Fit for business: Owner-Operators of the Month

Updated Nov 29, 2012
Tom and Karen brought in a net income of approximately $100,000 in 2011. Here, the driving team stands with their truck shortly after starting over-the-road in 2001. Their ’99 International 9400 has more than 1.5-million miles on it. They call the truck Butkus, named for former football player Dick Butkus.Tom and Karen brought in a net income of approximately $100,000 in 2011. Here, the driving team stands with their truck shortly after starting over-the-road in 2001. Their ’99 International 9400 has more than 1.5-million miles on it. They call the truck Butkus, named for former football player Dick Butkus.

The husband-wife team of Tom and Karen Moore stumbled upon trucking via the couple’s side business about 10 years ago. Karen was a legal secretary and Tom a commercial photographer. The couple also had a love for drag racing and owned their own racing business, which demanded the need for a truck to pull a transporter for their dragster.

This got Karen to thinking. “I wanted to get out and see the country, and get into some good hard work,” she says. “So I told Tom, ‘Why don’t we get into trucking?’”

The two got CDLs in 2001 and found out quickly starting as owner-operators would be more difficult than originally planned. “No one wanted to insure us because we didn’t have any experience,” Tom says. They finally were able to piece together multiple policies from different companies to make it work.

Business services company Interstate Registration Agency took care of the set-up and management and, to this day, still does the team’s reporting and accounting.

Almost 11 years later, doing the job right is the Bakersfield, Calif., team’s ultimate goal. They still drive the black 1999 International 9400 they bought as rookies. Their primary loads have consisted of military goods.

Their secret to success as owner-operators is quite simple – keep the truck and themselves in top working order. Here are few tips from the Moores:

Keep an eye on health

The team stays active on the job and off, doing exercises near the truck while on the road and spending hours cycling with a group and working out in their exercise room at home. They originally met at a gym. “We are workout people, and want more drivers to get into a regular workout schedule, too,” Karen says.

The team tries to stop every four hours to walk and jump rope. They also monitor their diets closely and keep most of their meals in the truck, which include fruit, yogurt and other healthy choices.

“It’s hard for drivers to be healthy with the options that are in truck stops,” Karen says. “It’s either a buffet, where one will overeat, or a fast food restaurant, where you get a soda, burger and an order of fries.”

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Perform regular maintenance

“We hear horror stories from people driving new trucks—our truck has never been parked on the side of the road and is not as expensive to maintain as a new rig,” Tom says.

Tom says, for them, a new truck is another house payment, and one they don’t care to have.

Tom and Karen stick to a maintenance schedule designed to keep their truck running in good condition, despite its age. The team works with the same mechanics for lube and oil and for general maintenance, a tire company for tire work and a Cummins specialist for motor work. They keep meticulously organized records of every dime spent on the truck, using Quickbooks. Every three months, the truck gets a check-up with a full maintenance job. They go bumper-to-bumper with an inspection list.

Hone business knowledge

Tom says having experience owning a business is a plus, but owner-operators must learn to budget time and money. “We plan out exactly how much each mile of a haul will cost us before we ever accept the job, so there are no surprises down the road,” Tom says.

The team never accepts loads until they’ve figured their potential profit; they strategize by examining cost per mile versus the profit.

Randy Schole, owner of Country Tire in Bakersfield, knew the Moores prior to trucking and provides their tires now. “They have a good, solid control of their business—and know to the penny what it costs to run their truck on the highway,” Schole says. “Besides that, they are refreshingly honorable and down-to-earth.”

Mind the load

Tom and Karen pull flatbed so it’s imperative their loads are aerodynamic and light if possible.

“Part of watching our expenses is watching what we are hauling—we can pull an empty shipping container and it’s like pulling a parachute (a lot of wind resistance), but we can put a heavy object on the trailer, like building supplies, and we get better mileage because it works better with the flatbed,” Tom says.

Portray professionalism

“We watch drivers at truck stops throw out entire bags of trash or use the bathroom right beside their trucks without a care in the world,” Karen says. They, however, have made it habit to pick up the thrown-out trash in front of the culprit and dispose of it.

“We are hoping it makes drivers think twice – curing one trucker at a time,” Tom says. “Actions like that are representative of his or her company.” Chris Meusy, owner of Fast Way Transport, has worked with the team for many years and admires the personality and professionalism they bring to driving.

“It’s a tough market to be in, overrun with people that want to break the law and cut corners,” Meusy says. “They have a love for what trucking should be and hopefully will be someday.”

Enjoy the job

“We can’t think of anything else we want to do, because we get to spend every day together on an adventure, instead of separately in an office,” Karen says.

Tom agreed that it’s definitely an adventure, and the payoff is worth the work.

“It’s a hard job, but once it’s over, you feel like a million dollars,” Karen said. “You get adrenaline highs—and we’re all about adrenaline highs.”