When you’re a little fish in a big pond, it pays to be flexible. Becker Trucking of Tukwila, Washington, has been in the less-than-truckload business since 1925, serving points in the Northwest with about 50 trucks running from terminals in Seattle and Portland. It has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, but today it’s enjoying the fruits of several sound business decisions.
The recession of 2008 saw several big LTL players move into the Northwest in search of more volume, depressing rates and idling trucks and drivers. At one point, Becker was leaving about 10% of its trucks parked against the fence on any given day. The interminable recovery didn’t help. Rather than fight to regain market share in the now-crowded LTL market, Becker decided to go after work other companies were having difficulty getting done.
“We made a conscious decision to change what we were doing,” says Terminal Manager Tracy Wilhelm. “As the economy picked up, companies faced shortages of drivers. We had the drivers and the equipment, but the LTL business wasn’t what we needed it to be, so we changed course.”
Becker ramped up its dedicated division and approached companies about delivering their freight with Becker tractors and Becker drivers, and the turnaround was underway. Wilhelm says the mix of work at Becker 10 years ago was 40% LTL, 40% flatbed and 20% dedicated truckload. Today, it’s 10% LTL, 30% flatbed, and 60% dedicated.
Becker has put a lot of effort into recruiting the right drivers for the operation, and it seems to be paying off. The company added drivers last year, while many others struggled to keep those they have.
Becker hires mostly older drivers who are looking for steady work and a respectful environment. The average driver there is probably 45 years or older, Wilhelm says.
“We interviewed lots of drivers last year, and we selected just a few, but we think we hired the right ones for the company,” Wilhelm says. “Our niche is this is a good place to work. We’ll treat you well, you’ll make a good wage, and you won’t hate coming to work. It’s the little personal touches like remembering their kids’ birthdays and not making a big deal about taking time off when the need arises, as it always does with families. I’ve been here 23 years; I don’t think I’m in the top 10 when it comes to years of service.”
The change in direction was a good move for the company. With the big guys slugging it out in a crowded market, Becker Trucking is now eating their lunch because it has the drivers — and happy ones at that.
Who: Becker Trucking
Where: Tukwila, Washington
Fleet: 50 tractors, 3:1 trailer-to-tractor ratio
Operations: LTL network serving the Northwest from terminals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Flatbed and specialty operations and contract haulage.
Fun Fact: Current owner Frank Riordan is president of the Washington Trucking Association.
Challenge: Adapt to a changing marketplace by capitalizing on corporate strengths: a happy and dedicated workforce, operational flexibility, and lean management.