State of the Industry
E11: State of the Industry Podcast with John Elliott - On Location at the 2023 Expedite Expo!
We are ten episodes deep into the “State of the Industry Podcast, with John Elliott” and the eleventh installment is here, recorded live on location at the 2023 Expedite Expo and new Crossroads of America Trucking Show!
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It's a really good opportunity for drivers and owner operators and fleet owners to be able to network, but also be able to share their knowledge and a lot of these sessions with different peers in the industry, and then also vendors and professionals in different parts of finance or equipment or things like that. And they're able to get that all under one roof because really you'll learn what you learn hanging out at the truck stop or sitting in a driver's lounge or talking on the CB, maybe.
On the job training.
JE: But really here you get to look at a lot of different avenues, a lot of different venues and things in one place. Different equipment, technology, just a lot of different things that you can do in one place in one weekend that you really can't do anywhere else in our industry.
BB: Welcome to the State of the Industry podcast with John Elliot. I'm your host, Brandon Baxter. This is a series dedicated to discussions pertaining to the trucking industry and featuring commentary by the CEO of Load One and immediate past chairman of TCA, John Elliot. John, thank you so much for joining me here in your booth at the 2023 Expedite Expo.
JE: Well, thanks for crashing our pad here, Brandon.
BB: I'm glad I could be here. As I've said many times in the past, and of course we had discussions alluding up to the expo, all of the years that we've each attended. This is where I met you for the first time 15 years ago.
JE: It's been downhill since then for you.
BB: It's been downhill since then. Your impression of the expo so far? It's your opportunity to get back out there with the folks.
JE: Just opening up really today, our first day and that it's good to be back. It's really the first year, I'm going to say that's a full real year after the pandemic. So it's a little more normal than I think even last year. It was the first show after pandemic, but it was really very post pandemic and a lot of people still were very cautious and that, so it's, I think really I'll say return to normal and that whatever that is in the expedite industry, because that seems to change all the time.
BB: Is there normal in the expedite industry?
JE: I don't know. It's definitely been a rollercoaster the last few years, unfortunately. I think we all know it's been on a little bit more of the downhill side of the rollercoaster for a lot of people. 2023 so far.
BB: And that's just keeping it real. I mean, we've discussed that in the past, with the economy, the rollercoaster that we've been having. It's kind of where we find ourselves right now. But we also find ourselves here at the Expo a lot of the same familiar faces we've seen over the years, whether it's with carriers, fleet owners. Talk about some of the people you're seeing. I mean, is it nice to see them or are you hiding in the closet?
JE: Well, it all depends. It's always a mixed group, but like I said, you've got some competitors who are also very good friends and do a lot of business together and work together. You got a lot of vendors that are here. And it's good to see some of those guys, because some of them, this is the only time you see them all year really. Especially to see all these people in one place. Some of the fleet owners, there's a lot of drivers here, I'm going to say are big Expo fans.
JE: Who never miss one and this that, and then you've got a percentage of people that are new every year and come. So it's a real mixed group. And like I said, it's just Friday now, so we got a whole weekend ahead.
BB: Right. And you mentioned some of the newcomers, and early on you brought up the fact that we have quite a few educational sessions. I myself have been a part of quite a few of them this morning, throughout the afternoon.
JE: I hope you learned.
BB: I'm not learning a thing. However, we hope that everyone else does. That's the idea. Right.
JE: Well, that is fair.
BB: So we've got that going for us, which is nice. But that aside, talk about that. You've had some people who've been speakers for these sessions. You're going to be speaking tomorrow.
JE: It's a really good opportunity for drivers and owner operators and fleet owners to be able to network, but also be able to share their knowledge and a lot of these sessions with different peers in the industry, and then also vendors and professionals in different parts of finance or equipment or things like that. And they're able to get that all under one roof because really you'll learn what you learn hanging out at the truck stop or sitting in a driver's lounge or talking on the CB maybe.
BB: On the job training.
JE: But really here you get to look at a lot of different avenues, a lot of different venues and things in one place. Different equipment, technology, just a lot of different things that you can do in one place in one weekend that you really can't do anywhere else in our industry. I mean, other truck shows are very general. The few that are left, so many of them are gone now. But a couple of the larger expedite guys were like, for instance, we're at Louisville MidAmerica. But we're very watered down when it's 98% big truck semi, standard trucking. So this really lets us define our space better and specialize on expedite.
BB: Sets us apart from the rest of the industry. Right?
BB: Yeah. And speaking of, in terms of the Expedite Expo itself. I know you've been here, you've been a lifer. I mean, it's safe to say you've been a lifer.
JE: My first one was the last one at the Woodhaven truck stop, the Detroiter. And that was outside. And I remember it was like, please don't rain, please don't rain. We just had gotten in to expedite. And I remember we made the big move and we sponsored Joey Holiday.
BB: Joey Holiday.
JE: I'm not sure if that guy's still around. Probably is. He was a trucking singer and that stuff.
BB: I got a CD, I had one. Oh, yes.
JE: Okay. I thought maybe you had a mixtape or something from
BB: Joey Holiday's hits.
JE: And that best of collection and that stuff. I mean, then obviously we went to Wilmington, Ohio, then Lexington, Kentucky, then now we've been up here in Fort Wayne for a couple of years.
BB: How many of those expo iterations can you recall specifically where maybe something really stood out to you over the years? And I know I'm putting you on the spot with that.
JE: Oh, it's okay. I think we've watched it change as the industry's changed. A lot of memories and that different people in that, Lawrence back in the day. I mean, I think a lot of us have made a lot of friends, lifelong friends, relationships and things like that, that really were spawned at the expo. And I think the expo's continuing to evolve. As our industry changes, the expo seems to have changed along with it in some ways. In some ways it's a little timeless.
BB: It's nice to have that knowledge that it's going to exist, that you can count on it once a year, that we can all get together. We've all got the opportunity to continue to educate. Fellowship, if you want to call it that. Seeing those familiar faces.
JE: Without a doubt.
BB: So John, I've been wanting to ask you this and I did bring no cards.
JE: I'm a Taurus. I don't really like long walks on the beach. I'm not a fan of sand.
BB: Well, that's too bad because I like having my feet in the sand and-
JE: I like looking at it.
BB: I could really string out a conversation.
JE: I can do it at pool side.
BB: Margaritas all around. So obviously new and this year, joining the expo, we've talked about it off camera here, the Crossroads of America Trucking Show. What it's meant to do is really to expand the reach of the expo to hopefully include over the road and truckload carriers. Now, I'm framing this question with the idea that with your experience as TCA chairman. How beneficial can a show like that be by combining it with the expo or setting it aside and saying, Hey, we've got two separate. And again, I know it's on the spot, but-
JE: On a personal basis, I think they're really two separate things. You were in recruiting once upon a time. Expedite is a very specialized thing, and a lot of drivers don't make that jump from standard trucking to expedite very well. It's a hard jump. So I think sometimes it could water down. But again, more people, it brings opportunity, more vendors and that. So there's offsetting factors in that. So I guess we would just have to see how that would play out. But I could see pros and cons to it. I think something that's special about this is the fact that it's focused on expedite and the other shows are the opposite. They're a blended show.
BB: And as piggybacking off of that, and as we've discussed before, the expedite industry itself is such a niche industry to the trucking overall landscape.
JE: It is. And I think a little bit of the problem is the show's changed in size over the years. I think the carrier base has changed in size. I think if you go back in time seven, eight years, there were a lot more, I'll say medium-sized carriers than what there are. I think now it tends to be, there's a certain number of large providers like us, and then we grew in that to become one of those. But then I think it's a lot of smaller carriers on the bottom. That middle seems to have shrunk a little bit. That demographic. In the end that could change over the next few years. We got to see what happens the way the economy is and things like that. I'm not sure about that. I think you might see some consolidation in the industry. Acquisitions. Merger and acquisitions have been on a big tear over the last few years.
Right now, that's kind of slowed down. I think with the rough economy for freight, a lot of carriers numbers are not as good. They're EBITDA and their bottom line has not been as strong. So they're not as marketable or nobody wants to sell your stock at a low price. They want to sell during a high time. So doing that and interest rates being up and that. I can be honest with you, we were in the market and we anticipated two acquisitions already this year was our plan and the economy just put those on hold because it wasn't the right thing at the right time.
So we'll see what happens in that, but I don't think it would surprise me to see some consolidation in the industry. And unfortunately, if the economy stays rough, you may see the thinning of the herd a little more. Because strong carriers will survive and they're prepared to run these cycles. And unfortunately a lot of people jumped in this business over the last few years when the market was hot, you can get rates that were unprecedented. Insurance costs were very high. Interest rates were high, equipment was extremely high. I mean, people bought in at the highest of everything. Well, it's hard to pay all those high bills when the rates come down to moderate.
BB: When the bottom drops out like that, it's hard to stay afloat.
JE: It was very unusual. I mean, this has been a very unusual freight recession. I would love to tell you, I understand it. When we talk about the president was talking about Bidenomics and toting things the other day, and you look at the stock market and you look at consumer spending and these things, yet freight volumes are down dramatically on trucking. Ocean, air. I mean, the whole world's not digital downloading everything. So I've a very confused understand how A and B don't equal C. Right.
BB: And you've said it before. I mean trucking itself and expedite... Well, let's set that off to the side in this case. But trucking itself is often a lead indicator to what we're seeing in the economy. And we're now right about the halfway point through the year. What are you thinking right now? What are you seeing? Where do you feel we're at?
JE: If you step back from expedite to more general trucking, I think we've stabilized over the last five to six weeks. The data is saying that we've stabilized, I think we are going back to a little bit of pre-pandemic, more traditional freight market where first half of the year was always soft and July was the automotive down. Then the second half of the year was your pick back up gradual, your gradual build back up all the way into the fourth quarter. And I feel like that's where it's going again, that we're kind of returning back to pre-pandemic norms with freight patterns. And I hope, yeah, I hope I'm right for everybody's sake.
BB: Absolutely. Absolutely. And again, maybe myself, I'm the eternal optimist, but I do like to think that going off of what you just said, perhaps the Expedite Expo and what we're doing here this weekend could possibly be a springboard, at least on the expedite side for the industry going forward.
JE: That's incredibly optimistic. But the power of the expo.
BB: We're going for it.
JE: Yeah, we're going for it.
BB: I may not be Kreskin, but we're going to go for it.
JE: Yeah, that might be a little bit of stretch for one weekend, but hey, I'll take it if it works. Listen, I vote. I'll vote for you for president.
BB: There we go. For those watching who listening, read between the lines. Yes. That's it.
JE: There's an asterisk next to his name.
BB: Brandon Baxterisk. Terrible Dad jokes. You're welcome.
JE: Thank you.
BB: How beneficial is it for... And let's again, back to the expo. Load One, we're actually in the booth right here right now. How beneficial is it for load one to be here, to be a part of it every year as you have been and what you're getting out of it? The company itself.
JE: You get a certain amount of reward for being here. I think you got to step back and look at a bigger picture. And that one is tradition. Two, if you're going to be a primary carrier in this industry, I think you need to be represented at something like this or the major events in our industry. I think it represents the brand and it represents for your people. I think it's also good to support the industry as a whole.
We sponsored the barbecue last night and a number of other things throughout the weekend, and a lot of that's for our competition and their drivers. But that's okay. I mean, those companies are hauling freight for Load One a lot of times and hauling freight for us, and we need to nurture the industry as a whole and try to give back as a whole.
So I think really, you have to look at the big picture. You came from the recruiting side where people are like, okay, how many drivers did you hire? How many trucks did you sign on? And that's not realistically how it works. I mean, it's part of a process. You'll talk to some drivers, some owners here, they'll see an ad, see a Facebook post. They'll be at a truck stop and odds are then they're going to talk to one of our drivers six months from now and be like, yeah, so how you like it there? And boom, boom, boom. That's when the conversation happens. And then they talk to recruiting and that stuff. So it's really part of a holistic process, I guess.
BB: Hey, sorry to interrupt your podcast listening. Okay. Actually, I'm not sorry. I honestly wanted to interrupt for just a couple of moments and talk to you about John Elliot and Load One. Okay. Look, John and I have known each other for years. We've worked together in some capacity over that frame of time, but honestly right now, having the opportunity to host this podcast with him has been fantastic. And what's fantastic for you, the driver, the owner operator, is an opportunity at Load One.
That's right. This is an ad spot for Load One. They're currently recruiting for owner operators. So if you've got a straight truck, you've got a tractor, you are a team, maybe you've got a sprinter. You want to run expedite, you want to run truckload, get in now, get in while the getting's good here because Load One's got great benefits that they offer you. Layover pay, paid moves. They've got a wonderful driver's lounge tailored specifically to the driver, and all you have to do is go to their website, it's load1.com, that's load1.com, or you can apply directly at Expediters Online or go to justcdljobs.com. They've got their stuff plastered all over there. You click on the link, you fill out the application and I promise you, driving with Load One is going to be the best decision that you've ever made. All right. Now back to the podcast.
With you guys being here again, and I want to mention, we've talked about it before, but your Wreaths Across America truck, your truck is brought in by, you have a fleet owner with this truck, correct?
BB: And talk about them a little bit, if you don't mind.
JE: Yeah. Tom and Tina Evans. They're here, and then Mike and Heather drive this truck for them. Tom and Tina started... Oh God, I wish I knew. Terrible. I mean, I could yell to him. He's sitting over there. I won't be too classy, but I'm going to say probably Tom, how long you been with me? Tom? Tom? Tom?
BB: Where you at Tom? There he is.
JE: How long you been with me? Sorry.
Tom: I'm sorry?
JE: How long you been with me?
Tom: 12 years.
BB: 12 years.
JE: Totally what I was going to say was 12 years. I have no idea. But no, Tom and his wife came over to us from another carrier and that with one truck, they were husband and wife, owner operator, they now got a fleet, I think somewhere in the area of nine or 10. I could be wrong.
BB: Pretty modest.
JE: Grown with us. Most, our fleet owners really came on with us with one truck or one or two and have grown. We don't tend to recruit the big fleets away. Not our business strategy, never been our point of success.
BB: You got to find what works for you.
JE: Yeah. We've worked well with growing internally, but so this truck for years, Heather and Michael have been part of the honor guard on the convoy of Arlington, that comes out of Maine. It's limited to I think nine semis. There's some state laws. This is not a semi, so this becomes unit number 10. They haul the ceremonial wreaths, so they'll stop along the way as the convoy hits different landmarks and monuments. They'll get the wreaths ready, Heather always has them prepped and set to give to the charity to do the ceremony there.
Then a lot of times they'll break off and do special things. One year we had to put the truck onto the barge to take it over to the Statue of Liberty, over to Ellis Island. It was hauling like a... I'm going to say it was probably a 25-foot giant wreath that the governor of New York was putting in the Statue of Liberty. We'll haul the wreaths that go to the Pentagon and that from 9/11, they go on the fence of the Pentagon. They'll haul the wreaths for the JFK grave, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. So I like to tell people it's easily the most sacred load that we haul all year is what this truck hauls on one trip.
BB: And I can only imagine the amount of honor, not just that... The amount of honor that not only Load One has in performing these tasks, but that Tom and Tina and Heather and Mike that they have as well, being a part of that. That's pretty awesome.
JE: Yeah. They've all been big supporters for years and it's a great charity. It's close to our hearts, all of us. Once you do it once, and I can remember when Tom and Tina did it originally and that before they had Heather and Michael take over. Once you do it once and you see it and you see the wreaths going down it's pretty moving. I mean, I can tell you early on, we went in a day early to Arlington ahead of the convoy and delivered some wreaths, and I don't remember what area it was, but this is when the Middle East was still much more of a combat hotspot and it was the area for the newly fallen.
And so they wanted to do a little private deal that those families could place their wreath the day before the 20,000, 50,000, a hundred thousand people being there. And I'll be honest, I was a veteran in that. And when you're there and you watch little children and wives placing the wreath on their husband's grave and laying on the ground crying. Those things. I'm on the other side of the truck like, pull it together, pull it together. You see the reality of the consequences of war and battle and what the true payment is in blood to defend our country and defend what we believe in. So once you do some of those things and you're there to take part of it's really a hard thing to never ever say you're not going to keep doing.
BB: Sure. Absolutely. And then that I can only imagine. I've never been in my... I've not been in those shoes. I can only imagine.
JE: I tell you, if you ever get a chance to, even on a local cemetery, it's pretty amazing if you ever get a chance to go to Arlington for it. It's amazing when you see hundreds and hundreds of thousands of headstones and to watch that, and you would think it would be days. And it's literally hours to transform Arlington. One year they had a hundred thousand volunteers. So I mean, it was like-
BB: That's amazing. Yeah.
JE: It literally is amazing. Truly
BB: Its flat out amazing.
And so this what we have on the wrap on the box, this is obviously taken from-
JE: From Arlington.
BB: Wow. Was this the first year that you did it?
JE: No, no. I don't remember what year this picture was from and they put it together, blended it in, our graphics people and-
BB: It looks great. Not the first time we've seen it. Saw it at MATS.
JE: He's a known truck, right?
BB: Right. Absolutely.
JE: She's a well-known vehicle.
BB: Every bit as much as your... You've got your iPhone here. We've got the big iPhone over here. We've talked about-
JE: We love showing off our technology.
BB: Let's talk about that for a quick second. Your technology, what's really been the big thing that the drivers are into right now? What is helping them the most, do you feel?
JE: It's amazing how fast technology evolves and then we really have become a very tech centered company. We're getting ready to launch our complete own transportation management system. And the stuff we're about half launched right now in the automation, the AI that we're using already. I mean, it was a scary word. I mean, after watching Battlestar Galactica and Terminator a lot, I'm a little nervous about it, but it's amazing.
BB: You're Partnered with Skynet.
JE: Yes. The processes that we've already been able to do, and I look at the benefits for the driver, the driver app, but then I'm looking at it as we automate internally the things that we're able to do so much faster and so much more powerfully than what we could do before. Now when it was times when you would look and say, okay, when a human had to take a bid load or look at a bid or a customer email and put together a load and put in the system and quote a customer, that we were able to automate so many of these processes so fast that we're able to respond so much faster and speed wins a lot of times, and we're able to-
BB: Hence expedite.
JE: And when you look at a bid board and we're able to extrapolate that data and come up with intelligent process and bids, and we're able to bid now 90% of that freight where before on a manual process, you may have only got 40, 50% of the bid. So I mean it's really a transformational thing.
BB: Which ultimately is going to pan out well for the drivers. That's the bottom line.
JE: At the end of the day, yes. I really think it's going to be a game changer, especially for our fleet. I think right now, unfortunately, good and bad of it being slower. We're not seeing that real effect of that yet, but that's okay. It's letting us work through the process and get it rectified.
BB: Iron out the bugs.
JE: Iron out the bugs before the spigot gets turned back on. So I think you look at things like that. You look at taking rating engines and dynamic rating engines and putting AI on that to try to optimize the bids and look at our win rates and our loss rates and try to optimize where we put our pricing versus someone in a seat just saying, eh, I think I'm going to bid this. I mean it's really incredibly evolved compared to where it was five, 10 years ago.
BB: Oh my gosh. Yeah. Even just 10 years ago.
JE: When the system goes down, it's kind of funny. People go, okay, we're going to have to go old school. And you start to realize half the people in the office have no clue what old school is. They said, we have to manually sign in. You have to do this. Oh, they've never seen it. And you take for granted because your older staff and that's how they came from. I admit today, I don't know how to create a load in the system.
BB: I've tried it. I've tried it in the past, a couple different stops that I've made where I've tried to learn from that perspective, that side of things. And at least all I know is I can have a conversation with a driver about it. That's about it at this point. But I mean, it sounds like you guys are making strides and as you said-
JE: Without a doubt, we intend to be the most tech forward expedite company in the industry.
BB: I love that. And the fact that, as you pointed out right now, it's the slow period. It gives you that opportunity to really dig deep. Iron out the wrinkles.
JE: That was actually one of the big pluses of the pandemic for us. We had a roadmap and we had a plan, and when the pandemic happened, it suddenly, well, it slowed everything down to a crawl for a while there. So it really let our tech team work with our staff. Your staff's always busy. And they'll work with the tech guys a little bit, but when they actually were dead slow, they had a lot of time and then they got excited about it, they started to really see what's possible.
BB: Something new.
JE: Because things you didn't... Well, I'm like, why didn't you guys ever ask that? Why? They had no idea that was even possible. I didn't know we could go on here and they could go to a website and pull something and bring that data back and internalize this and the APIs and there's so many things now. It is just really... And it's just evolving so fast. AI just, like I said, I look at, it's a big buzzword right now, but I mean when I talk-
BB: It scares people.
JE: Rightfully so. I mean there are some scary parts about it and I think even our staff sometimes worry, will we have a job. I'm like, no. The idea is we can grow and we create better jobs and things like that versus people sitting there entering, doing what I would call dummy data entry work. That's not the best use of strong talent.
BB: No. Put your best people where they belong and then let the AI do its thing. To that extent, I totally see where you're going and that's exciting. It's very exciting.
JE: Yeah, it is. It really is. It's exciting to watch the process, watch the evolution. I've just watched the evolution of our company over a few years with it and it's night and day. Night and day. It used to be you'd walk in and it was, dispatch was so loud with phones ringing, now it's like quiet. Nobody calls anymore.
BB: I can't imagine that.
JE: Everybody's electronic, everybody emails. I mean-
BB: I cannot imagine that.
JE: Nobody picks up the phone and calls anymore. Everything's email, everything's a message. Everything's an API integration or feed. It's almost eerie how quiet things are.
BB: It's mind-blowing. Honestly, the last time I had worked in-house with a company with a carrier, it was everything you just described. The loud, the phone ringing, the screaming, the yelling, the welcoming.
JE: You're worried about workstations having walls to separate and now it's like wide open and our great fear was, oh my God, it's going to be so loud. Not at all.
BB: Wow. That's awesome. That is very good. Well hopefully that continues. Hopefully that's a trend that continues moving in the right direction for you and for the rest of the expedite industry. And as I said before hopefully-
JE: I think that or Arnold Schwarzenegger shows up and all goes awry, but-
BB: I mean we might need the Governator right about now. Well, John, I appreciate you being here with me here at the expo. Thank you very much. Is there anything else that you'd like to touch on before we call it a show?
JE: No. I hope everyone enjoys the expo, has a good time. I know we got casino night tonight.
BB: That's right. Big night.
JE: A lot of people looking forward to that.
BB: Big winners.
JE: That's always been a big event. Winter winner, chicken dinner.
BB: And we had the barbecue dinner last night.
JE: There we go.
BB: Awesome. Well, John, thank you again very much for coming out and thank you all for joining us for the State of the Industry podcast with John Elliott. I've been your host, Brandon Baxter. Join us next time as John and I continue the conversation. All topics transportation, and don't forget to check out ExpeditersOnline.com and justCDLjobs.com for access to over 150 carriers who are actively hiring and that includes Load One. Until next time.
This has been the State of the Industry podcast with John Elliott. For more information on Load One and how to apply for one of their Post-IT job opportunities, go to load1.com. That's load1.com. And as always, be sure to check out our show notes for more information regarding Load One. Expediters Online, justCDLjobs.com and any other tidbits that were mentioned during our show. Until next time.