Many years ago, when I was starting my career as an independent owner operator under my own authority, I spent an inordinate amount of time putting my business plan together. One of the sources I used was the Small Business Administration. Utilizing the SBA turned out to be a valuable asset as I charted the course for my new business.  

An interesting little fact that I learned while going through the process of putting my business plan together, was that 80% of new businesses fail within the first six months. I learned that 80% of those failures had less than six months of planning. In my case, I had two full years of planning before embarking on my new business venture.  

The person I worked with at the SBA was named U.J. Cozart. I wish I could find him today just to let him know how much he helped me with the success of my new business. U.J. put me through the paces and helped me put together a business plan, a backup to the business plan, as well as a backup to the backup plan. This process became very handy as I embarked on my new business venture, and a few times I actually had to dip into the backup plan, ever so slightly. In addition to all this, U.J. made sure that I was not wearing rose-colored sunglasses with the facts and figures regarding the success of my business.

I will never forget the next to last meeting I had with U.J. Cozark. He told me that I had everything in order. He had run my plan past peers in the trucking industry. I was ready to get started. He was almost ready to let the bird fly on its own. He leaned back in his chair, put his arms behind his head, relaxed back, put his feet up on the desk, looked me squarely in the eye, and asked me “Why would any company use your service to ship their products?”.

I paused for a second before replying and before I could say anything, U.J. rose his hand motioning me to stop, and said, “You hesitated and I don't even want to hear your answer at this time. Take a week and come back to me with a good answer.”. I drove home thinking about what had just taken place.  “Why would anybody want to use me?”.  The answers coming to my head were; I was going to be professional, on time, and reliable. Having run the freight desk at a shipper made me think to myself “Well, that's not a very special reason for anyone to use me, because that's what every trucking company says.”.

When I arrived home, I picked up my mail from the mailbox. To my surprise, the answer to the question U.J. Cozart had asked me was in an envelope. The answer came to me in the form of a toothpaste sample. When I thought about it, I, like many others, had been buying the same brand of toothpaste for many, many years. I never really thought about it before, but I had been using the same brand of toothpaste that my parents had bought many decades prior. It turns out that the sample of toothpaste I had just received was from the opposing major brand that we used. I decided to give it a try anyway. I thought to myself, “This is the answer I need to take back to the SBA in a week”.  

My plan was to use an introductory rate that was good for a prescribed time frame in order to demonstrate to a shipper the benefits of using my company to transport their products. I also would ask them to give me the shipment going to the consignee with which they typically had trouble with. At the end of this trial period, I would have a better idea of what it took to conduct business with this “troublesome” customer, and they would also have a clear view of what my company was all about.  

Normally, the process would go forward by me arriving at the consignee at the scheduled time, typically first thing in the morning. I would then walk in with a box of donuts and inform them that I would be delivering to them on a regular basis. This simple little step, more than often, led to the consignee requesting the shipper to send me with the next delivery.  

The key to this whole process was that when it came time to negotiate what the actual freight rate was going to be, I had the upper hand because I had successfully pleased the consignee of their product who in the past was normally complaining about something.  

I will say, there was much more to the process than this. However, it’s important to have a reason as to why any new prospective customer would want to utilize your services over the carriers who are already servicing their business.  

If I ever do run into U.J. Cozart again, I will give him a big “Thank You” for putting me through the process.   

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Henry Albert

Henry Albert is the owner of Albert Transport, Inc., based in Statesville, NC. Before participating in the "Slice of Life" program, Albert drove a 2001 Freightliner Century Class S/Tâ„¢, and will use his Cascadia for general freight and a dry van trailer. Albert, who has been a trucker since 1983, was recognized by Overdrive as its 2007 Trucker of the Year.