An operator-focused corporate culture pays dividends for landlords

This story is the first in an occasional series examining the opportunities and rental structures of different owner-operator fleets. Is your lease fleet exceptional in any way? Send tips for potential profiles to Overdrive Managing Editor Matt Cole.

Long Haul Trucking, based in Albertville, Minnesota, has been in business for over 30 years and, since its founding by John Daniels in 1988, has strived to be a driver-focused organization.

The company is approximately two-thirds owner-operators and a third company driver. In 2013, the company became an employee-owned company (read more about LHT’s employee share ownership program in a podcast by Overdrive sister publication Truckers News via the link). Although fleet owner-operators are unable to participate in the ESOP, current LHT CEO Jason Michels said that owner-operators leased to the company feel the pride that employees of the company derive from their property thanks to the support personnel at their disposal.

“Having an employee-owned support staff, they definitely see results through their dedication and work ethic,” Michels said.

One of the first things owner-operators ask when looking for a hauler to hire is, of course, compensation — and Long Haul’s structure hasn’t changed in 20 years, Michels said.

Operators who use the LHT fuel card with discounts get 87% of the revenue from hauled loads, while owners who pay for their own haul get 90%. The company also pays 100% of the incidentals, including detention allowance, layover allowance, stop payment and more.

“I think the most important thing for us is enabling our owner-operators to have the quality equipment and be the professional-type drivers that we’re looking for,” Michels said, adding that founder Daniels had once told him if owner-operators were getting “the lion’s share of revenue, [the company] will reap the benefits in the end.

In turn, for the 10% or 13% the company gets per load, Michels said they “make sure we support them…with the best support staff possible.” This includes not only dispatchers, but also accounting and security departments, etc. “It’s a value that we must continue to provide.”

LHT’s vice president of sales and marketing, Anthony Book, said when he spoke with the company’s owner-operators, they told him that the support they feel “from all the corporate world is a big part of what holds them back.”

The company has also avoided getting into the rent-to-own game due to the many issues that tend to crop up in these programs, but Michels said if a driver comes to them with the goal of becoming an owner-operator , LHT would often bring in an operator as a company driver and work with the budding owner to build the financial backing “to go it alone and get a loan and do it clean,” he said. “We help facilitate the purchase of the truck and direct them to loan options.”

Speaking about the downsides of lease-purchase arrangements, Michels added, “If you take what a potential driver is and someone who wants to be an owner-operator and be successful, and you give them an experience that takes them away from the industry as a whole, no one wins.

Operators hired by LHT pull conestoga flatbeds carrying a variety of goods ranging from raw materials to machinery and more.

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“The network itself spans 48 states, coast to coast, and our drivers go where they want to go,” Book said. “We hire on the 48 and we live on the 48. We don’t require drivers to live in Minnesota or show up in Minnesota.”

Book added that approximately 90% of LHT’s freight comes directly from shippers, giving LHT-leased owner-operators the ability to build flexibility into their schedules. “It allows owner-operators to get used to the static locations where they work,” he said. “They know that around their house they can charge from those places, and to go home they can charge from those places. [other] places. There’s a sense of security that comes with that.

Owners are encouraged to bring their own conestoga trays with them to the company when renting, but LHT also offers a weekly trailer rental program in which owners can rent to own. The company previously tied the trailer rental program to a percentage of revenue, but that wasn’t as beneficial to both parties as a fixed weekly payment.

“You find that if a driver has an extremely successful month, you might get a little more for that trailer than you need,” Michels said, below the percentage structure. “Similarly, if a driver takes extended leave, you get nothing” for this trailer.

LHT prefers its owner-operators to have at least two years of experience, preferably in rig work, and no more than five jobs in the last three years. “Then it comes down to what kind of professional are you,” Michels said. “We’re really, really proud of Long Haul’s reputation as a group, and so are our drivers who are currently here.”

As for equipment, the company accepts trucks that are four years old or younger, or older in some cases with further scrutiny.

For example, Theresa DeSantis leases her truck championship-winning 1985 Peterbilt 359 from the company.For example, Theresa DeSantis leases her truck championship-winning 1985 Peterbilt 359 from the company.“We don’t want to give up a good person because of a bad truck,” Michels said. “We never want to miss a great person because they don’t have quite the right truck.”

Finally, LHT helps its leased owner-operators who have their trucks serviced in the company’s five-bay shop with “a steeply discounted hourly rate and really competitive parts prices,” Michels said.

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