In-house maintenance, good relationships give Warren Hartman Trucking a strong start

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Updated Aug 4, 2020
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Through the end of the week, Overdrive this month is profiling nine semi-finalists in the inaugural Small Fleet Champ award program. Three finalists will be announced early next month. 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.Through the end of the week, Overdrive this month is profiling nine semi-finalists in the inaugural Small Fleet Champ award program. Three finalists will be announced early next month. 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.

Owner-operator Warren Hartman was working as a company driver until 2011. Then, during a tumultuous time in his life, he took a big risk: He sold his house, bought a truck and trailer and went out hauling with his own authority for the first time.

Today he specializes in flatbed freight in curtainside trailers and supplementing that with other power-only ag work for direct customers in the area near his base in Forrest, Illinois. He owns two more tractors and three flatbeds, employing two full-time drivers.

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.

What’s more, he’s a master of cost control, with a lean operation that maintains the lowest operating ratio (expenses to revenue) of all nine of the Small Fleet Champ award semi-finalists. That’s enabled in part by a strategy to do as much routine maintenance himself as he can. He passes on advice his truck-driving father gave him, as he gave to any prospective owner-operator who asked, about truck ownership: “If you’re going to go out there and drive these trucks, you’re going to need to learn how to work on them first.”

In accord with that, he started his trucking career as a young man in a service pit. Mechanical aptitude he considers vital to safety and profitability, and that extends to dealing with shop service.

Warren HartmanWarren Hartman

“It can just cost you too much money,” given “shops are in business for themselves, too,” he said. “If they find out they’re going to have your truck every week,” costs can quickly get out of hand if you’re taken advantage of. “You need to know enough mechanically to be able to maintain control over” your equipment’s actual needs.

The threefold growth his former one-truck business has experienced in the past few years is a testament to the success of those strategies, helped as well by a key business partner, Minnesota-headquartered TraLo Companies’ brokerage. “Trucking’s all about growing with your customers,” Hartman said. “You can buy all the trucks and trailers in the world, but that’s the easy part – if you don’t have good solid customers, you’re just spinning your wheels.”

TraLo is Hartman’s go-to broker for loads outbound from the Midwest. He’s built relationships with others, too, that he can count on to load his flatbeds back to the Midwest.

Having established broker and direct customer ties is something he wishes he’d more fully appreciated sooner, particularly in light of the current economic downturn. In hindsight, he sees his early limitations in sales, and “would have started earlier building relationships with solid customers,” he said, “rather than some of the avenues I had taken.”

Warren Hartman Trucking has come a long way since its beginnings in 2011, when Hartman had $20,000 in the bank and had bought an old Werner truck, a Kenworth T600. He maintained it himself before paying it off and “making a lot of money” with it. With the recent expansion, the business has posted annual net income well into the six figures these past couple of years. His debt load is relatively small considering the large equipment investments made recently. Pictured here are the three company-owned trucks (left to right): the rig driven by his longest tenured driver, a 2018 389; Hartman’s daily driver, a 2001 Peterbilt 379; and the first truck he ever spec’d out and bought new, a 2014 389.Warren Hartman Trucking has come a long way since its beginnings in 2011, when Hartman had $20,000 in the bank and had bought an old Werner truck, a Kenworth T600. He maintained it himself before paying it off and “making a lot of money” with it. With the recent expansion, the business has posted annual net income well into the six figures these past couple of years. His debt load is relatively small considering the large equipment investments made recently. Pictured here are the three company-owned trucks (left to right): the rig driven by his longest tenured driver, a 2018 389; Hartman’s daily driver, a 2001 Peterbilt 379; and the first truck he ever spec’d out and bought new, a 2014 389.

Lately, he added, sales outreach to local contacts in his heavily agriculture-centric area of North Central Illinois have paid off to supplement slower freight with other customers. He’s picked up a lot of power-only ag business hauling liquid bulk tankers, dumps and hoppers.

Hartman’s committed to pursuing further diversification to help avoid the eggs-in-one-basket mistake he’s seen others make. “I owe those ag guys a lot,” he said. “I worked for these guys when I was a young driver. I have maintained some of those relationships for 25 years now.”

Short-term, he also hopes to further diversify his customers in flatbed, where much of the recent growth has occurred.

Read about all nine of the Small Fleet Champ semi-finalists via this link. Stay tuned for announcement of the three finalists. 

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