JDT grows to accommodate top-notch drivers, doubles down to survive pandemic

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Overdrive this month is profiling nine semi-finalists in the inaugural Small Fleet Champ award program. Three finalists will be announced in early August. The winning small fleet will be unveiled during the Overdrive‘s GATS Week program of events August 24-28 and profiled in greater detail this fall. The Small Fleet Champ program is sponsored by Pilot Company’s One9 Fuel Network, which offers benefits for small fleets.Overdrive this month is profiling nine semi-finalists in the inaugural Small Fleet Champ award program. Three finalists will be announced in early August. The winning small fleet will be unveiled during the Overdrive‘s GATS Week program of events August 24-28 and profiled in greater detail this fall. The Small Fleet Champ program is sponsored by Pilot Company’s One9 Fuel Network, which offers benefits for small fleets.

Two decades ago, James Davis was a one-truck owner-operator tooling around the Pacific Northwest.

By 2011, his budding James Davis Trucking (JDT) was up to three trucks and “a couple owner-operators that drove with me,” Davis said. JDT went on to add trucks, trailers and drivers, becoming a full-service trucking company.

The Central Point, Oregon-based fleet currently boasts a lineup of 27 trucks and an employee count of 31, including 22 drivers and nine non-driving positions that include two mechanics, dispatchers for company loads, a brokerage that handles sales for outside loads and an accounts payable and receivables staff.

The carrier primarily moves lumber, plywood, beams, steel and rebar. It specializes in over-length material, using flatbeds, roll tops and step deck trailers. Davis, who spent more than 10 years as an owner-operator, is still a trucker when the need arises, but now mostly serves as his company’s catch-all; full-time manager, sometime dispatcher, mechanic, driver and cross docking freight.

James Davis of JDT says the big benefit package offered at his 27-truck fleet has played a key role in recruiting and retention.James Davis of JDT says the big benefit package offered at his 27-truck fleet has played a key role in recruiting and retention.

Having added 10 units in the last four years, JDT’s growth in many cases hasn’t been by design or customer demand but through Davis’ willingness to make room for a potentially exceptional employee.

“Our company has grown by great drivers walking through the door and our company building or buying a truck to get them hired, and a lot of those same faces are still here,” he said.

JDT’s benefits include healthcare, vision, dental, chiropractic, retirement (with a 3% company match), paid vacation, sick leave and flexibility around family schedules. Davis said the generous benefits package was a major source of personal pride and a key contributor to attracting and keeping drivers.

The carrier’s small army of flashy trucks also doesn’t hurt in grabbing the attention of would-be employees. “We’ve always been known for kind of fixing up older trucks. I’ve always liked taking ’90s Petes and 2000 Petes and fixing them up,” Davis said. “The guys like the eye candy. I’ve heard them comparing it to the difference in driving a hot rod on a Sunday to jumping into a Hyundai.” He noted that emissions regulations have prompted the company to invest in some newer equipment.

This unit is one among JDT’s show-worthy haulers.This unit is one among JDT’s show-worthy haulers.

Being driver- and employee-friendly – and hiring and retaining only the best available drivers – has paid off. The Oregon Trucking Association awarded JDT first place for safety last year for a 1 million mile fleet, and the company earned Great West Casualty’s Platinum Award, which is bestowed to fewer than 1% of the insurer’s clients.

“We have work comp through [the State of Oregon’s State Accident and Insurance Fund] and have one of the best ratings in the industry for the state,” Davis added.

The Overdrive Small Fleet Champ award is presented by the new One9 Fuel Network, which is geared toward small fleets and owner-operators, offering credit and fuel stop options. One9 is produced by the Pilot Company.The Overdrive Small Fleet Champ award is presented by the new One9 Fuel Network, which is geared toward small fleets and owner-operators, offering credit and fuel stop options. One9 is produced by the Pilot Company.

Trucking’s not easy even with the best employees, and especially so considering the economic upheaval to date in 2020. However, Davis and his staff used the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to cultivate deeper relationships with its customer base, even as the building material segment sagged through COVID-related work stoppages.

Many of JDT’s new customers came from word of mouth. Rather than seeking out new business – or a new segment – during the pandemic, he said the company’s dispatch team focused on phone calls and emails to increase business from existing customers and find more loads. “We’ve just kind of grown with our customers,” he said.

By increasing business from existing customers through the pandemic – even though net profits suffered slightly – he said the company was able to shield its drivers.

“Their pay didn’t really get affected too much,” he said, “and anywhere that it did get affected we tried to supplement it with kind of like a COVID-19 bonus.”

Davis’ JDT empire has swollen ninefold in the last 10 years, but the coronavirus impact has put expansion on hold. Plans for the near future are to “ride it out,” he said. “We’ve just been so busy with trying to keep things going.”

The company’s diversification has also helped blunt COVID-inflicted financial trauma. Equipped with its own brokerage arm since 2013, JDT offers outside maintenance services, truck parts sales and custom products.

Citing a passion for “shop local, support local, stay local,” Davis supports many local causes. These include the Hearts and Vines Association, The Boys and Girls Club, The Crater FFA, Abraham Elementary School, American Truck Historical Society, Brooks Antique Truck Museum, and Rogue Valley Soccer Club, along with parades, charities, car shows and school functions.

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