Not all small carriers are created equal

by Bill Cameron

Not all small trucking companies are cut from the same cloth. Although most small companies are owned by former owner/operators or dispatchers, there are several different business approaches they may take.

Probably the most common of these small fleet owners are the long-time drivers. They really love this industry and found a (profitable) way to be more heavily involved. They usually have nice equipment and are often firm with their freight rates. The only potential downside to working for this type of person, at least for people like me, is they often consider this to be a lifestyle – not a job – and may prefer long-haul work more than some of us care for.

The second type of small fleet owner is also fairly common. You’re reading the opinions of one of them right now. We’ve been in this industry long enough to know what we’re doing, but our entrepreneurial spirit simply won’t allow us to do it for someone else. Working as a single truck operator wasn’t enough; we have higher goals.

Freight rates are usually very good, in part because we’re not here just because we have a deep affection for the industry. We’re here because this is our profession, and it must be profitable if we’re to stay. Neither poor freight rates nor unsatisfactory drivers have a place with us.

The next groups can likely be lumped together as the types of smaller carrier you shouldn’t consider working for. There are several signs that you should run – not walk – away from these carriers. If they have equipment that looks worn out, even though they’ve been in business several years, or if they offer pay either monthly – or worse, pay when they get paid – run.

Finances are probably tight in these circumstances, and although everyone deserves a chance, you as a driver or owner/operator have too many options available to gamble with your financial future. If they didn’t exist two months ago, but are now ready to set the world on fire hiring everybody they can find, tread carefully. If they describe the available job to you, then appear willing to change everything if it will get you signed up, run. We smaller operators don’t have that kind of fluidity in the workload to completely change it just because you asked. Offering incredible miles combined with plenty of home time is another common red flag. You simply can’t have both.

The first two types of small carriers I described are apt to be much more firm with company policies, customer service and the condition and appearance of the equipment, whether company-owned or belonging to owner/operators.

We’re here with a long-term plan and usually have little patience with those who don’t follow established, agreed-upon procedures. We realize that the wheels need to turn to produce profit, so if you’re the type that treats this job like a national truck stop tour, with some occasional pick-ups and deliveries, don’t even apply. If your maintenance program consists of a full service only when your annual safety is due, and hoping for frequent rain to keep the truck clean for free, we don’t want you. Such attitudes don’t fit within a company that wishes to maintain a clean reputation. These companies, although less flexible, are generally the better choice for employment, but only if you want to make money and are smart enough to realize that steady, predictable work is required from you in return.

If you aren’t terribly reliable, or not much of a caretaker, you need to speak with the other group of employers. Your income will be lacking, but it’s still likely the best job you’ll find. Those of us in the first two groups have likely been involved in this industry long enough to have developed patience.

We’re no longer so eager to add to our fleet that we’ll accept lesser-skilled drivers or believe that poor attitudes will improve with time. If you aren’t the proper candidate, we’ve matured enough to realize that you are completely unacceptable, not ‘better than nothing.’ We’ve all been stung by hiring foolishly out of necessity, and we’ve lost customers or CVOR points because of it.

If you want (sometimes brutal) honesty, the first two groups are your best bet for employment. We have a firm idea of how we want to do things and we need to be sure that any potential hire is on the same page. Work expectations, maintenance expectations, home time, pay levels, etc., are all established before you’re hired, so listen closely during the interview. If you don’t appear to be on board with what we expect, you won’t be hired, and if you want to change the game plan later, you won’t last.

Conversely, if the job doesn’t sound like what you are looking for (travel areas, weekly mileage, home time, type of freight hauled – anything, really), be honest, and say so. You won’t have the wrong job, we won’t have the wrong driver, and we won’t be angry with each other. We’re here to do a job, with both parties profiting, not to just tolerate each other. The third type of carrier may be willing to tolerate that sort of working relationship, but we aren’t. As usual, do your homework and act accordingly. Ultimately, it’s your livelihood at stake.


Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at

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