We are talking to people who are Fleet Owners or Owner Operators with a lot of experience and valuable advice for someone just starting out. Some have mastered Dry Van, Flatbed or Reefer. Some stay out for weeks and some just days. But most importantly, each of them has great stories to tell about starting a trucking career and working with a reputable trucking company. Today we are talking with Steven Thomas—a true professional in all aspects of this trade and a growing Fleet Owner. His story is one of perseverance and success, achieved by patience, trial and error, and a bit of luck. We are very happy to have him working with us and sharing his story.
ST: How long have you been driving with us?
Steven: I got started driving as an Owner Operator with you back in 2016.
ST: What was your first driving job when you were starting a trucking career?
Steven: I started driving at CR England, where I was a trainer. After CR England, I went to Buddy Moore to drive local routes, getting paid mileage and I drove for them two months, before going on to buy my own truck and signing up with them. I remained an Owner Operator with Buddy Moore for a few months before going onto another company, where I stayed on for 14 months before I came to Status, whom I believe to be a reputable trucking company.
ST: You’ve been driving for a long time, so how did you get into this profession?
Steven: When I became a restaurant manager, the guy who delivered my produce for the restaurant was a truck driver and he encouraged me to become one with a reputable trucking company. One week after he told me that, during one of his deliveries, I told him I was signed up for truck driving school to prepare on how to make money in trucking —and that’s how I thought about starting a trucking career and now I’m an Owner Operator.
ST: How long did it take for you to get comfortable on the road when starting a trucking career?
Steven: Driving doesn’t come naturally when you’re behind the wheel of a 44,000-pound truck going through the mountains in California, which can be scary when starting a trucking career. My own trainer did his best in giving me a good start, so when I became a trainer with CR England, I developed more experience and became more comfortable with driving—all leading to becoming now an Owner Operator.
ST: How did you decide to buy your own truck and become an Owner Operator?
Steven: At any job where I’ve been, I always wanted to move up and go into management. I’m motivated by making a good living and making money—which is why I learned how to make money in trucking. Frankly, I’d rather be home with my wife, my dog and going fishing—but we all need to make a living and that’s why you need to work with a reputable trucking company. I’m motivated to stay out here so I can bring on two more trucks. I’m always wheeling & dealing for more. I want 20 trucks and it takes motivation to get it as an Owner Operator.
ST: How many trucks do you currently have?
Steven: As an Owner Operator, I currently have four trucks leased and will be adding two more trucks shortly—plus the truck that I’m driving, so I will have a total of seven leased trucks with Status.
ST: You are in the process of adding two more trucks, why did you choose this time to grow your fleet?
Steven: The timing was right for me and I feel that I have matured in the business as an Owner Operator. I also found many drivers were looking for growth and I wanted to help them to become Owner Operators. It was also a good time for me to get a truck as well, since I was able to get a good deal on a new one due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ST: A lot of Owner Operators are dreaming of becoming fleet owners, but never take the first step. How did you take that first step?
Steven: I’ve always been an ambitious person and in every job I’ve ever had I was always looking for a way to move up with a reputable trucking company by starting a trucking career. For example, I started as a dishwasher at a restaurant and then became its manager. It’s not easy, but you have to take the first step, keeping in mind that the drivers are the most important thing to consider—and if you get a good driver, then you’re set. I have gone through a few drivers in my time, but I feel very good about the drivers I have now.
ST: Has your profit increased as an Owner Operator?
Steven: Lately, yes, it has been great to be an Owner Operator. I’m driving a load right now and have another one ready for tomorrow. The market is great and fuel prices are low—so, those are the optimal conditions for profitability and how to make money in trucking.
ST: Do you think it’s a good time to team up?
Steven: Yes, as an Owner Operator it is and teams can really make good money right now—particularly when operating in conjunction with a reputable trucking company.
ST: How do you find the drivers?
Steven: I find drivers who are starting a trucking career by word-of-mouth and I offer them an attractive deal that other companies don’t offer nor show them how to make money in trucking.
ST: How do you interview your potential drivers?
Steven: Finding a good driver who is starting a trucking career is always a challenge. I first speak with them, using my own personal intuition to learn about them. If they sound like a problem child, I made the decision not to work with them. If they sound good and have the ambition to make money, I will ask them to apply and work with your company to make sure they get checked out.
ST: How do you deal with driver turnover?
Steven: From my own personal experience as an Owner Operator, I’ve come across some below-average drivers and there’s no way to really know if they will last. My truck leases are usually for a three-year period and that is a long time to hold onto a driver—but you keep moving forward. While rates are good, there is no problem keeping them. When I got my dispatcher—Adel—four years ago, he told me you’ll like me when the rates are great, but it’s when the rates are slowing down you will have to “weather the storm” to succeed. Financially, it’s been up and down of course, but I remain motivated because I want 20 trucks. To get those trucks, I have no choice but to weather the storm.
ST: How do you discuss the job with your drivers? How do you come to terms with the driver?
Steven: When a driver is starting a trucking career, you have to explain to them in detail because I want them to be in the position of knowledge that can get the driver the most money since they don’t often know how to make money in trucking. Again, I want them to make money, but they also must want to make money too—otherwise, it won’t work.
ST: How do you build your relationship with your drivers?
Steven: Based on my experience as an Owner Operator, I offer them what no other company will offer them when starting a trucking career: encouragement and support to succeed. As long as I put them in a decent truck, they’ll be happy and in addition, their truck payment is affordable. When I get the settlement, I forward it to the driver and follow up with a phone call, then I send payment. By explaining the settlement, the deduction and how Status works, ensures that when the transition comes, they are fully aware of the business.
ST: Where would you start looking for a truck?
Steven: Start online and do your research, then call around. Next, line up all the options, have a good financing company or agent lined up and never trust just one dealership. Keep in mind quality can change with each truck, so Owner Operators—do your research!
ST: What advice would you give someone who is looking to join the trucking industry?
Steven: When starting a trucking career, always keep a smile on your face, because not every day is perfect as an Owner Operator. One of the things that used to aggravate me the most was sitting at the shipper or receiver for long hours. I had to learn to be patient—so, learn to have patience. Everyone will have bad days, but you also have great days. If you come across someone having a bad day, just don’t let it affect you. Brush it off and keep moving—you will be happier and focus on figuring out how to make money in trucking. It’s the nature of the industry we are in and focus on working with a reputable trucking company. If you are starting a trucking career, you can definitely make money, but you have to be patient with all the situations that come with being an Owner Operator.
ST: What is the best secret you can share with us?
Steven: After starting a trucking career, buy your own trailers because you can get 10 percent more with each load. Let’s say you gross $7,000 in one week, that’s an additional $700 going into your pocket. Plus, at the end of the deal, the trailer is yours and in your name. Renting a trailer may be convenient, but it won’t be your trailer at the end of the deal—so, you’re throwing away money. The maintenance may seem like a lot to handle as an Owner Operator when starting a trucking career, but it is not. You just have to keep up with the trailer’s maintenance, tires, tire pressure, and inspect the trailer regularly. Don’t get caught off guard by a big repair that could have been avoided by a simple fix, if done proactively and on-time. In my opinion, not buying your own equipment is throwing away money.
ST: What would you recommend for an Owner Operator buying a second truck for the first time?
Steven: First find a good driver, then do your research on trucks and warranties. And when it comes to warranties—you want one! A good warranty will cost on average between $5,000 and $6,000 for 24 months. With some negotiating, I was able to get a warranty for $4,000 for 24 months that covers all major components—and a little extra. When buying a truck as a first-time Owner Operator, you don’t need a brand-new truck with all the bells and whistles. Just make your driver comfortable and get them a decent truck to keep them happy. Get the truck set up while the freight is doing well and the money is there. That way, the driver starting a trucking career can see how good the money can be but also prepares them for the down times. It is also important to keep your driver aware about the seasons when the freight rates go up and down so they can learn how to make money in trucking.