independent voice

Name: Keith Herzig Herzig Hauling, Hebron, CT OperationThree-tractor fleet leased to FedEx Ground for regional drop-and-hook operation EquipmentKenworth T2000, 430-hp. DDC engine IssueGrowing a long-term relationship If you wanted someone to model the role of an owner-operator you need look no further than Keith Herzig. For starters, the veteran trucker has logged over 1.6-million accident-free miles

Name: Keith Herzig Herzig Hauling, Hebron, CT

Operation
Three-tractor fleet leased to FedEx Ground for regional drop-and-hook operation

Equipment
Kenworth T2000, 430-hp. DDC engine

Issue
Growing a long-term relationship

If you wanted someone to model the role of an owner-operator you need look no further than Keith Herzig.

For starters, the veteran trucker has logged over 1.6-million accident-free miles in a career spanning some 20 years so far. Over the last 13 years, he has built up a successful small fleet operation thanks to hard work and a solid relationship with a household-name carrier. He is also a driver-safety consultant for Liberty Mutual Insurance and has served as an industry ambassador since being named an America's Road Team captain by ATA in 1998.

Herzig tells a not-funny-at-the-time story about what propelled him to make the leap to running his own business. “Back in 1988, I was driving an armored tractor — yes, there was even a gunport in the door — and was caught up in an armed-robbery attempt that ended in a shootout. That got me started looking around,” he relates matter-of-factly, “for a way to make a bad situation better.”

What Herzig hit on was becoming his own boss, inspired by a recruiting campaign for independent contractors conducted by then-fledgling package carrier RPS (Roadway Package System), which eventually through acquisitions morphed into today's FedEx Ground.

“RPS had an attractive business model,” Herzig relates. “Their meet-and-switch operation got me home every night, which allowed me a regular schedule and a family life.” But before signing on for over-the-road action, Herzig looked into being an RPS package-van operator. “When I saw how hard they worked all day only to gross about $200 — that's before paying for fuel, maintenance and insurance — I looked into buying a tractor.

“For the first nine years,” he continues, “it was just me and my truck. Then five years ago my best buddy began slipseating, which led to my buying a second truck and then a third. I intentionally move very slowly. I want to build the business a step at a time. The bigger you get, the harder it is to keep everything going the way you want it.”

On the other hand, it's not easy for even this small fleet operator with the attractive home-every-night operation to find reliable help. “I just hired a fifth guy,” Herzig reveals, “but he bailed on me shortly after. My goal with that hire had been for me to step completely out of the truck.”

Yet Herzig can take some satisfaction in the tenure of his other drivers — the four have been with him now for spans ranging from six months to five years. “The secret to that is you get what you pay for,” he advises. “And I pay — $0.32 a mile and half the cost of benefits. I also spec the equipment properly and upgrade it as soon as possible.”

When it comes to why his relationship with FedEx Ground has lasted so long, Herzig says the biggest reason is mutual respect. “They've done a lot for me over the years,” he points out. “For example, Herzig Hauling belongs to ATA but I've competed at truck-driving championships for FedEx Ground because they were willing to pay my travel costs and to compensate me for missed runs. The simple truth is a large corporation can absorb such costs better and they gain positive public relations. It benefits us both.”

Herzig says FedEx Ground has also gone the extra mile to help its contractors remain profitable. “They've capped our fuel price and absorbed increases beyond the cap,” he notes, “and they've allowed us to do things like buy Goodyear tires at their national-account prices.

“It's a very successful relationship,” Herzig sums up. “Part of the reason I've been with them so long is I know what is expected. That makes it a lot easier to deliver.”

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