Hear ye, hear ye, step right up and see the latest, the greatest, the largest, the most colorful, Super Duper, all chromed-out and brightly lit trucks in the world. All it costs is one coin, yes, my friends, just one shiny dime, and you’re on your way. Hurry, hurry, HURRY, and don’t be slow. Step right up and see the most amazing show on earth!
Every time I attend a truck show I imagine the circus show barker calling out to the crowd. Stop what you’re doing and come see what we are up to. Who doesn’t like a good show? All of us, if we are honest, will admit that we would like to roll just once in a show truck, but what that truck would look like can be as different as the drivers asked.
I must admit I have been fortunate to roll in a couple of the most popular trucks of all time, some past winners, and a few in more modern times. Yes, the “Spirit Chaser” is and will always be my Pick of The Litter. If you didn’t know, it’s because it’s mine, and I’ve owned and driven it for almost three decades. From 1991 until 2014 we amassed over 2 million miles and so many wonderful experiences. Of course, if you were to see the truck today, it has a few battle scars, and, like some of us drivers, its color is fading a little on the top.
I’ve been around the show circuits for a long time. Officially, I retired my ride from competition back in 1996, but continued to show it around for a lot longer. Why is any of this relevant? I see drivers all the time trying to go BIG TIME and end up GOING BROKE!
Now, before you get the wrong impression, I’m all about looking large. I don’t care if you’re a company driver for some small outfit in the Midwest or the guy (or gal) who has 100 nice trucks, taking pride in the equipment you run is a good thing. The impression you make when you’re at a customer can, and most often does, influence if you get a second chance to move their freight. That being said, I do believe there may be a limit to how far is far enough.
All of us have seen the driver with the matched truck and trailer standing in the driveway joking around with the shipping staff. Just how does that work? It’s simple – they like him or her and they do repetitive business with them. If you develop a good reputation for being on-time and prepared, shippers will remember you, and if you are smart, your equipment will stand out from the rest. I was fortunate enough to buy my first “new truck” back in 1991, and at the time was working with a very large carrier. I won’t mention any names here, but all their trucks were Omaha orange and the home office was somewhere above the frozen line in Wisconsin.
I’m not a big fan of the color orange, but I do like the color of green. Money is green and coins are shiny. When I began looking for a different truck back then, new wasn’t my first choice. I had no idea how I could ever pay off a truck that cost $90,000 with interest then around 15% and a down payment of at least 20%. Lease purchase wasn’t an option then and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be one today, either.
True ownership comes at a price, and with that comes responsibility. Now we are getting to the true purpose of my rant. Ownership and responsibility go hand in hand when you’re writing a business plan. I hear someone out there shouting at me, “WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BUSINESS PLAN!” We drive trucks and there will always be enough freight to go around. If you don’t believe me, just read the government reports on that driver shortage thing. I see them, too, but good freight and cheap freight are two different things.
Any broken down, fly-by-night, two-bit carrier can snag something off the load board, and most brokers will give it to them, but you are not going to buy and keep much chrome with that level of income. All you need to do is hang out in one of the major truck stops and you can count that type of operator by the hundreds. Talk to some of them, just for the entertainment value, if for nothing else. Their input on rates and expenses is invaluable to you, since they are the competition. Unless you want to end up just like them – smashed, trashed and busted – take a lesson.
Good operators, the ones that really present themselves well and keep their rigs maintained, stand apart. This shows not only with the shippers and receivers, but with your lease carrier, as well. When I was with Schneider Specialized Carriers Inc. way back when, there were many nice older trucks and a lot of new shiny rigs, too. If you read my articles regularly, you probably already know Don Schneider and his organization had a big impact on how I ran my business. I was only one of many really good drivers, so I set out to be one of the best. How any driver does that will depend on their own experience. I used my truck as a tool for the company. Now, this was at a time when not too many drivers could afford to personalize their rigs. This is where that business plan comes in.
My banker told me years ago that to engage in commerce is much like playing roulette in a casino. First, you put your money up, then you wait to see how the ball drops. Now, if you know anything about roulette, it’s all about the side bets and your expected gains depending on the odds. If you lay a bet on the whole numbers, your return will be great if your number hits, but you can be wiped out just as quickly. 35 to 1 odds are fantastic if you can get them – kind of like that once-in-a-lifetime load that pays $35 a mile – however if you have freight damage or some unforeseen event happens, a disaster may be looming.
I took a gamble by putting my old Peterbilt in the biggest shows in America and Canada, hoping the company would open some high profile runs to me. To a certain extent, it worked, but anytime you put yourself out there, there will be someone trying to take you down. Yes, jealousy is a wicked rival.
I don’t recommend gambling to anyone – I prefer to look at it as taking a calculated risk – one I can control, to some extent. Back to this Show & Shine thing. Dressing up your ride can be a calculated risk in some regards, since you are hoping to attract more or better freight rates. In some cases, it might require the purchase of new or different style equipment. Specialized trailers aren’t cheap, but they can speed up your turn around times on some runs and therefore increase the money. That’s where working with a customer to fulfill their needs really sets you apart.
If you always wanted that big bunk but weight was the issue when pulling a company trailer, now may be the time, since you can spec a trailer that allows for it. At the same time, why not match the color, add some fenders, or maybe some of those highly desirable chicken lights. There’s a long distance between building a SHOW TRUCK and making your ride show off your TRUCKIN’ skills. All the trophies in my attic never made a truck payment. In fact, most of the people I competed with had some form of financial difficulties. Chrome can become an addiction, and as far as I know, there isn’t an “anonymous” program for it. Fixing up a truck is kinda like an alcoholic hauling beer to a bar… it’s way too easy to have one more.
The trucking gods have blessed me so I can roll with some of the nicest rides on the roads. For me, every day is a truck show day. I’m sitting here now at the Walmart DC in Monroe, GA and the switcher driver stopped me on the way to my door just to compliment my rig. How cool is that? And I didn’t need to give up two weeks of pay preparing to be judged! The equipment here in the Southeast is as nice as the stuff in SoCal, however, I think we may have a few more of the trashy ones, too.
As a driver, you can find an event almost every weekend some place during the summer months. Making a habit of attending them could cause problems for you, too. Once again, lost time and out of route miles have been the downfall of many good drivers. I would encourage anyone who is so inclined to go, look around, talk to competitors and get their perspective. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun if you don’t get too caught up in the “winning” part.
I have used the spring clean-up time to do much of the maintenance on my truck, so the cost feels a little more justified. I’m already there, fixing lights, painting frames, polishing all that shiny stuff, so why not do it right? The payday is when I get treated with respect, and it’s always nice to hear some motorist honk and give me a thumbs-up sign.
When’s the last time you were waiting to get loaded and people came out of the office to photograph YOUR truck? It happens, and when it does, the door is open for business, so have your plan ready and run with it. Remember, it’s the side-bets that keep you in the game. I hope “Lady Luck” favors your hand. In the meantime, I’ll be watching to see you in the papers, 10-4!