Working the angles

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If you don’t market yourself, you don’t have a job. And in this economy, that comes home to you in spades.” –Rick Galliher, 1-800-Got-Junk franchise owner, Chantilly, VA

This is as tough a time as any for small companies to get through, much less ones that rely heavily on trucks to get their respective jobs done. Though my last post reported that confidence is running higher than many thought among small businesses about their prospects this year, no one expects success – much less survival – to come easy.

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For small businesses using trucks to make a living, it’s even harder, for as we all know truck-based companies are capital intensive. You’ve got monthly payments to make (whether you buy or lease your equipment), you’ve got maintenance to manage, detailed safety regulations to follow, breakdowns to fret over, and of course fuel costs – they can give you migraines. All that before you even get to marketing your services to customers.

Rick Galliher is a guy that knows plenty about all of the above – and then some. After working for 20 years in road construction in the North Virginia area – mostly for Driggs, a big general contractor – he went out on his own in August 2003, buying a 1-800-Got-Junk franchise to haul away unwanted and unsalvageable goods from mostly residential customers.

“We essentially sell labor and a big truck,” he told me. While the company's Vancouver, British Columbia-based headquarters helped Galliher obtain a vehicle with the right specs for the junk-disposal business, everything else is on his shoulders – building up a customer base, hiring personnel, and maintaining his fleet of six medium-duty GM/Isuzu brand trucks equipped with specialized dump bodies.

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Doing all of that during an economic recession like this one can be tough – even brutal. His overall tonnage dropped by 25% in 2008 versus 2007, with some months posting well over a 30% fall off in demand versus the prior year. As a result, Galliher cut back on his own pay to keep his business going, but he’s also constantly looking for new angles of approach in the junk hauling business.

“I look at it this way – would I rather be a mortgage broker right now? Or a realtor? One thing about this business I’m in – there’s always junk that’s got to be removed,” he told me. “The trick is adapting to the market and finding opportunities. So, since the residential market is crashing, I’m looking more at commercial business now. We’re also looking at servicing the foreclosure market in more focused way, as that will be booming for a while.”

[Below, Galliher explains the advantages and the new angles of approach he’ll use to try and build up business for his company this year.]

That also means finding new ways to raise his profile in what’s becoming an ever more crowded marketplace. Five years ago, for example, just he and one other company served the specialized junk hauling niche in Northern Virginia – now he competes with TEN other firms.

As a result, he’s getting his truck crews more involved with customer outreach – getting them to drop off flyers, toy trucks, $100 coupons and other sales materials at businesses along the routes they run every day. “For example, I can’t visit 200 realtors in a day,” Galliher told me. “But with my crews spread out all over, we can. It’s about getting everyone involved.”

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It helps that he’s keeping his experienced hands on board, too – a result of the economic downturn – as that experience in managing jobs and making decisions helps keep his business more nimble than some competitors. “When I am on the truck with them, it’s one thing,” Galliher explained. “When I am here in the office, there’s only so much I can do. Often times, when they first arrive at a job, it looks too huge, but when it’s done, it wasn’t nearly as bad as they feared. They get more experienced about the work involved the more they do it.”

For a small truck fleet exposed to harsh conditions – all the trucks visit landfills every day; not exactly equipment-friendly environments – it also pays to build good relationships on the maintenance side of the ledger. Galliher works exclusively with a local garage, G & C Express, rather than a national chain simply because it gives him more flexibility in making maintenance decisions – doing what needs to be done today and maybe delaying other items for tomorrow.

“The fleet maintenance vendor we could use would require me to pay $300 a month per truck and take them out of service according to the shop’s schedule, not when it is best for me,” he explained to me. “I also have to get everything done when they say it’s got to be done, regardless of the vehicle downtime. With G & C, I get much more flexibility.”

[Galliher goes into more detail on the maintenance strategy for his fleet below.]

Yet even though it’s tough out there, Galliher doesn’t regret going out on his own. “I still enjoy being on the trucks – I like being my own boss, though working in the office is a headache,” he told me. “Sure, I might have been more financially stable had I stayed at my old job with a paycheck. But there it was working on computers all day in an office. It wasn’t what I liked to do. And besides, look at everyone else in the job market – every profession is hurting out there. I’d rather be doing this.”

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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