Ray’s Rules for Owner Operators

Howdy, folks. With the exception of a fellow named Bob many of you seemed to enjoy my Ray’s Rules column from a few months ago, so I thought I would run with the idea and set some ground rules for a few specific sectors of the industry. In the near future you might see Ray’s Rules for company owners, company drivers, safety managers, recruiters, dispatchers or whatever seems like a good idea at the time. Oh…and just to keep Bob happy…load brokers. I would also be more than willing to take suggestions from you folks, so send them in and let’s put some order to some of these roles and once again, straighten this thing out!
Before I go on I should clarify that these rules are my satirical view of what I see as being obvious oversights on the parts of some folks. I attempt to throw in some humor in order to get some of you to get off the pot and start acting like you’re in the game and not only survive, but to do the best you can. I also need to point out that the vast majority of, in this case, Owner Operators, run under their own set of rules and do not need any advice from me. That being said, there are always those groups that just don’t get it and I guess that Ray’s Rules is really for those folks; so if you are one of them, please pay attention. We need you to wake up and be part of the team!
Rule Number 1: Expired fuel tax decals are not to be treated in the same manner as old luggage that you never throw out. Take them off your truck. If I was a scale master, I would think to myself, “Wow this guy can’t even be bothered to remove an IFTA decal from 2005…I wonder what the rest of this fool’s paperwork looks like?” Get that crap off there; it might take an extra 10-15 minutes but get a rag with some cleaner and take the old decal goo off and put the new one on straight. Do it and do it right now!
Rule Number 2: Speaking of straight…at least once or twice a week I see an owner operator who has put the logo of the company who they are for crooked on the side of the truck. What is up with that? Are you folk’s blind? A crooked logo on the side of a truck looks like hell. If you are so challenged in this regard, get that crooked thing replaced and have it put on by someone who knows what they are doing. It won’t cost much; you just tell them where you want it and stay away from the project. Get with the program here!
Rule Number 3: I understand that keeping a truck clean is not always easy, but occasionally I see a truck going down the road that hasn’t been washed in months. If this doesn’t bother whoever owns this piece of equipment then I am not sure what else to say, except that I bet this is the same person that you can smell before they ever enter the room. As of today you must leave our little fraternity; it’s not that we don’t like you; it’s just that our senses can no longer tolerate your lack of cleanliness or personal hygiene!
Rule Number 4 (You have heard this rule from me many times before, but for me it has to be on this list): The whiners must go! I’m not talking about the complaints that come from someone with a legitimate beef and attempts to do something about it. I’m talking about the person who lives by the code of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and they never stop complaining. You guys make my ears hurt! You too must leave our club and, in addition are also banned from ever owning another CB radio!
Rule Number 5: Using your next and last pay statements as your sole measure as to whether you are getting ahead or not must stop. You bought a truck as a tool to start a small business. Being successful as a small business includes but is not limited to planning, strategizing, budgeting, and cash flow management. If you don’t know what I am talking about here ask around and find a business service provider who can help you and get on with it. If you’re an Owner Operator and not doing this, this is the most important rule in this article for you. As Nike would say… Just Do It!
Rule Number 6: You must know your cost as an Owner Operator and you must work at reducing this cost at all times. In my previous life, one of the ways I would gauge the business savvy of an owner operator, was during a conversation I would ask what the individual’s cost of fuel was. Unfortunately many folks couldn’t answer me, they would try though. I would get answers like 6 MPG or 7.1 MPG which was, of course, an answer to a question I did not ask. If the owner operator gave me an answer that was out to 3 digits or 35.7 cents per mile after fuel surcharge, then I knew I was talking to someone who was watching their business.
Rule Number 7 (copied from my favorite author Larry Winget, check him out at www.larrywinget.com):. “Do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, the way you said you would do it.” Larry nails it in his #1 rule for life and business, and this should be included on every list. Unless you follow this rule in your own day-to-day life, how can you expect anyone else to come through for you the way you expect them to?
This could go on for pages but I’m running out of space. Please feel free to drop me a note on what should be added to the list or comment on the current content.
Safe Trucking!
Ray J Haight

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Mr. Ray Haight has enjoyed a successful career in transportation starting as a company driver and Owner Operator logging over one million accident free miles prior to starting his own company. After stepping down from a successful career managing one of Canada’s 50 largest trucking companies, Ray focused on industry involvement including terms as Chairman of each of the following, the Truckload Carriers Association, Professional Truck Drivers Institute, North American Training and Management Institute and the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities voluntary apprenticeship of Tractor Trailer Commercial Driver, along with many other business interests, he enjoys a successful consulting business, also sitting on various Boards of both industry associations a private motor carriers. He is also Co-Founder of StakUp O/A TCAinGauge an online bench marking service designed to assist trucking companies throughout North America focus on efficiency and profitability within their operations.

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  • Hi Ray. Good post! Rule #2 – Speaking of straight. How can it be that 8 out of 10 trucks has a bent front bumper?? And how about those sleeper extenders?? A few years back, when most people, like myself, drove long hood conventionals without set-back front axles and bumpers made of plastic which are high enough to clear curbs and even the highest sidewalks, you just didn’t see bent front bumpers on trucks. These new set back axle things that are out there these days should never get their bumper ripped off! I had a friend of mine who was not a truck driver, ride with me on a trip to Los Angeles one time and when we stopped for lunch at a big truckstop and were walking to the restaurant, he said “Doesn’t anyone know how to drive anymore?” I asked him what he was talking about. He said “look at all those bent front bumpers!?” I took a look. Every single truck in a row of about 20 trucks had the bumper bent back or ahead and a couple had big chunks of them missing! Since then, I can’t help but think that this is a pretty good indication to the non-truckers that a bunch of the drivers do not know how to drive! Please replace bent, broken, missing bumpers to help with repairing an already tarnished image! And while you’re at it, fix or remove those wrinkled up sleeper extender panels. If you have to turn that short, that you jam your trailer up against your sleeper, you have done something wrong! Maybe it does not bother you to have bent up equipment, but it does not make more money being bent and it looks bad on the whole industry!

  • Great stuff Ray.
    Stephens comments are right down the right path as well.
    Self respect and first impressions!
    The crooked logo’s and the cracked and bent body parts and the grimy equipment are statements.
    “I do not care.”
    Potentially followed by……
    I am not very good at operating this equipment.
    I cannot afford the time or expense of washing my truck.
    I may not take proper care of the critical components.
    I probably do not have my documentation in order. etc. etc.
    These signs also demote the trucking industry in the eyes of the public.
    They act as a confirmation to those that want to believe we are all reckless bunch of gypsies.
    The type of O/O described above is probably the same type who thinks an engagement with an officer is a good time to consider where their documents might be while they whine about the state of the industry.
    (Officers after all have never heard these details before and welcome the input.)
    You are the master of your own status in life.
    If you want to be self employed you need to know how to run a business.
    If you want respect you have to earn it.
    Attention to details can go a long way toward gaining the respect you desire.

  • Great Comment, Your absolutly right Stephen, It would be embarrasing to drive bent metal wouldn’t it, it would be like hanging a sign off your truck that says “I’m really not very good at this”
    New rule, if it’s bent straighten it or park it where no one can see it, return to truck driver training school and learn how to drive without bending the equipment! If after doing this you sill bend the equipment then your out, go immediately to a Macks Milk store and learn to run a cash register we dont want you, Bye Bye!

  • I agree with most of the rules but admit that I don’t track my cost per mile very closely.I once met our CEO in a group setting and he asked us if we could quote our cost per mile.No one answered but my thought at the moment was that although I can manage expenses I have no control over the revenue to meet those expenses except to work as hard and long as it takes to get the job done and hope there is enough left for a life.
    By the way, how do you like reading a comment with correct spelling and grammar?

  • Good column Ray…may I add…Treat your carrier like a customer! When you’re an owner-operator you’re in business for yourself..and your carrier is your customer. Sure…you have every right to expect fair treatment from your carrier…however too often we forget that it goes both ways. I have worked for several large carriers who allowed themselves to be run ragged by whiney operators who openly opined that carriers are a necessarily evil and should be treated accordingly. If you want to do well as an owner-operator you should hitch up with a reputable carrier and service the heck out of them…Run it like a business..and that starts with understanding that your in it to make money…by serving your customer.

  • Good points Hans Jansen!! I used to keep fairly close tabs on my costs per mile to run my truck when I worked for a big carrier and it was quite often that the C.E.O. would have a group discussion and would ask O/O’s what their costs were. Most of them did not know what to say to him and therefore, any constructive progress toward getting a better pay deal was over! He would say ” If you people don’t even know what your cost are, then the problem lies on your side, not any fault of the company! ” Then, the meeting was over and business was as usual with no changes made. That being said, some of us pulled a flatdeck, some pulled a van, some hauled machinery and others hauled plate steel, etc. We all know that pulling a flatdeck with a load of steel pulls a heck of a lot easier than say a grader, skidder, excavator, etc. Your fuel and tire costs alone could nearly double on certain loads compared to others. Some of us, myself included, pulled a multi-axle lowboy and hauled dump boxes for mining trucks that were over 25′ wide and 15’high and with gross weights approaching 200,000 lbs. Or we hauled huge cranes, bulldozers, earthmovers, and oilfield equipment. Some times, nearly half of the miles were running empty, just hauling the pieces of the trailer and it’s necessary equipment to where the next load was. Depending on the weather, the time of year ( amount of daylight hours you are allowed to travel during ) or the size, weight, etc. of the load, or if you were traveling enpty across the country to load, your costs could vary greatly! And, the most important part, you do not have any control over what the revenue will be. The dispatcher can make or break even the hardest working O/O by screwing them around and giving them only cheap loads or loads that take way too much time for the rate of pay. There will often be another O/O who supplies a new 4×4 pickup for the dispatcher to drive or makes sure he has a new ATV to ride and there goes your good loads to someone else! ( This may only happen once in a while, but I have seen it a time or two! ) As for the spelling and grammar, I congratulate you! It is nice to find a trok drivr thit can spel! This may be one of this industry’s big stumbling blocks. A lot of people in this profession can’t spell or use proper grammar and may not be able to read or write very good either and maybe this is why most management people treat truck drivers as poor as they do!

  • Come on folks let’s stay focused and quit the poor me BS, what did your tires cost last year on a per mile basis? This isn’t a conspiracy or a trick it is fundamental question as to one of your main operating cost. This is the issue for me and I don’t expect owner operators to sit down in the evening and calculate these cost but they should at least use a service that gives them regular information that is useful for the purposes of running their small business. The secret is to minimize your operating expenses while maximizing your revenue, this is the same principle every business that has ever existed operates under. If you don’t know you’re operating cost and try and minimize it as a regular part of being an owner operator you are not getting it!
    I truly believe that the majority of O O’s are hard working salt of the earth grinders who believe that the secret to success is to work a little harder when the real secret is to work a little smarter. If you truly understand your operating cost and can trim them by a marginal amount you can increase your profit exponentially. If you average 10,000 miles per month or 120,000 per year and you decrease you’re operating cost by 5 cents per mile that’s $6000.00 additional dollars per year in your pocket. You do the math!
    Don’t give me the big cow tears if you haven’t bothered to do the homework on your business, if you’re in a company where the dispatcher can be greased, get out now! If you’re not getting the miles you need to survive start looking for a new carrier now! But if you’re not looking after your business and don’t know your cost of doing business, you’re a victim and to change this you better start educating yourself quick!
    Ray Haight

  • Ray, I can’t resist adding this:
    Hey look at mee, 6 munths ago I cudnt eevn spel oner opratr, now I are one!!
    Paul L.

  • Hi Ray. It seems that you assume that all O/O’s get paid by the mile and are dispatched on the same volume of work as each other. If that were the case, then what you’re saying would make sense, but a lot of companies pay percentage of revenue and the load planners and dispatchers are not legally or morally obligated to make sure that each O/O gets the same amount of gross revenue. Not all freight rides in a van or on a flatdeck and sales people don’t always remember this when booking freight, so many times, the revenue is not relative to the amount of work involved or the type of equipment required to move that freight. Like Hans said, we have little or no control of the gross revenue to our trucks if we work for a company that pays percentage. Also, there are times when some costs are out of our control (eg. lumper fees, ferries, etc.) if the sales people forget to charge back to the customer and the dispatcher ‘forgets’ to tell you about it up front. Or, in some cases, they book freight as if it is van freight, but when the time comes to haul it, it is 12′ wide or 65000 lbs and needs to be loaded with a crane. It is pretty hard, no matter how hard you work, or how well you service the heck out of your carrier, to cut back and save a little on those type of costs! Then, there are people at some of these companies that just have a shortage of common sense when it comes to figuring out what the costs are and why they are what they are. An example: A few years ago, I stopped at the office to pick up some oversize/overweight permits for the load that I was hauling and the operations manager said to me “Stephen, you have the poorest fuel mileage in our entire fleet! You need to upgrade your equipment to bring your fuel mileage in line with the company average!” If he would have studied physics in school, he could have looked out the window at my truck, loaded with a Cat D10 bulldozer on a multi-axle trailer and realized that it might not get the same fuel economy as the two company trucks sitting beside mine that were loaded with lumber on a flatdeck. He was positive that it was the fact that my truck was 8 or 9 years old that caused it to be so hard on fuel! My revenue was good enough to cover my expenses for a few years, but eventually that was not the case, so I left there and went on my own. Anyway, I can tell you that after a couple million miles, I know how much my costs are, and believe it or not, they change drastically depending on a lot of things including the type of freight being hauled, the time of year, the roads (or lack of what could be called roads), and then a whole bunch of stuff that could and should be controlled, but for some reason, the sales, dispatch, etc. ‘forgot’ to look after it and then it becomes the O/O’s problem. At this point, there is little an O/O can do to cut these costs. Just so we are on the same page, last time I checked, I have no cow tears and I have noticed that it is not miles that pay bills, it is dollars. Please send me a picture of a dispatcher that can’t be greased… I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of them! Take care and keep on blogging!

  • I agree with Rick, the company is my customer and I am their representative to their customers.
    I have always done well as an owner operator and especially during this recession, I am having my best years ever.
    The secret to my success is contrary to Dave Ramsey’s thoughts on the word NO.
    NO is not a word I have in my vocabulary when it comes to dispatchers or customers, as long as it is legal, moral and within the confines of hours of service regulations.
    Sure I get a crummy load on occasion, but they do remember me the next time.

  • Hey Allan Wilson, you are very lucky that you work wherever you do! I have been in places like Laredo, Tx. and was told by dispatch that ‘the only load we have is ——-, it pays $6000.00 to Edmonton’ which I find out needs 2 pilot cars all the way because of the width of the load. I am very glad that the word ‘no’ was in my vocabulary and I am curious how you would handle that situation. Please do tell- I have been doing this a long time and can’t figure out how you would use your secret to success and get that delivered!