August 31, 2016

“18 and Life”

I’m going to apologize to all of you who clicked on this link thinking this story was about a famous Skid Row song. Although there’s so much to love about 80’s hair bands, this story is about something else I’m very passionate about – 18 wheelers. I don’t drive one and will never be qualified enough to do so. They are fascinating pieces of equipment on their own, but I’m not that type of gear head. What drives my passion of big rigs is the story behind the story.

Trucking is to America as the heart is to the body, but it’s not often recognized as such. Unfortunately, more Americans are consumed by reality TV than they are by trucking. It’s sad but true – watching grown women yell and stab each other in the back gives me anxiety, but to each their own.

Trucking deserves to be at the forefront of our dinner discussions. They are at mine.

Stop for a second and think about how truly dependent we are on trucks to live out our normal, uninterrupted lives. Look at everything around you…just about all of it was on a truck at one point or another. Have you ever wondered how these products got to you? Most of them traveled hundreds (possibly thousands) of miles via multiple modes of transportation from raw materials to finished product to consumer. And here’s where the real fun begins for me.

Next time you see a truck on the road, or parked in a lot of the strip mall down the road, take a look at the side panel by the door and you’ll see the beginning of the story behind the story. There you will normally find the name of the trucking company and a federal ID tag, usually in the form of a DOT or MC number. More importantly, a good chunk of the trucking companies on the road also include the location of their operations. That’s when the wheels inside my head start turning. What is East End Express out of Laurel, NY doing in Chattanooga, TN? Passing through to GA, AL or somewhere else? What’s in the back of the truck? Where are they delivering? Do they have a load to bring back once they deliver? Is this a normal route for them? And so on and so on….

That is my addiction, one that started in 1996. After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Materials Logistics Management (now Supply Chain Management), I took a job at a freight brokerage called American Backhaulers. Back then we didn’t have access to most of the load and truck posting sites that are more readily available nowadays. We found trucks the old fashioned way…we bought phone books from various cities around the country. While this helped build out a database, it was not the most efficient way to sort through 500,000 plus trucking companies to get a shipment moved ASAP.

Fortunately, I developed another “healthy” habit during my years in East Lansing – Michigan State sports. As a recently graduated young professional, I still had the ability to keep my season tickets for a few years, and that turned out to be the greatest investment I made in my early professional career. Why? I found the majority of my sales portfolio on those drives to East Lansing and back. Writing down the MC or DOT number, as well as a description of the truck and its geographical location was, and still is, a very effective strategy in building my book of business. Not only do you see a geographical area in which the trucking company operates, it also provides the opportunity to use this information to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Unfortunately, my family has been forced into my habit as well. Flying is a last resort for our vacations. I’m not afraid to fly, but I’d rather drive and feed the beast. My ever-patient wife is my co-pilot, tasked with the all-important job of getting and documenting those MC/DOT numbers and locations while I drive down the interstate. Not an easy task. Plus, there are truck stops and rest areas on the way. “Daddy I need to go to the bathroom?” Music to my ears! Not because I’m particularly flexible- I’m not (I happen to be type A). I just make sure we stop at a rest area so I can pick off another 20-30 trucks while we are there.

I recently left the freight broker sector and now find myself on the insurance side of the transportation industry. Don’t worry; I still get to deal with big rigs. During a conversation with one of my former employees, he said to me, “You just can’t get away from brokering and trucks. Can you?” You know what, I can’t. My customers have always been, and probably will always be trucking companies. I used to talk to them about backhauls, lanes, fuel surcharges, rate per mile and detention. Now it’s motor cargo insurance, bobtail, garaging, physical damage, exclusions…whatever. It’s a different way to feed my addiction, but it’s all good. I still get to talk to my peeps and that’s all that matters.

“18 and life you know it…”

– Mark Ford, EVP Reliance Partners