Krystal Raue, the owner of Decatur, Nebraska-based Triple R Trucking, was born and raised around trucking and worked in her parents’ hauling business from a young age doing paperwork and other jobs.
After going to college for a degree in business administration, she came back and continued to help the family business.
“As technology increased, I kind of started helping them transition into more of the technology side of things,” she said. “I was eventually managing my parents’ company, a reefer business.”
In 2012, Raue bought her first two trucks to get a feel for what it was like to own trucks and to run a business. She leased those trucks on at her parents’ company. A couple years later, “Dad was ready to retire,” she said, “so I basically ended up buying the equipment from him and put everything and everybody under my own company name and authority, and we’ve been running ever since.”
Thus Triple R Trucking was born, and again this year, after placing among 10 semi-finalists for Overdrive's 2021 Small Fleet Championship, Triple R is a contender in the 10-and-fewer-trucks categories.
The company's held steady in terms of the size of its mostly owner-operator independent contractor base, sitting at 8 power units in 2018 and up to 10 as of August with the addition of a couple of 40-foot flatbed-pulling hotshots. Just one among the trucks in the fleet is company equipment, piloted by Krystal Raue's longtime owner-operator husband, Daymon. (Daymon Raue was honored for millions of safe miles in 2021 in the National Association of Small Trucking Companies' "America's Best Drivers" program.)
Revenue growth has been steady as Krystal Raue works hard to secure the best rates among brokers and other customers she works with. In service of that mission she's made a big pivot this year from what had been principally a reefer operation hauling a lot of meat outbound from Nebraska and Iowa, with produce on the return.
Last year, Triple R contracted with just a single owner-operator doing platform work, but as reefer spot-market rates began to fall early this year, Triple R parked most of the reefer trailers it owns. "They’re just sitting here right now," Raue said. Holding out on reefer rates and looking for ways to help owner-ops better handle this year's off-the-charts fuel costs, Raue pivoted to the power-only operations of large carriers' brokerages and others as a refuge for those owners, who "were losing time on the reefer side" sitting and burning excess fuel to maintain temps. "They can turn around more quickly on a power-only" load, she said.
In addition to the two hotshots pulling shorter flatbeds, a few other owners leased there pull flats -- and one step deck, too, shown below.
Raue said having the platform options has helped keep profitability as high as it can be in a tough time, along with the variety of power-only options. Despite recent bad news for flatbed spot rates, from her perch at Triple R, Raue noted she "hasn't really seen flatbed drop off too much," spot or contract (one of her flat pullers runs contract leads that originate locally).
She's got her eye on new opportunities, too. After starting the process in 2021, Triple R this year got registered direct with U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more of a straight path to emergency-assistance loads through FEMA. Raue and company have hauled FEMA loads through brokers in the past, including ice to hurricane-affected areas, so she's seen the revenue that can generated. There's more to it for her, though.
“The money is good, but making sure that people are getting what they need is what’s most important,” Raue said. “We’ll sit down there as long as we need to. We just try to help out as much as we can.”
The new FEMA contract hasn't yielded business yet, but she's been hard at work schooling herself on the portals used for load tendering there in preparation for this year's hurricane season. "I've been watching the training videos and learning how to navigate the government’s web programs," she said. "They say their loads really pick up in October."
Focusing on safety
Through the years, Triple R has received numerous recognitions from its insurance carrier, Great West Casualty, for both highway and workplace safety, the latter every year since since 2015. The company's received the highway safety award four times during that period, with the silver award in 2015, 2020 and 2021, the gold award in 2018 and the platinum award in 2019.
“It’s harder for us because it’s based on mileage and accidents,” Raue said. In 2020, “we drove 580,000 miles, but we had one accident in June, and that kicked us down to silver," as also happened in 2021. "It’s about keeping those at-fault accidents away. We’re trying to keep pushing our miles up, keeping drivers rolling, and making sure they’re watching what’s going on and avoiding those accidents, being those responsible drivers and trying to prevent accidents.”
The company’s operators are required to take quarterly safety tests online, in which they have to watch a video and take a quiz each quarter, part of NASTC's safety programs for its fleet members, among which is Triple R Trucking.
Triple R pays its leased owners on a percentage of the load basis. Starting out, new owner-operators with the company who use the company’s trailers make 72% of the load, plus an additional fuel surcharge, as do those pulling power-only loads Triple R secures with a bevy of partners. That percentage goes to 75% after a 90-day review. Owners that bring their own trailer to the business take home 85% of the load. In all cases: also plus a fuel surcharge.
The company's NASTC membership yields savings from the NASTC fuel card and other benefits. Owner-operators get 100% of the fuel savings from the NASTC card passed to them.
Triple R also offers a $1,000 sign-on bonus paid out over an operator's first year, a $100 mileage bonus to the top-miles driver each month, and inspection bonuses. The company pays drivers $150 for a clean Level I inspection, $100 for a clean Level II, and $50 for a clean Level III. Those carrots, however, also come with a stick. If an operator gets a violation, they’re charged $20 per violation. She well knows the possible consequences of violations, even small ones. Triple R's business with the retailing behemoth Amazon was lost after the impact of a single hours of service violation produced a big change in the company's percentile ranking category in the CSA Safety Measurement system.
While such dramatic shifts on the basis of very few violations in that system are well-known among carriers -- and among the reasons Congress pulled the scores from public view in 2015 -- given all the private services re-creating those scores for anyone wanting to use them, Amazon "just looks at the number," Raue noted.
Clearly, she's not sitting on her hands, as it were. Her mostly-carrots-and-a-few-sticks program around roadside inspections "gives the drivers an incentive to keep their stuff together,” she said. “I don’t want any CSA points, [the drivers] don’t want any CSA points, so we all get along there.”
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