Now that spring is here I like many of you are looking forward to the warm weather and the turning of things from Grey to green. It is also a time when many of us get a little itchy to see if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. As some of you may know I have written in the past of doing your homework to determine if in fact your carrier is really at fault for your lack of success and that is simply not a case of you looking after your own business the way it should be done. This article assumes this has been done and you have finally decided that it is time to start looking, so where do you begin? Here is a quick look at a proper carrier search should look like and an idea as to how to conduct your search.
I would suggest that there are many things that should be investigated before you commit to any new carrier. First and foremost you should understand that for the most part if you have clean equipment and a clean driving record that you are in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Carriers are in dire need of good owner operators and drivers so go ahead, and be little bold with your demands for information. I believe that if you are looking for a long-term relationship with a progressive successful carrier you need to know as much about them as they need to know about you if not more.
As with all business decisions I suggest that you start with a pen and pencil and write out a plan with a goal, in this case start with the result you want. Many factors need to be contemplated like what’s my desired length of trip, and to what part of the country, what part of the job do I like doing the most and least. For most is suspect, it’s the driving part of the job that is the main interest, the least stops the better? Or is a good day determined for when you have had multiple stops and have met lots of different people over your shift, maybe an LTL or quarter load operation would fit your needs? Do you like a good mix of physical labor along with driving maybe flatbed work is where you want to be? Obviously there are as many types of operations as you can imagine decide which sector of the industry best fits you and only focus on that group.
Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of what you’re looking for, its time to bring some detail into the search. Make a list of all the possibilities and put each company on a separate piece of paper. Then you can start to investigate each company and keep notes on their own sheet so you can compare them rationally. Obviously start by searching through their websites for as much detail as possible. Next contact these companies to get as much information as possible over the phone. Ask them to send you any information they have, including the contract you will be signing. When you have this information you should be able to narrow your search down to two or three candidates.
Each company will have different pay packages and bells and whistles for you to consider. The common elements will be consistent and need to be tracked so on the top of each sheet list these items. They would be a revenue section that would list, rate of payment is it by the mile or percentage along with this ask for the average miles driven by their O/O fleet or the average gross if they pay by percentage along with the average miles driven. Drop or pick up payments, waiting time rates of pay, safety bonus, layovers, and any other per diem payments that might apply tarping and un-tarping for example list any area that might derive revenue for your truck.
Then list all the necessities that may be either company paid or paid by you that would be considered expenses. These items would include things such as base plate, insurance (this area should also include some detail of what your deductibles are should you have an incident of any kind). Tolls, permits, border crossing decals, HVUT (Heavy Vehicle Use Tax) if you’re crossing the US border along with any items the carrier might require you to have to work in your chosen sector such as a wet line for instance for tank haulers or bulk carriers. Holdback amounts are your monies but until paid they are an interruption of future cash flow so put this amount here for now, but ask if interest is paid on the amount and if so when and what amount.
All the information you have collected so far are what I consider to be the hard facts and you should have had very little challenge in getting the information from your prospective new company. If you have gotten resistance in disclosure this should tell you something of what the future might hold for you, some carriers are very open with sharing information on the generic results of their owner Operator fleet, so ask for it.
The next step once you have your facts on paper is the critical one; you have narrowed your search now its time to get to work and find out the fine detail. Remember not to be fooled by the numbers large gross numbers do not necessarily equate to money in your pocket that’s why a visit to the carrier with your eyes wide open is the next step. Many carriers have developed infrastructures that are very Owner Operator user friendly and their infrastructure will allow you to take significant operating cost off your bottom line. Remember its what left over that counts the carrier might offer preferred shop rates that are significantly below market rates, they might sell tires or fuel at a shared volume rate that is better than your other candidates. Depending on your individual situation these factors may or may not be of importance to you. When I ran a small three-truck fleet I did all my own oil changes and minor maintenance so this wouldn’t have been a big deal for me at the time. But for others who are not so inclined this lowering of operating cost would flow right to your bottom line.
Finally ask the question of what their turnover rate is, they should be able to give you this answer quickly if they’re concerned with the success of their contractors and drivers. Ask for the names of a couple of their Owner Operators so you can talk to these people about their experience with the carrier. When your talking to these people you might want to get the names of a couple of O/O’s who are not so happy so you can talk to them also. What does the terminal look like is it neat and clean with a good driver’s room. Ask to meet the operations manager and one of the dispatchers for a quick chat, try, and determine the culture of the company inside and outside the building. Is it win/win professional climate or is it adversarial with tension in the air, are the people in the company treated like professionals with respect?
Add up all the facts both hard and soft items and make your decision, this is just a quick overview of how I would make a decision this article could easily be 5 plus pages and still not cover every item. This decision is paramount to your future success so take your time and do it properly and at he end of the day you are left with two very close candidates, all I can say is trust your gut. Let your instincts take over as to where you might be most comfortable working.
One final thing when you make your decision go into the relationship with a positive attitude and a determination to succeed. Remember you only get one chance to make a good first impression, let everyone know that you are a professional and do your part to get things off to a good start.
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. All posts by Ray Haight