Greenmiles’ owner Shain Ferriss, operating manager Ron Sanders, and driver/owner-operator Matthew Velazquez, sit down with Macey Knecht, Convoy’s Carrier Advocacy Specialist, to discuss their experience signing up to work with Convoy.
SHAIN FERRISS, OWNER OF GREENMILES
Macey: Welcome Shain, and thank you for joining us! Greenmiles has an incredible reputation in the industry – I constantly see people referring drivers to your authority and can personally vet for the professionalism of your entire fleet. Can we start by chatting about how you got involved in freight?
Shain: I was originally in the automotive recycling business. A friend of mine who drove trucks, Mark, said he had to go to California, so I jumped into the truck and rode with him. By the time I got back from California, I was registered for my CDL courses and after completing the CDL training, Mark and I joined a new company and I became Mark’s trainee.
As a new driver, it’s hard not being impressed by all of these really nice, shiny new trucks offered by carriers looking for drivers. I made a few moves once I got my experience with Mark and found my way into another company. I drove for them for about six months and then made the transition from a company driver to a leased owner operator with a leased company truck.
After another six months, I decided to purchase my own truck in 2000. I drained my savings, put a down payment on my first truck, and got to work. I ended up working with one company for 14 years, and was extremely happy and doing really well with them for a long time. However, their growth as a company and my growth as an Owner Operator steered us on two different paths.
Macey: How did that company growth impact your operations and how you choose which companies/brokers to work with?
Shain: The bigger a brokerage gets, the more they value relationships over immediate profits, which in my opinion makes them a better choice. As younger brokers come into the industry, they tend to be laser focussed on carrier acquisition and their bottom line instead of carrier relationships and experiences. So we tend to work with brokers who have been in business for six or more months and check out their DAT, Google, and App Store reviews for insight into their operations.
We also make sure the broker pays their carrier bills by checking credit scores and reviewing their payment terms. Convoy’s Free Quickpay definitely got our attention, and we were able to secure a letter of release from our factoring company to take advantage of those two-business day payments.
Macey: And of course, if you want to attract the best brokers in the industry, you have to attract the best drivers.
Shain: Exactly, we are extremely selective when hiring drivers because Greenmiles’ reputation is of the utmost importance. The last thing we want to do is take a chance on someone who hasn’t proven themselves. I firmly believe that military experience develops a person in such a way, they’re usually the type of person we want to deal with. In fact we’ll count 3 years of military experience towards their OTR experience when veterans join our fleet.
Brokers also value carriers they don’t have to micromanage, which is another reason we enjoy working with Convoy. Our owner-operators know that they have to use the app on all the loads so their ETAs, in/out times, and detention are updated automatically in the app. The app also allows our owner-operators to bid on, book, and invoice all of their own loads, which saves us time in the back office.
Macey: What do you think the biggest problem in trucking is, and is Convoy helping improve it?
Shain: Carriers need facility insights and data to back up the rates they are willing to haul for. This is something Convoy has done really well from the start. When we sat down at the Mid American Trucking Show with you and learned that your company was planning on providing cancelation rates, dwell times, and driver reviews, we were pretty impressed.
Most brokers lack accurate information and are unwilling to provide it prior to a load being booked. It’s not that brokers are trying to mislead people, but sometimes they guess or just put standardized information into the load details. A few weeks ago we had a driver accept a load, but because the weight was incorrect in the load details, the broker issued a $150 Truck Order Not Used (TONU) and our driver missed out on an opportunity to keep moving. I’d say it’s nice having Convoy set standards for the information carriers should have prior to booking a load.
RON SANDERS, OPERATIONS MANAGER FOR GREENMILES
Macey: Always a pleasure to chat with you Ron. Tell us where you grew up and how you got involved in freight!
Ron: My parents had a trucking company that moved equipment for a local carnivalI that operated in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. Most of the rides and equipment were mounted to or inside trailers and we would move locations every couple weeks.
When I graduated high school, I went to college for a year and decided joining the army would help me figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I spent 20 years serving the military and quickly identified my strengths in management and maintenance. When the economy was struggling in 2011, I found a trucking company that was known for its training program and figured I would give it a go and replace my income for a while. I did the lease purchase and learned a lot about the industry really, really fast.
Macey: This is one of the most challenging industries to understand if you don’t have a background in transportation. How did you educate yourself so quickly?
Ron: If you’re going to have a business, you have to immerse yourself and learn as much as you can to be successful. I wanted to be able to share my learnings to help other people grow as well, so I joined a few Facebook groups and started watching how carriers and brokers communicated about and to each other.
Macey: How did you go from driving to managing Greenmile’s operations? What role did technology play in your new role?
Ron: I had my truck paid off rather quickly and within two years I found myself driving for Greenmiles. In 2017 I had a health setback that pulled me off the road and by 2018 I had retired from driving. Shain and I had known each other for several years so he hired me on as the Operations Manager to develop office processes the company could grow with.
If you understand basic management principles and how to implement processes, technology just fits into what we do. I’m a firm believer that technology makes the job more efficient, especially when you are growing a company and managing 18 owner-operators.
Macey: How do you manage to keep everyone happy that works with you?
Ron: The biggest thing is making sure the drivers are successful at their job and can run their own business to make the money they want to make. Obviously, everyone isn’t going to be happy, especially with the number of setbacks we run into in freight. But the important thing is to help them improve and learn from each other’s mistakes or situations.
That’s why Greenmiles has a mentor/buddy program for new drivers. If an existing driver recommends a new driver to come work with us, they become their mentor. We have a private group for our drivers to discuss their situations, negotiation strategy, and lane strategies. The program is informal but it’s very effective because our drivers want to help each other. If you facilitate an environment that promotes this, the drivers will participate on their own.
Macey: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone considering a career in trucking?
Ron: Do your research. Anybody who is willing to learn can be successful in this industry if they sacrifice a little bit and do the hard work. When I went to the Mid American Trucking Show in 2019, I was in the process of transitioning to work in the office and run the administrative side of things. A lot of our drivers were asking when we would be able to start working with Convoy, so it was my job to figure out if we could work with a digital freight network, and how we could do it. We stopped by every day to chat with you and learn how Convoy was setting new industry standards and creating a really incredible product for small and medium-sized carriers. Specifically, it was my job to make sure our owner-operators had the ability to do what they needed to, without compromising our office’s control.
It’s also really important for new drivers to have their financial house in order – pay your taxes, keep your credit score high, and make sure you have the ability to fix your truck with your own money in case of a breakdown. You have to run a carrier like a business and pay yourself like an employee. Just because you secure a $4,000 load, that doesn’t mean you personally made that much. Pay yourself $900 for your time and the company $3,100 for future expenses.
Finally, a basic rule in business: never let emotions cloud your judgment. Everyone that you talk to is your business partner. Every broker that you call is your customer. Every shipper and receiver is your broker’s customer. It’s always important to treat others how you want to be treated, even when you run into bad actors and really tough situations.
MATTHEW VELAZQUEZ, DRIVER & OWNER OPERATOR FOR GREENMILES
Macey: One of my favorite memories at the Mid American Trucking Show was sitting down and chatting about how you keep your “saw sharp”. Can you share this story with us again?
Matthew: There was an old story my parents used to tell me about two lumberjacks that were in a competition to cut down two trees of the same size and same width. The newer lumberjack said, ‘Look, old man, I can cut down this tree faster than you can.’ He took his shiny new saw and he started cutting down the tree without stopping. Eventually, he looked over to the old man and saw him stop and sharpen his saw. The younger man thought, ‘I’m going to keep going and win because he’s wasting time.’ However, the older man was able to get through his tree faster and surprised the younger man who had barely sawed half way through his tree. The younger man asked, ‘How did you cut your tree so fast?’ and the older man said, ‘It’s because I kept stopping to sharpen my saw.’
When it comes to business, every now and then you have to stop for a break and sharpen your skillset. I think this is one thing drivers have a hard time doing because they are hyper focussed on running as hard as they can for as long as they can. But moving fast often leads to making mistakes and doing work inefficiently. And this idea of improving your skills and continuously educating yourself doesn’t just apply to business, it applies to life in general. You have to work smarter and not harder – otherwise, you’ll end up wearing yourself out.
Macey: What resources do you use to stay informed and educated about opportunities and advancements in trucking and logistics?
Matthew: I always enjoy learning something new. When I’m out on the road, I have up to 11 hours a day to sharpen my saw listening to audiobooks and/or podcasts. I started on the Convoy Radio podcasts which actually turned out to be quite informative. I also spend a lot of time listening to Kevin Rutherford, Kenny Long, and Grant Cardone. Similar to Ron and Shain, I’m fairly active on Facebook interacting with other industry participants on Rate Per Mile Masters.
But most importantly, I do a ton of networking with other people in the industry. One of the most important things is sharing information and knowledge with others, and this is something Greenmiles has always encouraged. They have done an incredible job teaching us to be businesses minded with every decision we make. If I ever have a question, I can call Ron, Shain, or any of the other drivers, because I know someone is going to have an answer for me. We look forward to helping each other out and sharing information because that’s the culture that was built from the beginning.
Macey: So what is the next step for you? Have you considered starting your own authority?
Matthew: It’s hard to say right now because I’ve found so much success with Greenmiles. I want to create a program for company drivers to teach them how to run a trucking business and set themselves up for success. That’s something as a company driver that I wish I had when I first started.
If I ever do start my own authority and I have company drivers, I know I’ll need to replicate the mentorship program at Greenmiles. I’m pretty good with technology, so for now I’ve walked drivers at Greenmiles through navigating the app and selecting the loads they are interested in.
Macey: What surprised you about the Convoy app when you first got to using it?
Matthew: The Convoy app has an incredible amount of features in it, and I absolutely love it. The ability to search a load in my location in advance and pull up exactly all the load information is such a huge time saver. Most brokers don’t do that. You have to call them and waste five minutes on the phone, only to find out you don’t have the hours or right equipment. And the other driver’s love it too – we have a few drivers who haul power only loads all the time and really enjoy the app expereince.