In The News
Fleet Owner Conversations: Carol Shelton
Meet Carol Shelton. Before getting into expedited trucking in 2010, Carol ran a freelance bookkeeping business from her home, while her husband Joe worked as a sales and technical trainer in the convenience store industry.
The couple drove for a fleet owner for several months before they purchased their first truck in early 2011. And then, in 2013, they bought two more trucks to become fleet owners themselves. Today, Carol and Joe manage a fleet of nine straight trucks at R2R Associates LLC, with four more trucks on order, all leased to FedEx Custom Critical.
So, what led Carol and Joe to expedited trucking? How did they get started in the industry and become fleet owners? What challenges have they encountered? And what advice do they have for others who may be considering becoming an expedite fleet owner?
EO recently spoke with Carol to learn more about their story. Here are edited highlights from our conversation.
EO: You worked from home as a bookkeeper, and Joe was a trainer in the convenience store industry. So what led you all to get into the expedited trucking business?
Carol Shelton: Joe got laid off in 2008 when the economy went down. So he tried a couple of different things and, at his age, it was hard to get a good job. At that time, not many people had jobs available, so he went to an employment agency where he saw all these brochures on truck driving. He thought there must be something to it. He picked up the brochures, brought them home and started studying them. He then went out and found a truck driving school. He tried to talk me into it, but I told him he was crazy.
This was around 2009. And one day when we're out on the other side of town, and there was a TA there. He said, "Let's just go in and talk to the truck drivers." I'm like, "I'll go in with you, but I'm not talking to any truck drivers."
So, the first thing he did was walk up to a guy. I didn’t say anything. This guy wasn't somebody I was interested in being like.
But then Joe saw another guy who was working on his laptop. Joe walked up to him and started talking to him. The guy said that he was an expediter who worked for FedEx Custom Critical and that he had dropped his wife on in West Virginia and was trying to get a load back up to pick her up because her mom was sick. And he pointed us to ExpeditersOnline to learn more about the industry.
Then, as we were getting ready to leave the truck stop when we ran into another couple coming in, and Joe stopped them and asked, "Do y'all drive a truck?" They said, "Yeah." He said, "Could you talk to us for a couple of minutes?" They said, "Sure," and they talked about how they drove for FedEx Custom Critical.
What are the chances of meeting two people that drove for FedEx in this little truck stop we were at?
Wow. That’s an amazing story! Where was that truck stop?
It's the TA in Whitsett, North Carolina.
It's not a huge TA or anything. So the fact that we would've stopped and talked to two people who drove for FedEx was pretty amazing.
What happened next?
We went home and started researching everything we could about expediting. Then Joe found a truck-driving school, and he took me out there with him. Finally, I realized that I could either let him go into this on his own—where he'd be gone all the time—or I could join him. So, I reluctantly went along with it and spent four years out on the road with him.
Within a year of starting as drivers, what gave you and Joe the confidence to take the plunge where you decided to go ahead and buy your own truck?
Well, it's kind of funny, but it's what got me wanting my own truck. We were at a delivery one day, and the folks weren't ready for us. So while we were waiting, there was another FedEx truck sitting beside us, and we got to talking to the guys who owned it. They showed us what the inside of their truck looked like, and it was so much bigger than the inside of ours. That got me thinking, "If we're gonna stay at this, we need to buy a truck so that I can have a big sleeper."
But we also looked at the business side of things. We had talked to people who owned their trucks and would ask them, "Can you make enough money owning your truck if you just have one?"
Some of them would pull a big wad of cash out their pocket and say, "Yeah, I always have plenty of money"
But, I'm like, "That's not really what I'm looking for. I want to know if you can make money, not just have cash in your pocket at any given time."
We never really did get anybody to share much with us on that, but we figured, "Well, we probably won't make less than what we're making now, and we can come and go as we please."
Of course, once you make the plunge, you realize that you can't afford to take much time off because that truck payment is always coming up.
What attracted you to fleet ownership? By the time you're buying trucks two and three, you're taking a bigger risk. What made you think, "You know what? We can do this!"?
Actually, in some ways [fleet ownership] can be less risky. That’s because one thing you quickly realize is that when you own one truck, and anything happens—the truck has a bad breakdown or either of you has some physical problem or family issues—how are you going to make your truck payments? So, we thought, "Well, if we have three trucks, then the chances are that if one goes down, the other two are doing okay." They can make up the difference.
Once we had the three trucks, my thought was, "We just need to get a couple more trucks so that I can get out of the truck." I enjoy driving the truck. I enjoy seeing the country, but after four years, I was ready to be home and be able to spend time with my grandbabies and get back to regular life.
Now, did Joe stay out on the road or did he come off the road with you?
He drove for another year with our son.
Were there periods in your business journey where you thought, "You know what? We may not make it through this!"?
I'm going to say that 2016 was a tough year. But we had religiously put aside some money so that we could get through when times would get tough. And that's still our philosophy: you need to have some extra. You can't spend everything you make. You have some money put away so you can cover not only truck payments but so many other expenses that you don't realize that go along with truck ownership.
What advice do you have to give to other expediters who may be considering becoming fleet owners?
Probably the biggest thing is this: Don't put everything you have into buying that first truck. Put some money aside before you even get started with thinking about ownership, so that if something happens—if you have times when you have to take a month or two off, you won't lose everything you've worked so hard for.