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The 2015 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators

March 2015, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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Openness to new technology and opportunities set John Elliott and Load One apart. Photo: Load One
Openness to new technology and opportunities set John Elliott and Load One apart. Photo: Load One

John Elliott and Load One: The accidental expediter

John Elliott didn’t plan to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and get into trucking. And when he started his own trucking company, it wasn’t his plan to become a major expedited carrier. But keeping his mind open to new opportunities and new technologies has brought him success in both.

Like many second- and third-generation truckers, Elliott grew up sweeping out trailers and helping in the shop. But he struck out on his own, went to college and got a degree in aviation management. Two years into his aviation career, his past came calling and he got an offer he couldn’t refuse to get back into trucking.

“It’s just in your blood,” he says.

(The company his grandfather A.J. Pellegrino founded, Transportation Services Inc., is still going strong, carrying freight between Mexico, Canada and the U.S.)

After working in trucking management, Elliott became a small fleet owner leased on to another carrier. Then he added broker to his job description. Pretty soon he decided to combine his fleet and his brokerage business and create his own truckload carrier. That was 12 years ago.

Today Elliott says Load One, based in Taylor, Mich., is one of the top five expedited carriers in the country, and the largest that’s privately held.

But he started out in truckload, not expedited.

“I would love to tell you it was an epiphany, but it was an accidental thing,” he says. A longtime dispatcher, one of his first employees, came back from a stint working at an expedited carrier and convinced him to sign on a hardworking expediter with a van and a straight truck.

Elliott was skeptical, but soon found there was a lot of need in the market for a quality expedite company. His location in the Detroit area, where the automotive industry drives much of the demand for expedited freight, made the expansion a natural.

Handling expedited freight started as a way to offer more one-stop shopping to loyal truckload customers. Along the way Load One added flatbeds, curtainsides, brokerage and air charter.

“Those things really paid off during the economic downturn,” Elliott explains, “because we saw a lot of shippers and suppliers that went from maybe four people in their transportation department to one. They didn’t have time to call 10 different carriers to get something done. So we evolved to more of a solutions company.”

The main focus today, however, is expedited, which makes up about 65% of Load One’s business.

It’s a sector that’s gone through a lot of change, he notes, with a number of mergers and acquisitions, such as Panther being purchased by ABF.

John Elliott, CEO, Load One 
John Elliott, CEO, Load One

“We’re a little bit of a holdout in the fact that we’re still privately held,” he says. “On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve seen a lot of fragmentation in the small-vehicle market. Those vehicles are not always regulated when you get down to the van market, so a lot of those carriers are not always playing by all the rules. But overall I think it’s still a good industry for quality carriers, and I think the quality carriers have continued to do well.”

Elliott’s willingness to change his plans and try new things has helped him succeed in that changing landscape.

“I think business plans are great, it’s good to have strategies,” he says. “But the way the world has changed so much, sometimes a five-month plan is better than a five-year plan. I think staying nimble or open to opportunities is a good way to go.”

That extends to testing new technologies, as well. “Good or bad, we tend to be little more of a ‘bleeding-edge’ company,” he acknowledges. “My staff cringes when they hear the word ‘beta.’”

Load One was one of the first carriers with Omnitracs to test and roll out in-cab scanning, he says, adopting it “when most people weren’t even considering it.” It tested in-cab navigation for ALK; “we’ve had turn-by-turn in our cabs for years.”

Being an early adopter has its pros and cons, Elliott says. “It can be a competitive advantage, but it also can be a headache when you’re working through those bumps.”

Even though Load One is a major expedite carrier today, that wasn’t always the case, and Elliott said his company needed to find ways to differentiate itself from the competition.

“We found technology was one of the things if we embraced hard, we could use that to compete with much larger carriers.”

One of the technologies Load One recently implemented, starting in 2012, is a retention data analysis service from a company called Stay Metrics. The company collects data using surveys of current drivers as well as exit interviews, then “looks at that data with the eye of a third party,” as Elliott explains it.

Technology focused on driver retention was important because finding qualified drivers is even harder in the expedite industry than it is in truckload, with a much smaller pool of owner-operators to draw from.

So instead of going head-to-head with the competition in a sign-on bonus war, Elliott decided to focus Load One’s money and efforts on retention over recruiting.

One of the programs Load One implemented with Stay Metrics is allowing drivers to rate staff they interact with, such as dispatchers and maintenance staff, so management can address problems that could drive good owner-operators away.

Elliott recalls a survey of the maintenance staff showing that the mechanic rated highest as far as technical ability also scored the lowest in follow-up. It was fairly simple to make that tech aware of the problem and teach him to follow up with the owner-operators.

“The results have been great for us,” Elliott says, as drivers see that not only does the company care enough to ask their opinions, but also that those opinions are changing things. It’s just part of a corporate culture where drivers are treated as part of the team, and Elliott says he’s fairly confident that Load One has the best retention rate of any major expedite company.

“If you try to do the right thing by your fleet, that gives big returns.”

Comments

  1. 1. Jon [ April 09, 2015 @ 01:54PM ]

    Panther was not purchased by ABF, Panther was purchased by ArcBest.

 

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