Making the move from a company driver to an owner/operator isn’t a decision a professional trucker takes lightly. The preparation involved is enough for some to change their minds and they often find out it’s not exactly what they expected.
Phil Blanchette of North Bay, Ont., however, claims making that decision to become an O/O back in 1998, is a decision he’ll never regret. Blanchette, now 59, has been driving professionally for more than 30 years and has learned a lot along the way. He has no intention of putting his truck in park for good anytime soon.
He claims his interest in becoming an owner/op was thanks in large part to the acquisitions the trucking industry is no stranger to.
“I drove part-time back in 1984,” he said. “I was a company driver for six years at the first fleet I worked for. Then, I left there and I worked for another company where I was home three nights a week, and I liked that, so that worked out pretty well for me. I did that for a couple years and then a big company came in and ate us up and everything changed. So then I started out as a lease/operator and I did that for three years. Eventually, I just turned in my lease, because I just couldn’t get home enough. (The company was in southern Ontario, he lives in North Bay). I went back to the first company I ever worked for and I bought a truck through them and they helped me finance it and that’s where I started.”
Blanchette said the move was a risk, not to mention an expensive endeavor.
“It was a big risk,” he said. “And the first truck I bought, it was older and I probably paid too much for it. But, I had it paid off in 15 months and actually I paid almost as much in repairs as I did for the truck. I paid $30,000 for the truck and it was $18,000 for repairs when all was said and done. It was hard doing that, but once I got a new truck, it was easy. With a new truck, sure you have your truck payments, but you have a new truck. You aren’t going down the road wondering what’s going to break next.”
Today he drives a 2011 Western Star and averages 8 mpg during the summer, and between 6.5 and 7 mpg during the cold winter months. He has been with Bison Transport for almost 12 years.
His advice for those drivers who are thinking about making the leap into the world of business ownership is simple: be committed.
“I asked a lot of questions when I bought the first truck,” he said. “The guy I was working for helped me out a lot and taught me a lot. I also got myself an accountant because that’s pretty much the first thing you have to do. I also don’t drive fast. I chug along. I keep telling guys your money is in your right leg. You’ve got to slow down. This idea of driving as fast as you can to get another load isn’t right. An extra five miles in a day isn’t getting you anywhere or making you any money.
“If you’re going to become an O/O, you have to be committed. There’s always people who say, ‘Ooh. That’s a lot of money,’ when they hear or see an O/O’s paycheque. And it’s a good paycheque but you have to remember out of that paycheque comes your taxes, your truck payment, and your maintenance. You have to be sure that’s what you want to do. Because once you buy that truck, in all likelihood, you’re going to be locked in for five years. So you can’t just walk in because that’s what you want to do. You have to be committed and ask questions, learn, find out what it’s all about before you jump in.”
This year, Blanchette took another risk and auditioned to become one of the Ontario Trucking Association’s Road Knights. He was nominated after fellow Bison drivers mentioned his name to the safety department because of his healthy curiosity about the program. After the nomination, he was invited by the OTA to present a speech on a safety topic of his choice and earlier this year, it was announced he had made it and was officially named an OTA Road Knight for the 2015-2016 term.
Blanchette said he wants to focus mostly on truck awareness during his two-year stint.
“I hope to teach people about truck awareness,” he said. “And how to conduct yourself when you’re in heavy truck traffic and try to teach them that you can’t stop like you can in a car. I want to educate them about the blind spots and to remind them about how dangerous tailgating is. It’s been a good life. Trucking has treated me well, but there’s always room for improvement.”
He claims the best part of being an O/O is the freedom that comes with owning and operating his own truck, though the time away from home is the same across the board for all professional drivers, and being an owner/op doesn’t exactly mean you’ll be home every weekend.
“When you’re away from home, you know your spouse wishes you never got into this business and that makes it hard,” he said. “But, I’ll never look back, I’ll never regret doing this for a living.”