Make Yourself Unique

(Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a four-part series that appeared each Monday in June. The series is by Kevin Rutherford and promotes ways to be successful in your broker relationship.)

Once you took off and you started making your deliveries, then the pickups would start getting called in that day. Companies that were in your area would call in and say they had three pallets to pick up that would be ready by 3 o’clock and that was all over the board. So, at some point you had to be in touch with dispatch. Well, there were no cell phones yet. When I first started, the way that they would get your pickups to you during the day was you would have to call in when you were at these other stops or if it was an emergency the dispatcher would try to figure out what stop you were going to and he might call and try to leave a message. You may or may not get that message, it was a lousy system and it didn’t work very well. There was a problem there and we missed a lot of pickups.

We weren’t providing good customer service but nobody else was either. That was how the industry worked and everybody just put up with it. Well the way you provide value is you say, “Wait a minute, why would we put up with this? Let’s come up with a better way.” Pagers were starting to become popular so our company gave all the drivers pagers. That worked really well for the company because now they had a way to let us know that we needed to call them. But think about this, I have 30 stops to do today and I’m in-between stops and my pager goes off. Should I stop and try to find a phone?

That’s difficult to do in a tractor-trailer.

Or should I just wait until I get to my next stop and call them? If I wait to get to my next stop, turns out I was a mile away from where I could’ve picked up when my pager went off. So, this was a better system for the customer but it was really tough on the drivers because it didn’t really help us much.

Those bag phones that people had in their cars back then were just starting to hit the market. I thought about buying one, they were really expensive and the coverages weren’t great. I thought about how I’m out of my truck so much I’m just going to keep missing the calls. Then they brought out the first truly mobile phone. It was made by Tandy at RadioShack and it looked like a giant Army field radio. It was $1,800 for the phone and I bought one. I thought, “This is the answer. I can have this phone with me when I’m in the truck. I can have it when I’m in on the dock, and they can call me any time now. Not only can I provide excellent service to my customer, Spartan the carrier, but this is going to make me money. If they call me and I’m a half mile away from the stop I can just go over there and get that freight and I don’t have to come back. So, I can really be efficient and I’ll be able to get more stops and more freight done in a day.”

I paid the $1,800 for the phone and I paid $600 a month for service back then for how much I was using it. Not only did it help me to provide something nobody else was providing, that’s value, it also got me my next big contract which I had for more than 25 years and then sold that contract at a very nice price. It all came down to that phone. Can you believe that? One decision that nobody else was willing to make.

Everybody called me an idiot back then. “Why would you spend $1,800 of your own money on a phone just to make things better for the company?” That was their attitude.

But see I was already listening to people like Earl Nightingale back then and I was learning those lessons.

So, here’s how that phone got me that contract. Again, I’m 23-years old, had very little experience, and RPS (Roadway Package System) was just getting started.

Now remember, I’m at Spartan and they’re owned by Roadway. Roadway Package System started opening terminals and they opened one around us. They hired a contractor to run that terminal, he was the only contractor in the terminal because it was small. He was not one of those guys that believed in providing outstanding value and they wanted to get rid of him. They put an ad in the paper and they let us know over at Spartan that they were looking for a new contractor.

Now many of the other contractors that were at Spartan didn’t like it and they wanted out. They thought it was a lousy deal and that they would go over to RPS and that would be better. So about five contractors went over and interviewed for that new spot at RPS. They all had way more experience than I did, some of those guys were 20-year veterans. Everybody was talking about it and we all knew who went down there and interviewed for the position. I thought to myself that I might as well go down and try.

When I went in for my interview, I had a holster for my phone and it was about half as tall as I am and I had it on my belt. The terminal manager looked at me and said, “What the hell is that thing?” I told him it was a phone and then he asked what I used it for. I went through the whole story about how I could provide value to the customer. I’m sure I didn’t say it is well as I do today but I explained it to him and I said, “Look it helps me make money too because I can pick up more freight and cover more things.” He said, “You know what, if you want this job you’ve got it.” We didn’t even really do an interview.

It was that one thing, he was looking for something unique and that was it. That turned out to be a big part of my career because RPS became FedEx and that’s the company that I was with for 25-plus years and then sold the contract. So yeah, $1,800 seemed like a lot of money, but it was for one purpose. It was to provide more value to my customer. When you are a critical thinker and a problem solver and you do those kind of things you will succeed in any business.