After more than 30 years in supply chain, logistics, and transportation, James Adams wanted to “build a different mousetrap.” The result led HDT to name him a 2023 Truck Fleet Innovator.
In 2019, Adams and COO Brian Watson, co-founded a new trucking company, Revolution Trucking. The two had worked together for 15 years and believed that shippers and drivers were being short-changed by industry consolidation.
“As transportation providers have grown, their focus has shifted from customer service to cost-cutting in order to increase their own profits,” Adams, also CEO, said in an early company announcement. Revolution Trucking was founded with a mission of “providing shippers with multiple service options, improving overall customer service, and providing drivers with more money and a better quality of life.”
Revolution specializes in truckload and expedited freight for North American shipments, serving the manufacturing, automotive, consumer goods, technology, and life sciences industries.
Whether its customers are Fortune 1000 companies or middle-market shippers, Adams says, they all have one thing in common: “They’re tired of the excuses” for freight not getting there on time.
“I hate to use the word premium, because people always think price, but [we work in] that no-fail environment. Hair-on-fire, lines-down situations, end of the world, customers are going to cancel contracts if stuff doesn’t deliver when it’s supposed to. That’s where 90% of our business is.”
Adams explains that Revolution specializes in shipments that need to be there quickly and on time; are high value (they moved a $25 million satellite last year); and involve an element of risk.
“Risk comes in a lot of different flavors,” he says, such as hazardous materials, secure government loads for agencies such as the Defense Department and loads related to national security.
That type of freight only makes up about 5% of the total freight market landscape, he says. “But that’s kind of where I cut my teeth, in the premium segment.”
Adams notes that Revolution is not always the cheapest option. “And for mission-critical freight, I don’t want to be.”
Raising the Bar on Customer Service
Of course, to be successful in that segment, a company must deliver on its promises — and get the load there safely and on time. So how does Revolution do it?
“It’s the people, process, and the technology,” he says. All the technology in the world won’t help, he says, if you don’t have the people and process.
Adams says at Revolution, they don’t have salespeople, but focus on building relationships with customers. When you build those relationships, he explains, they may not need your services right away, but at some point, because you’ve built that relationship, they’ll turn to you.
The challenge, especially as a new company, he says: “When you go to buy a car you don’t buy it sight unseen,” he says. You kick the tires, get in and drive it around.
So when you get that first opportunity, “Then you’ve got to knock their socks off. So we focused on the onboarding and planning around the customers.”
To do that, he said, “80% of our success is planning.”
But how do you plan when 80% of Revolution’s business is expedited freight they’re picking up the same day?”
“We own it from beginning to end," Adams says. The company’s on-time pickup rate is always above 99%, he says, and at one point reached 99.8%, “because we manage the heck out of it.”
Every company runs into problems with delivering freight, he says. The difference at Revolution “is how we solve those problems. We’ve had trucks break down and we tow them the whole way.”
Adams tells the tale of one employee who had limited trucking experience (he was actually in the commercial flooring business) and was surprised that the customers were so impressed.
“The bar is so low, it’s easy to surpass it," Adams says.
And he should know, because he started his career on the shipper side, with 3M. Then he joined PWC consulting around supply chain management, before getting into the trucking/ freight forwarding space.
Revolution's Secret Sauce
Adams wrote the business plan for Revolution several years earlier, 2014 or 2015, but he says the timing wasn’t right.
“In hindsight, the timing’s never right,” he says, noting that they ended up going into business right before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet even as many trucking companies struggled last year coming out of the pandemic freight boom, Revolution doubled its number of shipments from the previous year. In fact, Adams says the company has more than doubled revenues and clients every year.
“I always want to project an image and expectation that are much larger than we actually are,” Adams says, which is fewer than 50 trucks. “I get that all the time, ‘I thought you were a lot bigger.”
What’s the secret sauce? Adams says it’s really not very secret — but who’s actually doing it?
“I would say on average, a shipment we’re offered is missing 25% of the necessary information to execute flawlessly,” he says. Revolution takes the information, fills in the blanks, and verifies what they’re told. That includes calling and confirming with an actual person at the shipper’s docks and warehouses to prevent surprises upon pickup. Reaching out to the consignee and confirming details such as what hours they are open to receive loads prevents surprises during delivery.
“All that time and money and frustration and stress … we remove all that stuff.”
If the company handles 50 shipments in a day, he says, “there may be 50 providers involved. Being able to track and manage that is crucial.”
In fact, Revolution boasts a 99.4% customer retention rate, and consistently exceeds 99% for on-time deliveries, according to the company.
Carriers and Drivers
Revolution consists of three businesses: Its asset-based fleet, a brokerage, and a managed transportation business. At the time we talked, the asset-based fleet was up to about 35 trucks; the goal is to get to 50 by the end of the year.
That means it relies on motor carriers to handle much of its freight.
“We’re easy to do business with, and we pay fast,” Adams says. But the company also has high expectations.
That carrier, he says is “an extension of our reputation.” Revolution has a carrier excellence program and if carriers don’t make the grade, “We hold their feet to the fire. We ask for a performance improvement plan and they hop to it.”
In addition, driver recruiting and retention for its own fleet are “absolutely critical,” Adams says, to maintain Revolution’s high level of performance.
It’s important to find the right person, “because it is a lifestyle,” he says. “We’re not turning Uber drivers into truck drivers.”
In addition, he says, drivers have to be managed on a person-by-person basis. Each one has their own preferences. “We don’t have forced dispatch, even for our own drivers.”
He admits that it has been a learning process. After developing a list of driver attributes associated with a higher likelihood of success, and hiring based on those, their driver turnover dropped dramatically.
“We do pay well and quickly. Our drivers get paid every Friday. If they’re in a pickle, we CashApp them some money. Some of these guys don’t come home for three weeks,” he says, and having that kind of back-office support drivers need is important.
Another key to Revolution’s success is understanding the industries it’s hauling for.
“Pharmaceuticals doesn’t look like automotive doesn’t look like construction,” he says. “There’s so many specifics for each industry. We’re moving to more thoughtful, strategic specialization.”
Adams says Revolution could grow even faster, “but that’s not the company we’re building.”
If there was one word Adams would use to describe how Revolution is “disrupting” trucking, he says, “I’d say it’s total transparency. We don’t play games, we do exactly what we say we’re going to do, and we tell you what we’re not going to do.”
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