:41] from in the past saying, "Hey, I'm out here." Let them know, "Hey, I'm still out here." Remind them, "I've come by before, let you know." I don't them forget me, but I try not to be a pest either, because-

Yeah. If you're a pest then they don't really want to use you. I know some people say-

Matt Cole: Yeah, it's a fine line, for sure.

Candace Marley: Yeah. Some people say, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." But also, some people say [inaudible 00:16:11]. Sometimes you get rid of the squeaky wheel too. You've got to find a fine balance there between being too squeaky and not squeaky enough.

I tend to stay mostly Midwest down to Southeast. Doesn't mean I don't stray out of there every once in a while, but that is my main area. For me, that tends to be my best paying lanes. Yeah. Yeah. I've spent most of my career in reefer, but since I've got my own authority, I've been dry van.

I have an accounting service that handles the handles most of the bookkeeping. I also use some... I started using rig books to kind of keep track of my numbers to see what my per mile costs are so I can have a better handle on what I need to be making to make a profit. So if a load comes up that's $1.80 a mile, can I afford to take that load or is that just really going to be like, "No, that's going to kill me?" Or can I break even on that to get me to somewhere I need to go? Mainly, I'm using it as a tool so I have those kind of numbers on hand to know what I can get by with and what's going to be profitable and what's not. But I do use an accounting service to handle mainly the tax side of things.

Matt Cole: Your business is set up as an LLC?

Candace Marley: Calliope LLC. She was the Greek muse who inspired Homer to write the Iliad. It's also a species of hummingbird that's found in the Northwest, which I love hummingbirds. It has multiple meanings for me.

Todd Dills: Like the Calliope, Marley's clearly adapted to quick pivot. As she intimated earlier, since the trailer theft, she's done some power only loads that use the REPOWR service for trailer rental. And when it comes to maintenance, she's got a nice leg up too, as it were, in that she lives with a master mechanic.

Candace Marley: He is actually a mechanic at Don Hummer Trucking, so that's how we met. I was a driver there and he was a mechanic. So he takes care of my preventative maintenance and, whenever possible, any other changes, repairs that need to be done. If it can be done at home, it gets done at home. If something happens on the road that can wait until I get home, it waits until I get home. I mean, I wish we had a shop to do it in. We don't. It has to be done outside in the gravel lane, but it is what it is.

Todd Dills: A site better than the 200-plus per hour out at the dealer, Marley would go on to say.

Candace Marley: I'd much rather pay my mechanic in beer.

Matt Cole: There you go.

Candace Marley: And he's happy to take beer.

Todd Dills: For such a young business, owner-operator Candace Marley has kept well in the black, even with the big breakdown last year, by leaning on her in-house resource, sure. But also by building trust on the revenue side of the small stable of go-to brokers willing to treat her right.

Candace Marley: I don't jump in with just any broker out there. There's too many scammers, too many double brokers, too many frauds. I stick with certain ones. Every once in a while, I'll venture to other ones, but they've got to be on my... I do use a factoring company, but the biggest reason for that is not just that I get my money faster, but because they vet the brokers and they keep vetting the brokers. So if their broker's credit goes bad, they go on the reject list. They just rejected Echo, which shocked me. But they stay on top of what's going on with the brokers. So that's... My big thing is I know that they're watching out for the money, so I don't have to worry about someone not getting paid, you know? That the money's not going to come through. So I stick with the ones that are on their acceptable list. So if I do venture outside my normal brokers, the first thing I do is I check their list.

Matt Cole: Who do you use for factoring?

Candace Marley: BasicBlock. They're not one of the big names, but I think they're getting out there.

Todd Dills: Cost control, too, remains a focus, particularly when it comes to fuel mileage. Further boosted by slowing down and keeping weight in the trailer relatively low compared to many of the loads in her past pulling reefers. On the fuel purchasing side.

Candace Marley: I use Mudflap sometimes. I compare. I compare prices. If Mudflap gives me a better price, I'm on it. I also check for the fuel prices in TruckSmarter, because they can sometimes get better prices there too. I have a Pilot flying J Fuel Card. Sometimes their prices are pretty good. I shop around. I have a Motive card too. I can use their card for fuel. So I try to get the best bang for my buck.

Todd Dills: Again, here's a big congrats to owner-operator Candace Marley of Calliope LLC, our Trucker of the Month for March, and now joining owners Leslie Bitterman and Doug Viaille in the running for the 2024 Trucker of the Year award. You can enter your business or that of another deserving owner-operator via overdriveonline.com/toptrucker. Fleets of one to three trucks are eligible.

                                             This year, the program's sponsored by Bostrom Seating and offering up a new seat to the winner to sweeten the pot in addition to the custom replica of the winning owner's tractor built by Eston Hoffman in Pennsylvania. If you missed this past year's winner Western Star and its owner, Jay Hosty, accepting the award at MATS, trek over to our Trucker of the Year section on the website. I'll post the link to it in the show notes. The detail on that replica of the 2006 Western Star is simply amazing. Big shout here to Mr. Hoffman for his work on it. No doubt. Again, enter our Trucker of the Year competition via overdriveonline.com/toptrucker. If you've maintained profits throughout the difficult times of the last year and more, you're no doubt a worthy contender. Overdriveonline.com/toptrucker. And a big thanks for listening.