Sometimes I feel like an unwilling version of Ann Landers. I don’t feel qualified to offer advice, but periodically I hear of someone starting a trucking company or becoming an owner/operator, who seems to be overlooking a lot of unpleasant realities which, to those of us who have been there, done that, are obvious.
So bear with me through another ‘Dr. Phil’ moment. Hopefully it’s the last. We’ve covered the economical and psychological side of the industry, along with the basic ‘nuts and bolts’ aspect, along with the ‘stuff happens’ theories. How about the physical demands of the business? Those of you doing local work or day trips can ignore some of this, but parts herein will apply to everybody.
Owners of small trucking companies are not able to start up and immediately assume an office position, or regular hours.
As a driver, especially when there’s a shortage of quality drivers – which I believe has not yet hit the critical point – you are often needed behind the wheel more than anywhere else.
In our case, my wife took over management of the company after it surpassed two trucks.
Now, other than driving and repairs, she handles every task within the company, with only part-time office help.
As she says “Be self-employed and set your own hours – as long as those hours are 24/7”.
Between tracking border entries, and other issues that crop up outside office hours, her job is hardly eight to five.
If you’re alone, and there’s no one else to be involved in the company, you can likely still hire office staff more readily than you can hire a driver to replace yourself. It won’t be easy, or inexpensive, but how easy is it to hire suitable driving staff that either you, or your extra-fussy insurance company will accept?
So in all likelihood, you’re stuck in the cab, at least for now. (In my case, “for now” has been 14 years and counting).
Hours-of-service regulations should therefore limit you to a workweek that most consider excessive, 70 hours. Good luck with that. Greasing, general inspections, and minor repairs, such as lights and other tasks not requiring a mechanic’s licence are all services that cost a small fortune to send out.
When starting in business, the only way you have a small fortune at your disposal is if you started with a large fortune, so be prepared to get dirty.
A wheel and tire installer’s licence is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain, so get one.
Of course, you will enter all this unlicensed repair work in your log book as on-duty, not driving. Of course you will.
One of our tenants watched the pool of sweat gather at my feet once, while I demounted and mounted tires. He asked “Don’t you know there are people who do this for a living?”
My answer: “Yes, at $30 each. In 90 minutes, I’ve done eight. How’s your math?”
It’s hard on otherwise unused muscles at first, but that’s a good chunk of change you’ve saved. I’ve had mechanics argue with me that twice-monthly grease jobs aren’t really necessary.
They’re probably right, but the grease gun gives you a great excuse to be underneath your equipment, finding chafed hoses, leaky wheel seals, missing clevis pins or a multitude of other faults that typically aren’t found in most daily inspections.
Several out-of-service charges can be prevented just by a small amount of time spent on each unit. You can also have some advance warning when the next brake job or tire replacement on each unit may be necessary. I’ve never been able to afford a $70-$80 per hour labour rate to fix minor squeaks and rattles, or burnt out gauge lights.
So there are the minor repairs out of the way. What else could there be? Plenty.
When a driver has a mechanical issue or an accident at midnight (in the middle of your sleep cycle), you get the call.
Forget about a solid night’s sleep. If your phone doesn’t ring through the night, depending on your debt or stress levels, you’ll wake up repeatedly anyway.
Even though you may not work in the office, you will find yourself there on weekends.
Maintenance reports, log book auditing, and assigning invoices and work orders to the right equipment file is up to you.
You’ll find yourself checking trip reports against your mileage software to see if you have drivers who can’t read a map or follow directions, therefore burning a lot of extra fuel.
Weekends are also the time for interviews and road tests. Most drivers are not available through the week, and neither are you.
There is never an end to the loose ends you will need to tie up.
I’ve heard it reported that when terrorists are captured, one of the most common methods of extracting confessions is by sleep deprivation.
The first few years as a trucking company owner, you may well feel like a captured terrorist.
Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a four-truck flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.