The successes of Zach Bench and Travis Nelson

By on July 3, 2012
Travis-Nelson

With new FMCSA regulations, increased CSA enforcement and a still-struggling economy, going into trucking seems almost foolhardy. But younger truckers are still taking the plunge to become motor carriers. I see more and more of them sign up for my business seminars, and I have been especially impressed with the successes of Zach Bench and Travis Nelson. Though they have different approaches to building their companies, each has discovered a path to profitability.

Travis Nelson, 27

At the start of 2012 I launched X-Treme Trucking with one truck. The company grew to three trucks by April 1 and kept growing. I currently have six trucks.

What influenced you?
Nelson: Ever since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed watching semis roll down the highway; the sound, size, power, smoke and looks. My dad was a service manager for Kenworth, so whenever I had the opportunity to ride in a truck, I was there!

What drove you to start your own trucking company?
Nelson: To treat people in this industry with the respect they deserve. Many trucking companies forget there are human beings behind the wheel. I’ve met so many unhappy drivers on the road that I thought there had to be a solution. I set out to build a company where morale is positive. We can’t allow poor attitude on our team. Also, we use routing, fuel, IFTA, dispatch and planning tools to create the most efficient, competitive operation we can.

How did you gather business skills to operate a motor carrier?
Nelson: I went to any trucking business seminar available, from online to home-study courses to OOIDA. I also attended our local technical college before starting the multi-truck operation. My first course ever was your “Introduction to Trucking Business,” followed by OOIDA’s week-long business seminar. I went through brokerage training and studied during my downtime in the truck. I also listened to audiobooks. They kept my mind constantly dreaming and brainstorming. I also learned a lot from my first carrier’s owner.

Any time I could, I’d ask questions of a more experienced trucker. The older generation knows a lot; just listen and shut your mouth.

What type of truck and trailer do you operate? What freight do you haul?
Nelson: I no longer drive, but I have a 2009 Kenworth T-660 with a driver pulling flatbeds. Two owner-operators pull our other flatbeds and occasional step deck. We haul anything we can put on an open deck trailer: steel, lumber, machines, pipe, commodities, oversize.

How do you find customers?
Nelson: We utilize a couple of load board services. We obtained direct customers by looking up local manufacturers and presenting our solutions to their transportation needs. Also, we paid for a quality website and SEO (search engine optimization). The cost was worth it.

Has your age ever been an obstacle?
Nelson: Yes, I’m the youngest team member on X-Treme, and I own the company. At first it was difficult selling myself to the older guys. As we realized our main goal, they all put a lot of trust in me, and I respect them 100 percent. Customers tended to shy away at first, but once you have solid references it isn’t such an issue. We’ve been in the open-deck operation for six months now, and built a steady customer base, billing over 50 percent of all freight direct.

Has your age worked to your advantage?
Nelson: I’m young, motivated and deal with a lot of people my age in the industry. Many college logistics students run dispatch or traffic departments. We really interact on the same level and get stuff done fast.

Zach Bench, 25

ZackBenchThe day after my 21st birthday I left on my first trucking trip to Cleveland, Ohio, training for eight weeks with my dad so I could get insurance. Once that was done, I got my own truck and trailer and hauled potatoes to Cleveland for two years. In 2009, the company I own with my dad, CrossLine Transportation,  expanded. We bought two more trucks and had  an owner-operator lease under our authority. I started dispatching at this point and have been ever since. After going back and forth between company drivers and owner-operators, in September 2011 we finally found our niche, with all owner-operators. We’ve grown to nine trucks.

How did coming from a trucking family affect you?
Bench: For the majority of my life, trucking’s been part of our family. I went on summer trips with my dad until I was older and started working instead. I’ll always remember the first trip I took with him, from Idaho to Arkansas. I really enjoyed seeing all the new towns and places. I was influenced greatly by seeing the success my dad had as an owner-operator, later getting his own authority. During that first trip, we talked about our own trucking company, working together and becoming successful. I knew I’d be a truck driver. Later I wanted my own truck and to grow my own trucking company.

Why?
Bench: I’d always wanted to become an entrepreneur, and I loved trucking. Once I graduated, I worked toward getting my own truck, which I drove for a couple of years. Then I started expanding our business, working with owner-operators leasing onto our authority to have the same success we’d enjoyed. Our main goal was to set up a company where the drivers make a decent living and have home time so they can enjoy a family also.

How did you develop the skills to operate a motor carrier?
Bench: Most business skills I gathered driving my own truck. I had to haul profitable loads and know my break-even points because I only had one opportunity to be successful. I took a few business and computer courses from the local tech school that help me today.

What other information resources did you turn to when you were first starting out?
Bench: I had two really great resources that gave me real-world advice. The first was your TruckersU courses. I remember calling in to the weekly conference calls, mainly just to listen. (I didn’t know a whole lot then.) Other truckers would call, ask questions or give advice to fellow drivers.

The other big resource was my dad. I learned by discussing with him what it takes to successfully operate a truck, so I avoided a lot of mistakes.

What type of truck and trailer do you operate? What freight do you haul?
Bench: I’m dispatching nine owner-operators; eight reefers and one flatbed. The majority of our freight is produce, but we also haul frozen, dry, and any legal load that’ll go on a flatbed.

How do you find customers?
Bench: I started hauling outbound freight from Idaho for people I know and customers of my dad’s. When we expanded our operation to its current size, I had to find more brokers to work with that paid a fair rate. I used load boards and the internet for this. It takes some time to find a broker who pays well and to establish a good working relationship. Once you have contacts, it’s nice to call and have loads when you need them.

Has your age ever been an obstacle?
Bench: The only obstacle related to my age was when the insurance company said I didn’t have enough experience. Since then I haven’t noticed any issues with my age; most drivers and customers think I know a lot about trucking for being as young as I am.

What are the biggest challenges being a motor carrier owner?
Bench: Finding profitable new lanes. When I have a new owner-operator lease on, I find out what lanes he enjoys and his break-even points so he’s profitable at the end of the month.

Next, keeping up with all the regulations and staying in good standing with the DOT. It  takes time to keep files current, from vehicle inspections to log books. The other challenge is growing our business, everything from financing to making sure there’s enough freight for the trucks.

Has your age worked to your advantage?
Bench: I’m more able to grasp new ideas in trucking, especially when it comes to finding freight. I catch on quickly to new technology.

Anything you’d do differently?
Bench: If I started from scratch again, I’d go owner-operator from the beginning and set up our business the way it is now.

What advice would you give others starting their own company?
Bench: Get as much education in trucking, do as much research as possible before jumping into  opportunities. Learn from other people’s successes and mistakes so you’re prepared when the same situation arises in your own business.

About Timothy Brady

Timothy D. Brady, a trucking business coach and speaker, drove over-the-road for 25 years.

2 Comments

  1. michael freeman jr

    July 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    i want to know did u go to school to start a truckin business and how did u get started and what did it take to beome a success in trucking

  2. Carlos Restrepo

    February 28, 2013 at 9:25 am

    View my YouTube viral video with 778,000 views about truck driving schools at:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZsGZBfBqvY

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