A couple months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a trucking company in Winter Haven, Florida that left me very impressed. Family-owned and operated since the beginning, Wayne T. Fellows, Inc. found a niche in being a specialized LTL carrier, but their real specialty has become raising money for worthy causes. After leaving there, I told one of the owners, Donna, that I would be back, and that I would be honored to tell their story one day – and now that day is here. I was happy that it worked out for me to do the interview in person for once, instead of over the phone, which gave me a better understanding about who these people are and what their company represents.
So often it seems that a company founded by a father, when passed on to the kids, either drastically changes or gets sold. Getting sold is what happened to the company that I drove for when I started my trucking career. Thankfully, I don’t see that happening with Wayne T. Fellows, Inc. This company is truly a family-run business. Founder Wayne (Tom) Fellows has a way of doing business, and although the next generation is now involved, Tom’s business practices were not thrown aside, and are still being followed today. And like his daughter Donna said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Smart thinking.
Tom Fellows learned to drive a truck by riding along with his dad and uncle, then driving with them as he grew older. Personally, I think its very special when a driver can learn from his dad and truly make trucking a family tradition. After running with his family members, he went on to become a company driver, and then, years later, became an owner operator. Eventually, he got his own authority and became a true independent. When their youngest daughter Donna graduated from high school in May of 1994, Tom and his wife Sue decided that if they were ever going to grow their company, now was the time to start doing it.
The company’s growth began when the one truck was traded for two, and owner operator John Venable leased on to the company – and I think it speaks volumes that he is still there today. Originally, they thought that with three trucks Tom could stay home, but they eventually found that five was the magic number they needed for that to happen. Many of their original customers, that were part of their early growth, are still the cornerstones of their business today. In today’s fierce trucking environment, the service must be there for any company to remain loyal to one of their haulers for over 20 years!
It’s with great pride that Tom’s name (Wayne T. Fellows) is on the side of his trucks and trailers. His name stands for service with integrity and reliability. And to this day, Tom still makes decisions as if he was still a driver. He knows what it’s like to be in a driver’s shoes and, while the decisions he makes might not be what the accountant thinks they should be some of the time, he still goes with what he thinks is right for the driver. He tries very hard to treat his drivers the way he wanted to be treated, early in his career, when he still drove a truck every day.
The office started out in the spare bedroom of Tom and Sue’s home, and as the company grew, it expanded out to the dining room, where drivers and dinner coexisted, until their next move, which took them out to the garage. The big move took place when they went to their present location in Davenport, Florida. Today, this location is where the dispatchers, safety, human resources, conference room and shop are located (there is also truck parking at this location). The company added a location in Haines City, Florida for a few years, and after closing that one down, the business expanded to Winter Haven, Florida. These days, they operate the accounting department and a cross-dock warehouse operation out of this location, in addition to trailer parking.
The office staff is pretty much made up of family and friends, and everyone in the office is treated as such. If someone new is hired and they are not family or a friend, they soon become one. Family is very important to the Fellows! Donna said, “God has blessed both our family and our business, and we feel a deep responsibility to pay those blessings forward.” The entire Fellows family lives by this statement.
No family goes untouched by some sort of challenge, and cancer has been that challenge for this family. First, Tom’s wife Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the woman that Donna had always thought of as a “Super Woman” became mortal. But, with her fighting spirit and successful treatments, her cancer has been in remission for more than ten years. Her sister, Cathy Sumner, was diagnosed with a very aggressive breast cancer, so she did very aggressive treatments. Thankfully, her cancer is in remission, too. Tom has battled prostate cancer, colon cancer and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and all three are in remission. This family is an army of warriors!
A friend suggested to Donna that she get involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. The color for this charity is purple, because they support all forms of cancer, raising money to support research that will one day hopefully lead to the cure. This friend kindly volunteered Donna to attend an executive meeting twelve years ago. She left that meeting in tears, and has been on a committee nearly every year since. To help raise money for the American Cancer Society, the company started having car washes, bake sales, garage sales and other events, but these efforts were a lot of work with very little money to show for them in the end.
So, six years ago, they decided to have a golf tournament. They were told that lots of people have golf tournaments, so you need to make yours special. That first year they had 13 teams and cleared $5,500, making $3,000 more than their original goal for the event. They learned so much that first year, and they continue to learn more every year. The second year they cleared $10,000, and this year the tournament cleared $25,000! To date, they are very proud of the fact that they have raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society.
These people and this company truly believe in what they are doing, and want it to keep growing, so they can continue contributing to help save lives. The night before the tournament, they have a sponsor dinner that customers fly in to be a part of, in addition to attending the actual event on the following day. All parts of the business are brought together – customers, vendors, drivers, office staff – it’s a group effort to make this event successful each year.
Donna said that most of the money raised goes to research. It funds the HOPE Lodge, where families with young kids can stay while their child is getting treatment. Also, it helps fund special camps that kids battling cancer can go to and have their special needs met, while allowing them to do “normal” things like other kids. Wayne T. Fellows, Inc. even has a pink “cancer awareness” truck and trailer that is driven by Tom’s cousin, Bill Palmer. There are three names under the pink ribbon painted on its side – Sue, Cathy and Arlene, Bill’s wife – and all three of these women are survivors of breast cancer.
In addition to running a successful trucking operation, Tom has also been a councilman for the city of Davenport, Florida for roughly a decade. He believes in giving back to the community that gave back to his family all these years. Some people talk about “service” but this man, this family, and this company really do provide it – to their employees, their customers, to worthy causes and their community, but most importantly, to each other. To learn more about this awesome family-run operation or to utilize their trucking services, please visit their website at www.fellowstrucking.com today.