U.S. carrier hit hard by Covid-19 finds ways to survive in uncertain times

SULLIVAN, Ill. – Several carriers in Canada and the U.S. have been scrambling to meet demand during the Covid-19 crisis, but that is not to say business has been easy.

For Jon England, president and CEO of Transport Services of Sullivan, located about halfway between Indianapolis, Ind., and St. Louis, Mo., the coronavirus pandemic is not the first time he has been tested.

In 2001, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, England was working for EK Transport Services, which had just opened for business. The carrier’s fuel division – EK Petroleum – was struggling to get deliveries because their supplier at the time was first taking care of its larger customers.

“I told my dad I was going to buy our own truck and make sure we could get our product when we needed it,” said England.

And that’s exactly what he did.

“I then told them, regardless of the hours they worked, I would pay them $1,000 per week until June 1.”

Jon England, Transport Services of Sullivan

In 2006, England expanded his operation adding a gas hauling division to do work for Casey’s general stores. He also changed the name of the company to what it is called today, Transport Services of Sullivan.

Since then, it has added a renewable fuels division that hauls biodiesel, ethanol, and denatured gasoline across the U.S. Midwest. But despite being an essential service that transports fuel to businesses that meet the needs of workers and first responders, England said the Covid-19 crisis has had a significant impact on his business.

“Being a backup carrier, this crisis has devastated our company through demand destruction,” he said. “The demand has dropped so low there is very little backup support needed from our partners right now.”

The State of Illinois announced a stat-at-home order March 20, and it didn’t take long for England to reach out to his staff.

“I immediately sent a letter to all 19 of my employees assuring them that they were working with a strong company that was going to stand behind them through this tough time,” said England. “I then told them, regardless of the hours they worked, I would pay them $1,000 per week until June 1.”

England said he promised the weekly salary because he didn’t want his staff to worry about their personal financial obligations.

“All I asked from them was if we secured work regardless of destination or time frame, that I expected them to be ready to step up and help out,” said England, who spoke to each employee about his plan of action. “I assured them that without a good team there is no company and I was going to use my own finances to fund this promise. I am proud to say that through the personal calls to my employees, I found out that they really appreciate what I am doing for them, and that they will do whatever is necessary to help the company get through this crisis. That really meant a lot to me.”

To help keep his promise, England applied for the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, and was approved April 6.

“This was a crucial part of our survival and I cannot thank the Trump Administration enough for moving quickly and eliminating the red tape so small companies like ours could get the needed funds,” said England. “This loan is to fund payroll, health insurance, utilities, and rent, and most importantly, keep the company in a position to go back to work on a moment’s notice.”

England said Transport Services of Sullivan is a small, regional trucking company that brought in around US$8 million in gross revenue in 2019.

Though times are tough right now, he is confident the economy will bounce back.

“I am a believer that we will come out of this setback stronger than ever, and I am excited for what the future holds for us,” said England.

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”

Derek Clouthier

A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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