Nicky Hammerlane here cooling my heels at a little truck stop on the east side of Cabbage in an attempt to deliver a load to Troutdale, Oregon.
As is typical this time of year, some trucker trying to meet his delivery schedule tries to make it over Deadman in the middle of a snowstorm and some four-wheelers screw the whole plan and now the entire west bound lanes are blocked.
Highway Patrol is saying it will be 12 to 16 hours before they'll reopen. So here I sit in the truck stop coffee shop shooting the bull about other snow storms and the excitement of traversing snow- or ice-packed mountain passes. I was on my fifth cup of joe when a rotund man about 50 tapped me on the shoulder.
"Are you actually Nicky Hammerlane?” he asked.
I reached for my wallet in my hip pocket, flipped it open to my CDL, studied it for a moment, and then looked up and said, “Well that's who this document in my wallet says I am.“
“The black Stetson and the white International with N. Hammerlane & Son on the door kind of gave you away,” responded the rotund trucker. “Mind if I sit a spell? Understand you might be able to help me solve a trucking business problem.”
I gestured for him to take a seat and said, “Well, it looks like we've got plenty of time while they clear the accident up on the hill. Besides I've run out of the 'I can top this snow storm story' antidotes we've all been discussing."
As he sat down, the trucker introduced himself.
“My name is Duke Duggon. I run a one-truck operation called Double D Transport. Been doing OK, but I know I can do a lot better. Here's the challenge I face: I have a great outbound load from Vancouver, Washington to St. Paul, Minnesota every week. It's my returns where I have the problem of generating revenue. Seems I have one great paying load per month returning to Beaverton, Oregon. But the other three weeks there seems to be only short hauls that never quite make it back to the Portland area and I end up having to deadhead nearly a full day to meet the needs of my outbound customer.
"Is there a solution or am I stuck with the limited revenue this run is currently producing?”
I sat back scratching my chin, “Let me get a little more detail from you. On the week you have the return to Beaverton, what's your gross revenue?” I asked.
“Typically, around $5,500, depending on the cost of fuel,” Duke said.
I then asked, “What about the other three weeks where you don't have the good paying return?”
“Let's see,” Duke started. “My outbound is pretty consistent at $3,540 but my returns are all over the map from as low as $700 for a short haul to Rapid City, South Dakota or a $1,000 to Billings, Montana with a deadhead the rest of the way back to Vancouver. That makes my monthly revenue range from between $17,500 to $18,250, or about $4,300 per week.”
“Duke,” I responded, “Many micro carrier owners would wonder why you think you've got a problem with that kind of revenue. But if one looks at your total deadhead per month, it's huge. Just off the top of my head I'm coming up with between 2,200 to 3,000 empty miles per month.”
“Nicky, you've hit the nail on the head, “Duke responded, “It's not that I'm not making a profit. It's that I'm leaving an awful lot of cash, my money, strewn all over the highway on my returns. I'm not utilizing the available space. But I'm at a loss for how to meet the pick-up and delivery schedule of my Vancouver to St. Paul load while filling my available trailer space to maximize my revenue on my inbound.”
“I agree,” I replied, “I see the potential to generate between $3,000 to $4,800 additional revenue per month if we can fill the void caused by all those deadhead miles.”
“I'm glad to see we're on the same page with this, Nicky, but frankly I'm at a loss on how to accomplish this,” Duke said.
“Next question,” I began, “Are the loads you're picking up in Minnesota full truck loads? What I mean, is do they require the entire trailer or is there space for additional freight?”
Duke answered, “For the most part they are full loads, but there are times where they don't have a full load ready. But their customer, the receiver, needs what they have so I place it in the truck and go.”
“How do you find these return loads?" I asked. "Regular broker that you use all the time? Several different brokers or a freight load board?”
“I really only have a couple of brokers I use out of the area. I haven't spent any time on the load boards because I have gotten stung there before,” Duke responded.
“OK, I've got the picture now,” I responded. “Now, let me give you a homework assignment. Once you've completed it, we can get together and map out a solution.”
“Nicky,” Duke said with a worried look, "Don't mean to be forward, but what will you charge me for helping me?"
“Duke, seems everyone I help asks that question. My answer is always the same. It's like buying a yacht or a Ferrari. If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it. That's why my fee is based on results. If you get the results you want, then make a nice donation to Evergreen Habitat for Humanity out there in Vancouver, Washington.”
“Really? Just make a donation to a charity? But what about your time? I mean you need to get something out of this,” Duke responded.
“Believe me, I do, Duke. I get a lot. Trucking has treated me very well, and I know how a lot of people a trucker meets on the road seem to have one desire -- to relieve a trucker from his hard-earned cash. I'm not going to do that to a fellow trucker. I'm old school, and this is no different than a trucker being broke down on the side of the road and helping him fix his truck to get him on his way. We all should do things that pay forward, those random acts of kindness that help our brothers and sisters of the road,” I responded. "And by having a charity receive some benefit from all this just adds to the act of helping others that we all need to do. Now for that homework assignment...”
“Fair enough,” responded Duke, “What's the assignment?”
"First, I want you to develop a list of all the brokers you can locate that handle the type of freight you haul within a 100-mile radius of St. Paul. We need both truckload and LTL. Get me between 8 to 15 brokers names and we'll need to do credit checks on them. Second, I want you to sign up with a load board. I recommend Getloaded, as I'm familiar with their search and lane-building tools. Have you got a laptop with Wi-Fi access? If you do, you could get started here while we're waiting for them to clear the hill,” I instructed.
Duke indicated he had a laptop with Wi-Fi and stood to head back to his truck to retrieve it.
I said, "Hold on for a second, if the hill clears, and we can get out of here, is it possible you can meet me at the truck stop in Troutdale and we'll get this all solved?”
Duke responded that would be fine, so we exchanged cell numbers, shook hands, and he headed back to retrieve his computer from his truck.
Me? I sat back down and started right back in with the snow stories, waiting for word that I-84 west bound at Cabbage was finally open again.
Join Nicky next time for the second installment of The Case of the Empty Space. Can he help Duke plug his freight and revenue holes, or will he continue hauling sailboat fuel?
Timothy D. Brady is a speaker, business coach, and trucking industry guru. He provides training and educational presentations for small to large trucking companies, logistics organizations, and community groups. Learn more about Tim at http://www.timothybrady.com/