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Driver Lifestyles

Driver Profile - Tony Celender

By Jeff Jensen - Editor
Posted Jul 19th 2002 7:01AM

everything1061a.jpgThat's the Webster's definition and this expediting business seems to attract entrepreneurs.  After all, the overwhelming majority of the folks in the driving side of the industry are owner/operators and small business people; people who "assume the risk for a business venture."

The expediting owner/operator is, more often than not, a self-reliant, self-motivated individual who is looking for a different lifestyle from the, excuse the cliche, '9-5' work day.  Someone who is looking for the opportunities possible in his/her own business while at the same time realizing the dangers inherent in small business ownership.

Such a person is Tony Celender, aka "Teacel" from the ExpeditersOnline.com Open Forums.

If you've seen Tony's contributions to the various Forum topics, you already know that he possesses definite opinions on different subjects related to this business.  He readily shares those thoughts on the message board, but always with the best intentions of helping those with questions about the expediting biz, and the perils facing the new owner/operator.

Tony entered the expediting business a relatively short time ago, but with a lot of research and by making the proper business decisions, his expediting concern has been able to thrive even in a shaky economy.  Tony has grown his company, Pittsburgh Express, into a small fleet servicing his own accounts, and successfully so. 

An introduction to the business

"I was born in 1953 and raised here in Pittsburgh, PA," Tony begins. "I went to an inner city high school in the east end of Pittsburgh which was a rough area. I mostly stayed out of all the street activity and focused on sports. I became a jock and loved to play football. That is actually what got me to walk the road of life that I did."

"In the summer I would work construction for the locals as a laborer to stay in shape to play football in the fall.  I then pursued my father's dream; he wanted me to get into professional football. I went to a small college in northwestern Pennsylvania and I hated it. I ended up quitting after my second year and decided it was time to live my own life, and not a dream of my dad’s."

"I found a job with a construction firm as a laborer and started working on climbing the ladder of success. Living in the inner city and playing ball,  I was able to coast through school without ever picking up a book.  As a result, I was never smart. I then went back to school to learn. I wanted to learn anything and everything that I could and the more I learned, the easier things became."

Tony relates that in 1975,  he started working for a construction firm that involved a good deal of traveling; "Florida and all over the east coast and I loved the drive."

He formed his own small construction company in 1979 and began doing special jobs which required inter-city travel for 6 months to a year at a time.

Tony continues: "It was during this time that I was introduced to my first wife in 1981, and the trucking industry in 1985. I wanted to travel all the time, but had to be on the job site.  Unfortunately, the travel contributed to the breakup of my first marriage; she didn't like me being gone all the time."

In 1990 found a way to do both, with the help of a local dealer. I hired a guy to run the construction work full time and I would do deliveries for a local heavy equipment company. I used their tractor and would deliver all over the east."

"In 1992 I landed a contract to install the loading docks and floors for nine new buildings that Fed-Ex was building. The first of the nine was started in my hometown and that is when I was introduced to Expediting. Drivers would park at the building site and sleep, rest,  wait or what ever. I would talk to drivers and listen to their stories. I wanted to do that, but didn’t want to sit and wait."

By the end of the fourth building when I was 500 miles from home," says Tony, "I decided to make my dream a reality."

The start up

Tony reports that he called all the big expediting companies, but after talking to them he knew he didn’t want to do it their way.  After putting all the numbers together, he had some issues with the way the business was structured  He says he knew however, that once he learned the game, he would be able to play the same game. 

"It took me another year and a lot of talking to a courier company that calls itself an expediting company and is nationally based to give me a chance. Before I could do this on my own I knew I had to work for someone else so I could learn the business. In 1993 I started driving as a local, and took all or most of the out of town runs."

"I caught on real quick and in mid-1994 I landed a sales position for this firm. That was the break I needed. I didn’t do very well in sales, but learned a lot about this industry. I took my time about going on my own. In 1997 I started the expediting company and I started looking into the type of truck or trucks I wanted to use."

"With the help of my second wife, Elan, and after about six months of research," Tony tells us,  "I decided to find some customers and buy the truck I needed to fit the customer’s needs. I really didn’t want to do short local runs, so I went after customers that needed dedicated drivers on a daily basis that would cover 500 miles or more a day or night."

Tony says that this wasn’t an easy thing to do. He states that many of the companies he approached have their own drivers and own their own trucks. He did more research and says that he can now show a company that it is much cheaper to use his services than their own.

"In 1999 I signed a contract with a company for one driver, ME, and today I have three drivers and three vans doing dedicated deliveries of 600 miles or more per driver for this same company daily. I have another dedicated run of 652 miles that a driver does for another company four nights a week and is also home every day."

"This account has been my customer 3-1/2 years.  The run that I take requires around 600 miles a night, or about 12 hours on the road.  It picks up in Pittsburgh with stops in Cleveland, Akron and Toledo with about 15 minutes at each stop.  This runs from Sunday through Thursday night.  I usually average about 5 stops, sometimes 6 or 7.  I leave Pittsburgh with around a thousand pounds and return with maybe 800 pounds." 

"Now in mid-2002 I have a total of five B units and one D unit.  The B units are Chevy 3500 extended vans with the proven 350 c.i. motors.  I started with a Dodge van but they just don't seem to last.  I've had very good luck with Chevrolet. The D unit still does JIT (just in time) loads, but I would like to put it on a dedicated run too."

"My wife Elan is a Prudential real estate agent full time, but puts in two hours every morning on our business and will take phone calls through the day.  She's been an essential part of the success of the business.  Our business is set up as an Limited Liability Corporation, and it is a minority-owned business with Elan owning 51% of our company."

Business methods

"Looking back, my only regret is that I didn’t get into this industry sooner," Tony reflects.  "In my opinion, this type of work is here to stay and to only improve. In the years past, most of the customers would only ship a full load. Today there is more and more LTL freight."

"The companies would only trust the big name expediting firms, if needed, and now that these companies are looking for ways to trim their fat and cut costs, they are looking at companies like mine to do that LTL delivery. One thing they will do is check to see how good a track record a company like mine has before they decide to use us."

Tony continues, "I like this, and if a shipper doesn’t check me out, then I wonder what kind of company this is. I too will do the same to a shipper, and sometimes lose a trip. A shipper once told me that I was insulting, ya – right! If a shipper’s credit isn’t good and they are slow pay, then I double or triple the rate, to see how they act. When they tell you to do it at any cost, more than likely you’re not getting paid."

"So I just refuse to do it. It is every easy for shippers to take advantage of the small independent companies, and the brokers too. I am very careful of the trips that I will do and who I do them for."

"I can afford to bid a run cheaper, and pay a driver more, because my overhead isn’t as large as the bigger firms are. I still drive one of the B units nightly, and run the firm daily, then I sleep. I learned real fast that this business isn’t for everyone, and driving for a long period of time, night after night, adds a lot of stress to one's life."

An overview

Tony says that the most important thing about being in business and just starting out is the many hats you must wear to get started.  "It’s not as easy as you may think to start a business. The first thing I did was put a plan together, then I did a lot of research in this field. I searched for the competition and had to learn what made them a success, and then find a way to apply it to my company."

"I had to find out the rules of the trade and what I needed to be legal. Don’t trust what you read or hear from others. When it comes to being legal and what you need, go right to the source, and check it out first hand or get an attorney to do it for you. That means find an attorney, and an accountant, because you are going to need both."

"You’re going to need an office. If you have room in your home, you may want to start there. You will save money. Your local community will help you with that. I had to find customers. Because of the way I want to run my company, I had to find out the type of companies that I could service, and then convince them that I could do the job, and save them money."

"This is the hardest thing to do, because most of the companies out there think that they are doing the right thing, Tony continues.  "To get one run I even told the owner that I would do his run for free for one week, to prove to him. I trust what I do so I can do that, and he still said no.  Go figure!"

Tony states that the second hardest thing is finding the right drivers to do the runs and the issues of their dependability and responsibility.  He says, "Twelve hours a day is a lot of work for one person. Most people think because you’re in business, you have a lot of money and that you’re making a lot of money."

"About half the drivers interviewed want more money than the run pays, and half of that half don’t even have a clue, if you know what I mean. I plan on getting big enough to work less, and still stay small enough to have that personal touch. The next thing I plan on doing is to add a small logistics’ division to the company, start warehousing, and supply a crossover docking for other like myself."

General thoughts

"In my opinion, the average person can't do this business.  At times I often think about throwing the towel in, and that’s when I know it’s time to take a break. I enjoy riding ATV’s and snowmobiles to help relieve some of that stress. I have to be careful about taking a break and timing is very important too."

"If I take a break from driving and my Honey - Do list is a long one, then I work harder than If I was driving. You married guys know what I mean, - Ha! Ha! Then there’s the hot tub, the pool, and wifeeeeeeeee too! My wife has three children that are all grown and gone. The only one home with us is Rocky – Dog, an eighty pound golden retriever."

"For further relaxation, I'm also into football and fishing."

"I’m on the forum a lot, and if you guys have any questions, need answers to, or maybe want to cuss me out, my email is in my profile."

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