Hotshot operator Joey Terra got his start in truck driving in service of oilfield jobs for two owners in quick succession — the second of those, as he puts it, “decided to give me the shaft.” He’d been driving a company truck, and began making moves to lease on a truck to do the same kind of work.
But the companies he called wanted any and all of his contacts within the industry as a condition of coming aboard. “I thought I could do this on my own without them,” he said. But he found oilfield customers wanted extra insurance, in addition to $1 million in primary liability (usual for an independent business) as much as $5 million worth of an umbrella policy, among other items like added cargo insurance. “I didn’t have anybody financially backing me, and everybody was saying ‘We have plenty trucking companies.’”
Undeterred, he activated his authority anyway and “started back from the ground up building customers” of a wide variety of businesses, he said.
“I was doing broker loads” to start, Terra said, running load boards in the Central U.S. From his Marshall, Texas, home base. He went as far East as Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Toward of end of 2015, he decided he needed to change his approach, so he began to focus on customers whose freight would keep him in states closer to home: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi.
He took a pay cut to invest in building a solid foundation, he said, “knocking on doors around the house, passing business cards out every chance I got. Still ran load boards, but I finally got to where I wasn’t having to stay gone” as he found more local jobs.
He was a go-to carrier for a 3PL until that company he got underbid by yet another 3PL with several customers — a familiar story in these times, but by then Terra was prepared for the quick turn and slowly began to work his way back into the oilfield.
Though he doesn’t deliver to the oil rigs anymore, “I do some work for oilfield companies,” he said. “I’ll haul pumps in for a customer in Louisiana – from his customer — and bring it to him to fix them, then he may call me back to take it back to his customer.” Another customer “rebuilds transmissions that go on frac pumps – I’ll get it and take it to a transmission dyno shop and then take it back to him. I’ll haul supply parts to an oilfield company.”
He’s had two owner-operators self-dispatching under his Terra Trucking authority in the past year. One, owner-operator Rob Goodwin, has turned back to other work after years in trucking (you might remember Goodwin and his dog, Patty, from my interview with him). The other owner-op remains a part of the business after Terra convinced him to wait a little longer before truly going out on his own with authority, given the current economic circumstances — and the expense.
Terra feels too many make that jump too quickly, and might have applied that same logic to himself those years ago running the roads and load boards for weeks at a time without ever coming home. Today he makes sure to disperse his eggs in different baskets, as it were, to keep nimble if he needs to be. “I’ll haul farm equipment, construction equipment, machinery, manufactured stuff,” most with direct customers but some business coming by way of a go-to broker used “on an as-needed basis,” he said. He’s been working with this broker since 2016 and describes their relationship as personal as much as it is business.
“If I’m coming down I-20” toward Fort Worth “and need a place to stay, he opens up his studio apartment in his shop … for me,” Terra said. “If I need to drop my trailer for any reason, I can drop it at his house. He runs two trucks for himself, too.”
In May of 2019 a staff member in that broker’s office had a heart attack and passed away suddenly. Terra had talked to him earlier that same day. For the funeral, “the whole office showed up, and then some of the other offices showed up. I was pretty much the only carrier.”
Is Terra the kind of guy who’ll show up with lunch at an appreciated customer (whether broker or shipper) unannounced? You bet. Show up to a customer’s wedding? Indeed.
Perhaps it’s these kinds of things that enable those with real foundations to stand apart from the rest. It’s those relationships that could well be your saving grace the next time the bottom falls out.
Given the way the freight markets have ping-ponged this year, who knows if that will happen sooner rather than later.