“When we were making decisions before, it was from a position of fear. Now, because we understand what our data means - we’re making decisions based on what’s right for our business, our employees and our own well being."
The Marena Markel Interview “We want to be able to see the seasons change and explore the world, and you can’t do that when you work in a factory,” says Marena Markel who operates a highly profitable FedEx Ground contracting business with her husband, Ralph.
They’re “just country kids at heart” still spending time together outdoors after thirty-one years of marriage.
The Early Years Married young and living in Sandusky, MI, the Markels chased their dreams early on in life. Ralph drove a floral delivery throughout the state spending his weeknights on the road.
Marena raised their young children and grew fruits and vegetables to sell at local farmers markets, but she and the kids missed having the man of the house at home.
While refueling his delivery truck, Ralph struck up a conversation with a FedEx Ground driver at an adjacent pump. A local route owner happened to be looking for more drivers. Ralph was hired and finally spending nights at home.
In 2005, with the help of a silent partner - the couple bought their own FedEx Ground route and trucks.
The Markels enjoyed their new lifestyle business. Ralph drove the truck and performed all required maintenance while Marena handled the paperwork. More ownership opportunities came their way and they experienced steady growth for nine years.
The Difficult Years During Peak of 2014, the stress of handling a large operation finally began wearing on the couple’s health. Marena had gained 35 pounds and was so overwhelmed that she didn’t bother putting up the family’s Christmas Tree. In fact, she hadn’t put one up for the last two years because she was too busy.
Their income was being consumed by the business expenses, the fun of a lifestyle business was gone, and the couple recognized they were in over their heads.
Marena reveals, “Ralph bought two cases of wine before Peak. We would share a bottle every night after work just so we could calm down enough to fall asleep.”
She continues, “I was responsible for Human Resources and Payroll, too. If I forgot to process the payroll, I had to wire money to employees. That’s expensive. From the day we bought this business, I knew we would eventually sell it, but I didn’t imagine it would be because we were too stressed to keep it going. We needed help and didn’t know where to turn,” conveys Marena.
The Turnaround The couple learned of eTruckBiz in 2015 when they attended a seminar explaining what needed to change and why.
“We needed a system that combined both the operations and financial sides of our business. We hadn’t thought of the benefits of keeping all our data in one system and we didn’t know eTruck existed."
"They showed us how we’d make more money if we sold our lighter trucks and replaced them with fewer, bigger and heavier trucks that better suited our workloads. Plus, we eventually implemented a process of switching our drivers from being paid by the day to being paid by the hour. That saved us a lot of money and wasn’t nearly as painful as we imagined it would be,” admits Marena.
“When we were making decisions before, it was from a position of fear. Now, because we understand what our data means - we’re making decisions based on what’s right for our business, our employees and our own well being,” she relates.
"After inputting our maintenance invoices into our new system, we realized we were due refunds from mechanics who had charged us for work that was covered under warranty. Now, we not only track maintenance records, we input upcoming scheduled maintenance so we keep our trucks on the road instead of in the shop.”
The Payoff After using the Base system, they upgraded to a Pro Subscription and their business took off again. In 2018, the Markels hired a full-time Manager to run their daily operations allowing them to step-back and focus on the financial aspects of their business. They’re no longer fighting fires every day and making decisions from a position of fear.
The Markels recently bought a motor home and have started travelling for fun. “We love to drive when we’re not having to drop off packages and hurry, hurry, hurry,” adds Marena.
“I’ve lost 35 pounds since we started working with eTruck. Plus, we’re more relaxed and still playing the game.”
"My wife and I love to travel. Implementing these tools has given us the freedom to travel. We’ve now been to Europe for 10 days, taken cruises, and even visited Hawaii this summer.”
The Steve Ellis Interview Steve Ellis is unique in many ways, but especially because he remains willing to seek advice after eighteen years of owning FedEx Ground routes.
Many business owners refuse to change their ways after a decade and a half, but Steve is a champion at adapting for success and making good decisions.
“I was hired at FedEx Ground early in 2000 to do pre-load. They recognized my potential, and I was promotable towards management. So, I had a choice. Either follow the corporate model of being transferred from one small town to another for the rest of my career, or I could control my own destiny by working for myself,” reminisces Steve. Early Challenges The Independent Contractor model appealed to Ellis, and an ownership opportunity in 2001 kept him and his family in Colorado Springs.
Steve enjoyed limited success, but churning drivers was zapping his profits and his energy.
He couldn’t offer drivers any benefits or compete with large company incentive packages. Constant turnover resulted in significant training expenses.
The Solution Steve was introduced to eTruckBiz in 2017. Two simple changes helped him turn the corner to exponential success.
“The Flex Program and blended schedules addressed my turnover issues dramatically. The big difference was learning how to implement four-day work weeks with ten-hour days for most of my drivers. It’s been a game changer.
Secondly and honestly, I was afraid to switch how I paid my drivers. I thought I would receive a lot of push-back when we went from a fixed wage to hourly wages. Drivers look at the fixed wage as a benefit. My drivers were understandably resistant when we made the change, but not nearly as much as I anticipated. The few who couldn’t adapt left. The majority were unexpectedly surprised and soon saw the advantage of the hourly rate.
Those who stayed make more money than they did before. In fact, they’re now stuffing their trucks instead of leaving packages at pre-load so they get in their ten hours.
The company is dispatching less trucks per day than with the fixed wage program. They love the four-day work week. The schedule has produced so many results that I never anticipated...
They volunteer to assist other drivers,
they volunteer to pick up extra days,
to double dispatch,
or do sweeps.
Drivers at first thought of the hourly wage as a negative, but paying them for 10-hour days means they’re making more than they were on fixed wages. The company’s wage expenses went from 53% of revenues to 48%. I anticipate they’ll be around 45% by the end of this year," says Ellis.
“Ten hour days allowed me to balance delivery loads better, plus driver applications shot up when I started advertising four day schedules,’ he notes.
He’s not only eliminated routes and trucks, he rarely drives a truck these days.
“Plus, our goal is to have my BC’s out of the trucks. Their time is better spent watching our Stops Per On Road Hours and training new drivers,” Ellis remarks.
New Challenges These strategic changes allowed Steve to be his own Chief Financial Officer and determine how to best manage his expenses.
Other eTruck tools have helped him become more efficient and cost effective, too.
“I’m now using the data to show me the difference between the time a driver clocks in and their first delivery stop. If we can cut my overall pre-load time in half, we can save roughly $175,000. That will enable the company to offer drivers raises and replace trucks sooner.
New Found Freedom “What eTruck did for us was make the business more profitable than we could have imagined. But even better than the financial benefits are the hours that were gained to do some things personally, to have time and peace of mind to escape from the daily grind and enjoy life without FedEx Ground.
“We acquired a contractor who hadn’t taken a week of vacation in over 12 years. He’d never been gone from his station more than 3-4 days at a time. My wife and I love to travel. Implementing these tools has given us the freedom to travel. We’ve now been to Europe for 10 days, taken cruises, and even visited Hawaii this summer,” adds Ellis.
“I walk my dog for 2 plus miles in the morning and eat breakfast at home because I don’t have to be at pre-load. Our managers have been helped, too. The BC’s are able to enjoy life outside of FedEx because they’re not delivering.
There are only 168 hours in a week, we do not want our people forced to work over 50 hours. Everyone needs a life outside of their work commitments, ” notes Steve.
He sums up his new success this way, “The training and tools that eTruckbiz are offering helped me thrive. I now believe that I can build this company to last beyond my tenure, or make the company a sell-able and profitable asset.”
"Revenues have grown 355% since I bought my first routes. I know we wouldn’t be anywhere near that f I hadn’t listened to advice from eTruckBiz. They turned a young man with no experience into one of the state’s largest FXG Service Providers.”
The Tracy Taylor Interview Tracy Taylor's a young business owner who fears neither taking risks nor accepting sharp advice. But you wouldn’t know it just by looking at him. He frequently wears baseball caps, shorts and flip-flops, but his look is deceiving.
The casual exterior camouflages a man who routinely beats the odds. His ability to heed expert guidance is one of his biggest secret weapons.
The Early Years In 2008 at nineteen years old, he was a Package Handler at FedEx Ground and a crop insurance adjuster working throughout Kansas. He purchased FXG routes 200 miles away in Topeka four years later. The contract covered 3 PSA’s. Plus, he bought 6 used trucks and supervised 4 drivers. Ownership would put him on a path to building wealth. Or so he thought.
Taylor admits to losing over $60,000 in his first six months. Was he concerned? Sure, but is he a quitter? No way. He had two huge challenges 1.) understanding the FXG data he received weekly and 2.) making his business profitable.
At 23, I thought I knew everything, but soon learned otherwise. So, I took a humble approach to this stuff,” he reflects.
His quest for advice led him to eTruckBiz. Both companies shared similar passions - turning a lifestyle business into a transportation company. “I told Jeff (the owner of eTruck) I needed help with my data. It was like having a great harvest, but not knowing how get it to market,” he recalls.
Together they determined Taylor was losing $700 every Saturday that he made deliveries. So, he cut three routes and now turns a profit on weekends. Then, he swapped PSA’s with another Contractor prior to Peak 2012. The overlap allowed his company, Desert Fox, to break even that year.
Overlap was not widely practiced then.
You Can’t Let Drivers Run Your Business In February 2014, Tracy purchased another 6 PSA’s located in Hays, KS, 200 miles from Topeka. Plus, he added a Home Delivery route to his Topeka routes.
“I had 12 employees, 15 trucks and two operations hundreds of miles apart. Plus, recruiting, training, and managing people were new to me,” he adds. Even with a full plate, he decided to attend eTruck’s Management and Operations Class.
“I learned that watching my data isn't enough. My people needed me to make tough decisions instead of letting them manage themselves. I was afraid my employees would leave if I wasn’t friendly with them,” he admits.
Later that year, he realized even more opportunities awaited. So, he began thinking of services people like himself needed. “I told eTruck I needed advisors, but I couldn’t add payroll. It'd be great if experts who understood this business would spend some time with me instead of my hiring a bunch of Directors,” he recalls.
eTruck then created Pro Services - business coaching, recruiting, timekeeping and payroll management services.
Taylor was able to internally promote a few strong managerial candidates and gave them access to the same information he was receiving. “Maurice Jackson, one of my BC's, has learned from eTruck, too. Maurice is great with their software and services," he affirms of his manager.
Continued Growth By 2015, the company had grown to more than 20 trucks, plus 5 additional PSA’s in Manhattan, KS.
“FedEx management advised that I needed to add 11 trucks to my fleet for Peak. I thanked them for the advice, but my data indicated only 3 more trucks were necessary,” he boasts.
They required a Letter of Assurance because they thought I'd fail, but it was my smoothest Peak ever. We didn’t have a single service failure. I was so proud of my team. And eTruck was right alongside me as my coach,” he adds.
In 2017, his company began operating 24-hours a day after he bought five tractors to offset the volatility of P&D Operations.
“Line Haul was another big learning curve for me, but it provided solid cash flow and another 7,000 miles per week. Then, we added Line Haul Spot Work. That's picking up customers’ trailers when we weren’t pulling Ground trailers. eTruck taught me how to better use my underutilized assets,” he discloses.
Today, the Kansas native focuses on his metrics and his managers. He doesn't have to get involved in the daily operations and can spend a little time with his two daughters ages four and six while they’re young.
“My wife and I like taking the girls to the lake. I enjoy wake boarding and surfing behind our boat. My daughters will some day be better than I am at wake boarding,” supposes Taylor. He knows there’s a strong chance they share his ability to learn from the best.
He’s not finished growing and he’s not finished seeking advice either. A solid foundation of profitability sets him up well for his next acquisition. Someday he’s going to need the growth in order to fund college and weddings as the father of two brides.
"The extra set of eyes on my business performance and the numbers crunching service, along with the weekly phone calls has made me stay on top of the small things that I might let slip or get complacent.”
The Dustin Franz Interview
Dustin Franz was managing a Little Caesars Pizza restaurant in 1995. He considered it a steppingstone to someday operating his own business. Maybe his own restaurant? Maybe buying something other than a restaurant?
He had burned out on college after a year and half and it was expensive, too. His grandfather who had been a local “milk man” offered to loan him seed money to buy either a pizza restaurant, or a delivery route.
Coincidentally, Dustin’s Assistant Manager at Little Caesars loaded trucks part-time at RPS. He knew about Dustin’s dream. When the Assistant learned that an older RPS Contractor was interested in selling his business, he connected Dustin and the Contractor.
Dustin spent two hours every weekday for two years as a package handler just to prove his dependability, responsibility and commitment. His dedication paid off because in January 2000 Dustin bought the seller’s RPS route in Pasco, WA, covering 14 ZIP.
By 2002, he repaid his grandparents and hired his own younger brother to drive a Home Delivery truck. With the growth of HD, by 2008 Dustin’s single truck operation grew into four trucks and they were covering 17 ZIP codes.
“When I got into this business, I just wanted two trucks. One for me and one for my younger brother,” Dustin recalls.
“The volume we were carrying was such that one truck could hold up to sixteen ZIP codes worth of boxes. Over time, FedEx Ground has grown so much that now it takes forty-five trucks to cover the same territory. A full day used to be 50-65 stops plus picking up 10 boxes at most,” he reflects.
Despite his desire to remain a small operation, Dustin didn’t consider getting out of the delivery business. He decided to grow his own operation in order to remain a service provider to FedEx.
The increased revenues were great, but my bank accounts weren’t growing. Everyone was getting paid, but that was about all. Money would come in and go back out just as quick. By 2010, I knew I should be spending more time leading my manager instead of always hopping in a truck,” says Franz.
Changing Times But Dustin, like most people, resists change. His business rocked along from 2010 until 2014 when FedEx announced that the state of Washington would be converted to ISP in 2016. That announcement shook him up.
“Previously, we weren’t allowed any voice determining what we got paid. We were just told an amount that we had the option to accept or decline. There was no conversation. With the introduction of ISP, we had to not only understand how our revenues were being determined, we had to prepare to negotiate against professional negotiators. I couldn’t bring in my lawyer or my accountant. What’d I know? I’d been trained to manage a restaurant and deliver packages on time. It just didn’t seem fair,” he adds.
Dustin reached out for negotiation assistance.
“eTruck helped me receive a much better contract than I could’ve gotten alone. Having them at my side gave me confidence. As Service Providers, we deserve more than simply getting by. These are desirable businesses and you can make good money at this if you have an open mind and are willing to make changes,” he states.
According to Franz, he sees not only a trend, but feels like the FXG relationship is coming full circle.
RPS was known for being the lowest-cost option in the delivery business. Then, the focus changed to service under the new ownership. Now, the focus is turning back to competing as the low-cost provider,” he surmises. No More Worries These days Dustin doesn’t worry like he used to because of two reasons.
First, he feels fortunate to be surrounded by strong people. He would not be where he is today without the caliber of employees on his team. They work through the operations challenges as a team vs acting as individuals.
Second, eTruck keeps him on his toes.
“The coaching services tell me what kinds of things I need to be watching out for before they actually happen,” states Dustin.
Using eTruck’s coaching services allows Dustin to spend more of his time doing the things he enjoys instead of pouring over spreadsheets and reports every day.
“My coach was a former Senior Manager and is awesome. I ask his perspective on how I should address situations in the terminal that I wouldn’t have known,” he says.
“Knowing that eTruck has my back means that I go to work for a few hours in the morning and I’m home by 11:00am to watch the grand kids. I love entertaining my grand kids and I don’t regret my choices at all. Having the opportunity to be with people I love and spend my afternoons with them, well I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says with a smile.