Name: Tod L. Job, Jefferson City, Mo.
Truck: 1996 Peterbilt 379; 500-hp. Caterpillar engine, 15-speed transmission
Trailer: 1997 Great Dane 53-ft. trailer, double-slider spread axles; Thermo King SB-III SR reefer unit
Total cost: $190,000
Deciding whether to lease out full time to a for-hire carrier
Tod Job is not your typical owner-operator. For starters, he left a career in computer engineering at a large manufacturing firm to get out on the open road. A full-time driver for 11 years and an owner-operator for the last four, Job says driving for a living is what he's always wanted to do because it allows him to “see the country and meet a lot of great people.”
Job is a longhaul independent, driving loads from the Midwest to California and back. He operates through a network of four brokers “who take real good care of me,” so he never lacks good-paying freight. Though he typically hauls frozen goods to California and fresh produce back to the Midwest, Job also carries whatever it takes to stay in business, including toys, mail, and health and beauty supplies. “I'm very busy.”
However, Job is quick to point out that most owner-operators are not as fortunate right now. With the cost of fuel, insurance and other items rising steeply, Job admits that making a living as an owner-operator today is tougher than ever. He says cold economic reality is forcing many independents to take a fresh look at hiring out full time to the big carriers.
“There are several advantages to leasing out to a big carrier,” he explains. “First, there's a lot less paperwork; it's mainly limited to keeping track of fuel receipts. Second, the big carriers always have freight, so you don't have to scramble to get a load. Third, and probably most important, you can buy fuel, tires and other items on the carrier's national accounts. That's really what makes the situation so attractive.
“One independent I know works for a carrier that has an account with a national truck-stop chain, which means he can buy fuel all across the country at the same price. This guy is paying the same amount for fuel in California as he does in Oklahoma, which saves him 40¢ to 50¢ a gallon.” In addition, it's common for carriers to pick up road and fuel taxes for owner-operators who lease out to them full time, saving time and money.
In fact, several years ago Job himself was a fully leased independent; he worked for Werner Enterprises and then Gary Pons Trucking of Deridder, La. While there's no denying the benefits, there is a major drawback to leasing out full time: You can't set your own schedule. This is what eventually led Job to go out on his own.
CALLING THE SHOTS
“You have more freedom on your own,” he says. “If you want to get home for a particular weekend, you can find some freight that will get you there. If you work for a carrier, you have to take what they give you.”
But Job feels that even this advantage could be overshadowed by the rising cost of essentials. “It's getting tougher out there every day,” he says. “I could buy a new truck for what I'm paying now in fuel, insurance, etc.” In fact, although Job spec'd a new tractor-trailer, he's postponed purchasing it until he sees what direction fuel prices take over the next few months.
“On the other hand, the rise in fuel prices may be a blessing in disguise,” Job says. “It will weed out the bad operators — the guys who really shouldn't be out on the road. Right now, trucking's sort of a dog-eat-dog business. But if the good owner-operators can survive the spike in fuel costs, there should be more opportunity down the road. However, it does give the big carriers a chance to get bigger. We'll have to see how it all works out.”
This new monthly column presents the independent contractor's perspective on working relationships with fleets and fleet managers.