Broker Free: Finding Your Own Customers

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By Henry Albert

As an independent owner-operator, I’ve had many drivers ask me, “How do you find your own customers?” The answer to that is you can go about this in various ways.

Years ago, when I began my business, I went to the local library to research companies that offered the proper materials to be transported on a flatbed trailer. One thing that really helped my business is that I had decided upon two major cities in which I was going to ply my trade. My thoughts at the time were to deal with only a few customers on both ends. I already knew if Albert Transport wanted more substantial profits, I needed to build customer satisfaction and didn’t want to rely on freight from brokers.

At the time, I did not have the option of Google so my research began with “Standard Industry Codes” (SIC Codes). Today, I’m sure this information is available online. A gold mine of information can be found such as:

  • Product or material manufactured
  • Phone number
  • Years in business
  • Credit rating 
  • Size of business 
  • Number of employees
  • And much more information about each company

The contacts for the CEO or other staff members may also be listed. Other areas I researched were “Trade Publications” and advertisements for lumber, construction, steel, and various other building products. The librarian was more than happy to assist in the research and as most people do not go to the library today, they just might be missing out on a piece of knowledge only the librarian knows. 

One day, I had the bright idea to search our local Home Depot, Lowes and lumber yards. The materials at these locations all provide a label with the states where the product originated. I would simply look for cities in which I wanted to serve and sometimes the phone number was located on the label. 

If you are starting this search today, I would still suggest sorting through SIC Codes in the area you want to set up your business.  Once you have created the list of contacts it’s time to pick up the phone, go visit them, or email the point of contact to set up a meeting.  Before you pick up the phone, have your elevator speech prepared with what differentiates your business from others should they choose to use you.


Are You Listening & Watching?

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By Bob and Linda Caffee

When driving, walking, running, or riding a bike, all of us have to pay attention to the sounds and what is happening around us.

Recently when driving through a city, I witnessed a police vehicle almost get hit by not one, but three cars. We were all at a busy intersection, and a police car with lights and sirens on was trying to make a left-hand turn at a red light.  

What is your response when you hear a siren?  Mine is to look around madly and roll down the window, if needed, so that I can locate the position of the emergency vehicle.  If the siren is behind or coming at me, I look in the mirrors and pull over to the right when it’s safe to do so.

When the emergency vehicle is approaching from a side street, I look to see if it has a blinker on or if they are continuing straight and respond appropriately so they are able to get around me safely.  

In this instance, the officer came to a complete stop at the red light before entering the intersection, I stopped in my lane on the road to the right of the car with the flashing lights and sirens, and the oncoming traffic had stopped as well. 

After I stopped two cars passed me on the right, but the one that scared me was the one that passed me on my left at a high rate of speed. They were oblivious to the sirens and the emergency lights until they got in front of the police car as it was pulling into the intersection. 

I’m sure officers are taught to drive around oblivious vehicles as that was the only thing that saved the officer as well as the speeding car.  

This whole scenario has me wondering “what was in these people’s minds?”  First, they saw, or I hope they saw me stopped at a green light, the lights flashing on the police car, and heard the wail of the sirens.  I felt like all of this should have been a huge clue that something was going on at this intersection and they should proceed with caution. 

I also wondered who was waiting for this officer to possibly save their life as these oblivious vehicles made the emergency vehicle wait as they sped by. 

The interior of the Freightliner Cascadia is quiet but not quiet enough to block out the sound of an emergency vehicle. We always need to be mindful of what is going on around us and take the appropriate action.


The Importance of Pre-Trips

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By Clark W. Reed

Let’s discuss the importance of pre-trip inspections for just a few minutes. They aren’t fun, and standing in the blowing snow, scorching heat, or crawling under a trailer in a gravel/dirt lot in the driving rain makes it downright unpleasant at times. However, they are necessary and pretty important.  

The first reason is pretty simple. It is the law. As professional truck drivers we are required to perform them. The following is from the Federal Motor Carrier “green” book:

392.7 Equipment, inspection and use.
(a) No commercial motor vehicle shall be driven unless the driver is satisfied that the following parts and accessories are in good working order, nor shall any driver fail to use or make use of such parts and accessories when and as needed:
– Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
– Parking (hand) Brake
– Steering Mechanisms
– Lighting Devices and Reflectors
– Tires
– Horn
– Windshield Wiper or Wipers
– Rear-vision mirror or mirrors
– Coupling devices

Federal Motor Carrier “green” book

Doing a thorough pre-trip shouldn’t just be done to keep D.O.T. happy though, we should do it because it is the smart thing to do.

The 2nd reason to do a thorough pre-trip is the same reason one would inspect a parachute before using it to jump from a perfectly good aircraft. It is always better to know for sure if you have a functioning parachute before you jump. If something is wrong with the parachute and it doesn’t open, the results could be deadly. The same goes for our vehicles. A bulge on a steer tire or a steering component that is working itself loose could have costly, if not deadly, consequences if they fail.

Yes, it is tedious and the majority of the time you will not find anything, but a thorough pre-trip is the only way to know for sure your truck is safe and ready to go down the road. It also makes pulling into a Weigh Station less nerve-racking.  Knowing that everything was good when you started your day removes that little doubt when you don’t get the by-pass signal. Those few minutes at the beginning of your day can provide peace of mind for the rest of it. For me, that is worth the time it takes to do a thorough pre-trip. So even though I don’t always feel like it, I do one every single day before I drive, and every time I hook to a new trailer.

Lastly, There are a few things you can do to make sure you are doing a thorough pre-trip, and once in the habit, it will become 2nd nature to you:

  1. Always start at the same place: This helps with establishing a routine. 
  2. Do it the same way, every day: This helps to make sure you are not overlooking or forgetting anything. 
  3. Do it every day: This will help you to recognize if something is out of place or simply doesn’t look right.
  4. Don’t just look, though: Feeling the smoothness of a tire, the tension of a belt or the play on the steering column can help you detect little problems before they become big ones.
  5. Take your time: We all feel rushed sometimes, but when it comes to safety, cutting corners is not the way to save time or money.

So do a thorough pre-trip. Stop problems before they become tragedies. And lastly, be safe. We kinda like having you around.


Keeping Your Operating Costs Under the Bar

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By David Morreau II

An important thing to keep in mind as a lease-purchase driver is knowing your numbers. When I say this I mean know your operating costs, living costs, and recreational costs. When I run my numbers I try to recap how my week went and compare them to where I need to be in order to get better where I can. I also use these numbers to see how I can improve by checking out what can be done to lower these costs. 

One thing that’s been a huge help with my numbers is fuel economy. I always strive for good fuel economy and the ability to keep most of my revenue. Since I’ve slowed down to the point where I can make appointments on time and also maximize my fuel economy I’ve found my nexus point. Yes, I may not get as many miles as another driver who hammers down but I’ve run the numbers and have found that by going 60 [mph] instead of 70 [mph] I’ve increased my revenue by as much as 20% in some instances which in turn lowers my operating costs even under the bar I’ve set for myself.

I’ve also evaluated what my needs vs. wants are when looking at the week. If there’s something that’s wanted and not needed and my numbers are ok but could be better, I slash that on my budget. Another thing is if I have extra revenue, I put it back into my truck. Not with chrome (granted it looks nice), but with something that has been proven to make my business more efficient. For example, I just ran some numbers and found that with my excess revenue I could afford to order a tire pressure monitoring system. Granted it can seem nice to get some extras but in lease purchase, you really have to watch those numbers to be profitable in your business. 

Another thing to help watch your numbers closely is hiring a CPA or Certified Public Accountant. These CPAs can actually generate a profit and loss statement depending on your preferences so you can have a pretty good idea where you are and where you need to be.

Performing your regularly scheduled maintenance can help as well because it minimizes your downtime by catching anything that may become an issue in the future. So in conclusion, there are quite a few ways to meet the financial goals you’ve set and the ones I’ve mentioned here are just a few of the things you can do. I challenge everyone to just put pen to paper and run the numbers so you can meet or exceed your business goals.


The Dreaded Bad Word: Deadheading

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By Greg Huggins

Deadheading seems to be a very dreadful thing to many owner-operators. Just the very mention of it can send a pang of anxiety through almost any driver. Their fists will clench, their attention will rise to full alert and they begin to run through countermeasures in their minds. Of course, I am talking about Deadheading. 

Why is deadheading such a bad word for so many owner-operators? While no one wants to spend their own money on fuel and wear and tear to go after a load, if the alternative is to wait it out for a better load to come along, you must consider how much a couple of days of waiting will cost you. Sure, you may be able to eat for a nominal cost and stay in the truck, saving hotel costs. You may even have an APU or generator to keep you comfortable while you wait. However, each day sitting and waiting is a day of lost revenue.

Money spent can be recouped, time lost is gone forever.

If you could deadhead (there’s that dreaded word again) 300 miles to get your next $1000 load at 6 MPG and fuel at $3.00 per gallon, that deadhead would cost you roughly $150 in fuel. Now you would be down to $850 for the load (minus the deadhead fuel cost). However, if you sit for two days to get the $1000 load 10 miles away, you have now lost 2 days of revenue just to gain $150. 

We have all heard that time is money, and for the most part that is true. Whether your time makes you money or costs you money is up to you.

The next time deadheading is an option, weigh your options and think about what the waiting will cost you. If deadheading will get you back in the revenue stream quicker, then this is better than waiting for a magical load to appear in your area. While it is not ideal to constantly chase freight, deadheading can be a very beneficial tool to the savvy owner-operator, especially one who knows the value of their time.


12 Helpful Apps for Truckers

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by Jake Krough

Trucking Apps

Trucker Path

Trucker Path is considered by many to be one of the most popular trucking app. The app is currently downloaded by over 600,000 truckers who use it for pretty much anything trucking related. Trucker Path provides many features including navigation, parking status, fuel prices, weight stations, etc.

Truck Smart

Truck Smart is an app that is brought to you by TA Petro. Truck Smart is another all-purpose trucking app that can fulfill many different needs. It can be used to reserve parking reservations, know fuel prices in advance, and submit service requests.

Trucker Tools

Trucker Tools’ main selling point is “being the most accurate truck stop guide”. The app offers updated fuel prices, live traffic, and turn-by-turn directions. It is another app that makes a trucker’s life much easier while on the road.

Gas Buddy

GasBuddy is an in-depth gas and diesel app that gives truckers a look at nationwide fuel prices. The app provides a price map, trip cost calculator, and gas price charts. GasBuddy even allows you to pay with the app, which turns into savings or cash back each time you fill up.

Business Apps

BigRoad

BigRoad is an electronic logbook for owner-operators, drivers, and fleets. The app allows drivers to easily track hours of service by calculating the time for you. BigRoad will also send notifications for any errors or violations to help you avoid fines.

Wunderlist

Life as a truck driver is busy and it can be easy to forget about your responsibilities. Wunderlist is an app you can use to better manage your time while on the road. With this app, you can create daily to-do lists, set reminders for yourself, and share tasks with your colleagues and family.

CamScanner

As a trucker, it can be difficult to keep track of paperwork or receipts while in the truck. CamScanner can be used to scan any document in order to be saved on your device or sent to somebody else. CamScanner is an app recommended to every ATBS client, as it is the simplest way to keep track of all of your important documents.

DAT Load Board App

DAT has a load board app that is free for all DAT subscribers. The app posts around 637,000 loads every business day. It includes features like spot market rates, saved searches, sort options, and company reviews.

General Apps

Weather Channel App

The weather channel app provides information on exactly what you would expect…the weather! What separates this weather app from others is the ability to look at weather forecasts two weeks in advance. This app also provides alerts and notifications with weather updates in whatever area you are currently in.

The Rolling Strong App

Rolling Strong is a health and wellness company that focuses specifically on professional drivers. They offer an app that provides drivers with exercise and meal plans while on the road. A subscription to the company also comes with online coaching from the Rolling Strong trainers.

Waze

Waze is the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. The app doesn’t just provide navigation and direction, it also provides real-time updates provided by real people on the app. Some of the updates include police presence, accidents, and traffic jams.

FleetSafer Mobile

With all of these apps, it may be tempting to use your phone while driving. FleetSafer Mobile gets rid of this temptation. This app can block any messages you might receive while driving and automatically respond to those messages with, “I’m driving”.

Today, it’s important that you take advantage of what your mobile devices can offer. All of these apps can improve your business and your life, with little to no cost. Take a look at all of these apps and see how much easier it makes your time as an owner-operator.


A SAFE EXIT

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By Clark W. Reed

Anyone that has flown knows the drill. After waiting in line to clear TSA, sitting at your gate waiting for boarding instructions, then waiting in line again to board the plane, you find your seat, place your carry-on in the overhead bin, and sit down. Finally…a bit of a break.

Soon the flight attendant draws your attention to the front where they start going over safety instructions, how to fasten your seatbelts, where the emergency exits are, etc. Most people, I dare say, tune them out. After all, the seat may be a flotation device, but the entire flight is over land. Why should we listen, especially when we have heard the same announcement over and over again? But there is some important information being handed out and it could save your life. For instance, where is the nearest exit? Where are the other exits?

Many times we fail to realize there is another way out. That is why flight attendants tell us to look for the nearest exit and use it in case of an emergency. They also point to all exits so we are familiar with their location. Knowing your options can save your life. The door behind you may be the safest way out, but it may not be the closest. So, what does this all have to do with truck driving?

Every day we see it. A truck breaks down and has to pull off onto the side of the road. The driver is usually outside of the truck waiting for someone to come change the tire or take care of whatever other problem may need taken care of. But how did the driver get out of the truck?

More likely than not, the driver checked their mirror, waited for traffic to clear, quickly got out of the cab and hustled to the other side of the truck. But why? That’s the door that was used to enter the cab and it is closest to the driver. It was also the quickest. But was it the safest? Probably not. The passenger door, while a little more difficult to exit, may actually be the safest to use in this situation. Yet, we rarely think to use it.

Why wouldn’t we though? We complain about traffic not moving over when we are stranded on the side of the road, but most of us get out on that side anyway. Seems kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?

So even though breakdowns are not something we have to deal with very often, next time you do, think about using that passenger side door. It may save your life.


A PLACE TO REST YOUR HEAD

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By Jimmy Nevarez

After long days and nights on the road, every driver looks forward to having a comfortable place to lay their head down.  Making sure your sleeper is a comfortable spot to rest when you set the brakes at the end of a shift is key to staying rested and ready to hit the road again.  A lot of people spend oodles of money on expensive mattresses in an effort to make the sleep as restful as possible. What a lot of people neglect to think about, however, is the actual spot where they rest their head – their pillow!

“A pillow is a pillow” is a sentiment I have heard before from other drivers. After spending some time on a sensor-filled bed in a mattress store to measure my pressure points and sleep style, I learned quite the contrary.  It was during this study that I discovered the need to spend more money on a pressure relieving, pressure sensitive memory foam pillow. I just about had a coronary when I saw the price, which was almost as much as some people spend on their mattresses they sleep on, but I will be the first to tell you that sleeping was believing and I never had a more restful nights sleep!

A night’s sleep on a memory foam pillow was usually fantastic, but I always had a problem with my head getting hot during the night.  I would find myself flipping the memory foam pillow over throughout the night in order to maximize what little heat dispersal it was capable of.  With a little research, it didn’t take long to find out this was a problem for most memory foam pillows, which gave way to the cooling memory foam pillow I am using now.  The one I found (pictured with the blue cooling gel) takes care of all the problems a “hot-headed” sleeper like myself has, all the while remaining supportive and comfortable!

Even if you dish out the money for a premium mattress like a Tempur-Pedic or Minimizer, do not overlook the actual pillow that provides the head and neck support needed for a restful nights sleep. Spending the extra money and doing the research on finding the proper cooling pillow could make all the difference in being properly re-energized at the beginning of every shift. Make sure every minute of your time in the bunk counts and if you have an overheating problem like me, make sure to invest in a highly rated cooling gel pillow as well!


Can You Afford To Change Carriers?

Last year was a very good year to be an owner operator. Rates were high, fuel costs were relatively low despite some fuel tax increases. New truck sales went through the roof. Everything was rolling along smoothly for the most part. Many new owner operators joined the trucking industry.

Then 2019 came and we have seen a dip in rates. For those who just entered the industry last year, you may be thinking of finding greener pastures. Those high rates of 2018 have subsided, and we are back to usual.

Leased owner operators seeking to better their businesses will change carriers from time to time for a variety of reasons. If you are considering a change due to losing revenue, lack of work or lack of the 2018 rates, consider the costs associated with changing carriers.

While it may sound as simple as a new contract with a new carrier, it is not without risk or cost. Permits and plates are just the start. There may also be electronics (ELD) to be removed and returned, as well as any decals representing your previous carrier. A weigh station bypass device might either need to be returned to previous carrier or adjusted to match your new plates and DOT number. Now you have to install your new ELD, if required, have your new decals installed (carrier name/logo and DOT number), get your new IFTA card and decal, have your toll pass updated to match your new credentials, insurance policies need changed, etc.

Now that the truck has been made ready for the new carrier, what about you?

There will be an adjustment period. At your old carrier, you may have known just the right person to call for certain issues. You may have become accustomed to where your previous carrier’s customer base was located. You may have even risen in the ranks of your old carrier to get the loads you want or need. Now, starting anew, you may have to climb your way up the ranks again to get the better loads. The pay increase you are looking for may take a little longer to get. Are you prepared?

Transitioning to a new carrier can be costly for both parties. The carrier has to invest time and resources to get you oriented to their way of doing things. You have to learn their system to get things done the way they expect you to. These things can take time.

Do you have the funds to weather the transition? It could take a couple of weeks, or even months for you to “catch up”. Before jumping ship, or seeking greener pastures, make sure you are financially ready to make the move.


IndyCar – The Traveling Show

The “Team” depends on three black Western Star trucks that carry everything from track to track.  These trucks are expected to get everything safely and quickly from track to track and look good while in the paddock area.  The trucks have almost zero deadhead on them and are always loaded to near 80,000 pounds.

What impresses me about these trucks is that they run the speed limit consistently and are always loaded heavy.  The truck that Bob and I drove averaged 7.1 MPG from Long Beach, CA to Plainfield, IL, home of Dale Coyne Racing.

Recently IndyCar was in Long Beach for the Grand Prix street race.  The Dale Coyne team traveled from Barber Motorsports Park, Leeds, Alabama to downtown Long Beach.  This area is not truck friendly, and yet they had trucks crammed everywhere with enough room to set up the tent garages.   There were several types of races going on throughout the week, and each class of race vehicles had their designated parking area.

The IndyCar garages were erected near the “Aquarium” which I later learned was not an aquarium at all but an event center.  A huge round building with fish painted on it should be a large round aquarium.  As each truck and trailer pulled in to their designated space, the area was measured for the tent, and then the next truck and trailer would pull in.  Dale Coyne Racing had two cars racing, the engineering trailer was parked next to the # 19 trailer of Santino Ferrucci, then the garage area for both cars and then the #18 trailer of Sebastien Bourdais.

Once the trucks are parked the floor of the garage is laid out (Kiwi tile) and then the tents are set up.  It is unbelievable how much “stuff” is inside each trailer and how quickly these guys can get the garage set up and their tools out ready to work.  Once the garages are complete, the cars are lowered from the upper section of the trailers, and the work begins.  New race and new track require a different set up for each car.

The central part of the team consists of about twenty people who set up the garages and then as the week goes on more people show up to help or to support.  Each one of these people will be fed lunch each day, drinks provided, as well as snacks.  The garage area is kept spotless from the rugs being vacuumed often, tables wiped down, inside of the trailers cleaned, trash emptied, and at the trucks polished and dusted.  It is a never-ending effort to maintain this level of tidiness.

While all of these people are milling around, trash cans are emptied and people are chatting, the mechanics work on the cars.  When one of the cars is started crowds form at the barriers to watch and listen.  Finally, it is time to go to the track for practice and qualify, all building up to the final race.  If a racecar is damaged during practice, a team’s hopes can be dashed, or they scramble madly to get the car back into competitive racing form.

It is unbelievable the work and manpower that is involved in getting each car out onto the track.  One of the people of the team that fascinates me the most is the girl in charge of logistics. Karina schedules everything.  Flights are planned from the various cities, cars are rented, hotels rooms reserved, and what time everything happens at the track.

Her rooming schedule is a nightmare of who rooms with who and do they get along, who drives each rental car and who will ride with them, and then when it is over, she gets flights for each person to get back home or to Chicago and home base for the team.  All of the extra people for each race have to have credentials to get into the track, and she lines that all up.

In her spare time, she also does many of the press releases for the cars and each driver.  Karina is unflappable and I have watched her when someone’s plans change last minute and they want her to fix their flights and plans and she calmly takes care of it as if it was no big deal.

Once the race is over the “traveling show” is packed away, and it is off to the next race with dreams of the next podium finish. We feel fortunate to be a part of this operation and to have a glimpse behind the scenes of an IndyCar Team.