Laurie Darlin’ (Christmas Edition)

In my second edition of this post, I left you wondering if I was ever going to actually begin hauling cars or if my plans would fold before the cards were dealt. But, for a December edition I thought it would be a little more seasonal to fast forward a few chapters and share one of my more memorable Christmas memories as a car hauler. If you will forgive the rather large gap in my timeline, I promise to pick up where I left you last with the next edition of this blog.

So, with this story I guess I am revealing that, Yes, I did actually begin my quest to rid the countryside of all cars in need of a ride.

As many truckers come to realize some of the more memorable trips you ever make are those shared with family. Now ‘memorable’ can certainly be defined numerous ways depending on perspective.

I began a trip one December with the intention to get the last one in before Christmas and be back in Texas before Santa. We had received an order from the Greenbay Packers of the NFL to deliver two players cars. So we booked a load and secured a back haul to complete the trip. With paperwork secure, I loaded up Laurie, our son (the only child at the time), Laurie’s dog Rex (the Schnoodle), half of our house, and some Christmas presents (just in case). We pushed off and embarked on a journey that would begin with a 75 degree Texas day, traverse 7 states and end in Greenbay, WI where temperatures were bordering zero.

The front leg of our trip was pleasant and we had a chance to be away from all of the stress that typically attaches itself to the holidays. We had a mission and clear objectives. As long as everything fell into place it should be a much welcomed opportunity for us to spend time as a family without the stress. It was interesting though, having a child who was potty training and a small dog on board, both of whom seemed to have bladders the size of  a grapes. But, the frequent stops gave us opportunities to get out and see the surroundings and with Laurie now starting her Christmas ornament collection from every state we travel, we were going to stop anyway.

Leaving Texas and those still wearing shorts, it was easy to believe that winter had forgotten about the south, that was decidedly not the case in Wisconsin. We don’t experience lake effect snow in Texas, we have lake effect evaporation from the heat, but not snow. Our trip had officially derailed and the already tight timeline had now blurred. It was very clear that unloading and reloading our trailer, or basically any travel past this particular parking lot in Greenbay was not going to happen. We had plenty of fuel in the truck, 3 people, a dog, and a 72 inch condo sleeper with the budding of an improvised Christmas on the horizon.

There are many things that challenge a marriage in its early days, but one of the tops has to be a young bride that has never spent a Christmas away from her family, never mind spent one in a truck. Explaining to a 3 year old exactly how Santa Claus was going to squeeze himself down the chimney of an eighteen wheeler that doesn’t even have a fireplace could be tricky (there are some options here and you can use your imagination to picture a couple). But ever the optimist, Laurie saw the silver lining. We had snow, a Denny’s that would be open tomorrow on Christmas Day, and we had each other.

I remember that Christmas Eve well. After our son was asleep nestled in his bed on the top bunk, Laurie and I wrapped the few presents that she had instinctively brought with us. We drank her first pot of coffee ever made from a mobile kitchen (I had never had coffee with that particular strength and consistency before), and talked like two friends who owned the world. Later we put in a movie and just spent some time being together.

Christmas morning came to our son in that truck just like it did to all other little boys and girls across the world. Its still amazing to me now, the delight in his eyes with what he had, not what he didn’t have. Laurie and I had spent so much energy worrying about what we weren’t going to be able to give him on Christmas, that we had forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. So, with the contagious zeal of a child, we enjoyed the morning bundled up throwing snowballs and making snow angels in an abandoned parking lot in Greenbay Wisconsin.

That Christmas may not be the best one that Laurie and I will spend together, but it will be one that we will never forget.

Merry Christmas!

 

Laurie Darlin’ 2

 

Blog Lab

I ended the last chapter with a teaser. Before I get into the unexpected passenger for my journey, I wanted to back up and include something I had forgotten to tell you. This will probably not do much to improve the plot much, but it has been the source of a few laughs over the years in our family.

Before I could leave on this car hauling crusade and rid the country of those pesky vehicles in need of transport, I was advised to add an external fuel tank to my new truck. The idea was to add more fuel capacity and increase the number of miles between fuel stops. No problem, I thought, I know just where one is that no one is using it. I called my dad, asked and he said yes, but he did advise me that the tank was probably dirty and needed to be thoroughly cleaned before I used it.

Simple! Nothing wrong with cleaning out a fuel tank in your driveway, in the middle of town, in broad daylight, Right? Armed with dish soap and a water hose, I proceeded to fill the tank. This seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time. As the tank began to overflow, all of the trash and old fuel would flush out. It was working great, the water pouring over the side of the tank was becoming more and more clear. Now I needed to empty the tank completely and use the soap. It hadn’t occurred to me yet that 150 gallons of water and old diesel running down the street could be an issue with the neighbors, but I would soon get the picture loud and clear!

It took me a few seconds to understand why there were two fire trucks stopping in front of my house, our house wasn’t burning, nor was the neighbors. Sometimes comprehension sets in like a long awaited slumber and in other cases its more like a tidal wave. In this case it was definitely the latter. Apparently diesel and water on hot pavement produces some what of a slippery road hazard. Well, I didn’t go to jail and no citations were issued. I spent half an hour with a shovel and kitty litter in the street absorbing my folly. Then in the spirits of optimism and ‘when life gives you lemons’ I saw the silver lining. My 2 year old son had never had the chance to sit in a fire truck before!

Okay! Now that your story appetite is primed lets get back to where I left it last week. My bags were packed, and my auxiliary fuel tank was now installed. Laurie had packed a snack bag sufficient for survival on a deserted island. Come to think of it, maybe she was sending me a message.

When the time came for goodbyes, I was surprised with my mysterious passenger…

Our 85 pound Yellow Lab, Shelby was apparently the final crew member on this voyage. Now Shelby was to that point accustom to a wide range of activities including sleeping, eating, drinking, and sleeping some more. She was a great dog in all seriousness, but not the picture perfect example of a road dog. Never-the-less, with departure hugs and kisses (with the family, not the dog) we boarded our new F#rd freighter’ bound for Phoenix and a rendezvous with a trailer manufacturer.

I grew up in Colorado so I was familiar with the road west, but lands past I-25 in New Mexico, I had never ventured. So much like the 49ers in search of gold west of the Missouri, we carried on. We arrived in Phoenix late one night and managed to find a hotel. This hotel stay would forecast future events with a dog as a copilot, the hotel did not accept pets! With a concert event in town, our lodging options were minimal. So, against my better judgement, I lowered the windows and bedded Shelby down for the night in the truck.

It was about 2:00 am when I received a call in my room from security, they wanted to know if it was My dog in My truck outside? I thought, who’s else would it be, but answered with a simple yes. The security guard told me he was a dog lover and she could spend the night in my room. Shelby was more than happy to share the foot of my bed.

The next morning Shelby and I grabbed some drive through breakfast and made our way to the trailer shop. I was expecting to pick up my brand new 2004, fifty three foot, 4-car trailer and officially begin my trip to the top of the world. When I pulled in however, I was greeted with yet another change in plans……

Are You Ready for the New Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations?

New Hours of Service (HOS) regulations were put into place by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in July of this year. Many in the auto transport industry believe that while these regulations might have been implemented with good intentions, the negative will more than offset the positive. Like the old saying goes, “If these wheels are not rolling, we are not making any money.”

The new HOS regulations were designed specifically to reduce the number of hours a driver is allowed to log over the course of a 7-day period. Specifically, the regulations affect any commercial drivers who have reached 70 hours of driving within a given week because the new regulations only allow commercial drivers to resume driving if they rest for 34 consecutive hours, including at least two nights between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. They also require that a driver take a 30-minute break during the first 8 hours of a shift.

According to the Auto Haulers Association of America (AHAA), these mandated reset periods and forced downtime are starting to impact the drivers’ bottom lines. Members claim that by taking drivers off the road, the HOS regulations are reducing the number of hours they can work, as well as limiting the flexibility of transport schedules. It is also important to note that the FMCSA claims that the new rules should only impact the most extreme schedules. They also estimated that more than 85% of the truck-driving workforce will see little to no changes. In fact, FMCSA expects the changes to help the industry as a whole by saving hundreds of millions of dollars on fewer truck crashes and improved driver health.

While safety is especially important to the auto transport industry, concerns that rates for transport will go up due to tighter regulations continue to threaten drivers, brokers, and carriers who will have to work even harder just to break even or make a profit. It is important for everyone impacted to understand these new regulations and plan for their businesses accordingly. To find out more information on this subject, check out the following links:

http://www.automotivelogisticsmagazine.com/home-page/us-hours-of-service-rule-could-change-outbound-business-models

http://www.automotivelogisticsmagazine.com/news/us-court-upholds-hours-of-service-regulations

http://www.worktruckonline.com/article/print/story/2012/12/how-will-the-hours-of-service-revisions-affect-your-fleet.aspx

http://www.truckinginfo.com/news/story/2013/10/turnover-rose-at-large-truckload-fleets-in-the-second-quarter.aspx

http://www.jjkeller.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/content____bi-hoursofservice-newrule-FAQs

 

Laurie Darlin’

 

As much as I would like to take credit for the initial concept and design of Auto Load Logic, it’s only fair to place credit where credit is due.

Here is the behind the scenes story.

Like the Maestro of a car hauling Orchestra, my fiancé (at the time), Laurie coordinated most of the actions that prompted the eventual creation of Auto Load Logic.

It all began on the back of a horse, none the less! My job at that time was supervising a work crew from horseback. It was in that saddle, in the Texas heat, that I would reflect on a better road for my life. I was recently engaged with a baby at home. This current job was not how I pictured my future. How would I give my new family the life they deserved working on the back of this hard headed, 1 ton, hay burner (obviously I’m referring to the horse here)?

It wasn’t long until I got a call. A family member called and asked if I had ever thought of starting a hot shot business? Of course in West Texas I had seen these guys with 1 ton dually pickups and a flatbed hauling oilfield pipe, but never saw it as a financially rewarding career option.

The family member explained further that he was talking about hauling cars. And so the conversation continued. I thought, it can’t be that hard, get a truck, get a trailer, and put some cars on it! Sounded simple enough, turns out that conversation would be the only simple part of the next 9 years.

So it began, I called home and said, “Laurie, we are starting a business. I need you to quit your job and pack the house. We are moving to Houston” I still can’t picture what I expected her reaction to be to that, but needless to say it didn’t all happen in that order.

We slowed down a little, and started with finding the truck. After shopping for about 3 months, we decided to drive to Houston and buy a new 2004 & 1/4, F#rd #-350. I was so happy with this truck…..at first. That happiness was not going to last long, but for now, we had a truck.

I drove back to Abilene and we spent the next month looking for a trailer while keeping my current job. I couldn’t wait to get out of that saddle and into the comfortable, air conditioned cab of our new business.

Meanwhile Laurie the ‘Maestro’, while keeping her full time job, was diligently doing all of her research. How much we needed to average per mile, fuel costs, equipment maintenance, insurance, equipment payments, and trailer options….

All I was concerned with was getting started. Finally she found a trailer manufacturer in Phoenix that could build the exact trailer we wanted and have it ready in 4 weeks. We went to the bank, borrowed the money, and sent the deposit. Our plan was coming together….we thought!

Now seemed like as good of time as any to get married. We had a shot gun wedding in the morning, I said “I do”, she thought about saying “I don’t”, but we tied the knot and she went back to work that afternoon. That’s dedication!

We spent the next 3 days together, alone. No business or family interruption. It was a great time together and a memorable send-off.

I packed my bags and headed to Phoenix the following Monday morning to pick up the trailer. I thought I was going alone, but it turned out I was taking a passenger I hadn’t planned on….

 

To be continued.

 

 

We Listen to Our Customers — Pricing Change

 

I get an email almost every day from a consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses figure out how to price their products or services. I guess that means it’s an issue that’s not easy to get right.

OUR INITIAL THOUGHTS ON PRICING

When we began thinking about the pricing of Auto Load Logic’s service our guiding principal was a desire to align our interests with those of our customers. The first conclusion we drew as we talked through the question of alignment was that a monthly subscription model was the wrong one for this market.

Obviously there are others who have used the monthly subscription approach for years. They would probably argue that their ability to maintain that model means it’s reasonable. We think it just means that they haven’t been forced to consider a change.

So, we began with the conviction that we should not charge for our product unless and until it is used by a customer. When our system allows the customer to generate revenue, that should be the trigger for our generating revenue.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Well, maybe not, because that’s only the first of three issues to address. It answers the question: What condition gives rise to a payment obligation? We still have to tackle the questions of the basis on which the payment should be calculated and the rate of payment that should be applied to that basis.

Our thought was that the rates charged to professional vehicle Shippers, such as car dealers, ought to be based on the number of vehicles shipped. We still think that’s appropriate and the dealers we’ve worked with have agreed. So we got that one right.

When thinking about the Brokers and Carriers we thought, initially, that an alignment of interests would be created if we based our fees on the amount of revenue those users generated from a vehicle shipment. As their revenues increased or decreased, ours would as well, and we’d all be in the same position as prices rose or fell. That seemed fair to us.

MOVE TO PLAN B

As we began to work through that system in detail, though, we found more and more ways that a model like that could become problematic. It began to seem like it would require us to be too closely involved in our customers’ transactions. What seemed clear and reasonable in theory didn’t seem so simple in practice!

So we moved to Plan B.

Plan B was based on the well-understood fact that the costs of most of the inputs into the vehicle transport process are distance-determined.

Fuel, driver compensation, truck depreciation and maintenance, etc. are clearly functions of distance. And many others, such as insurance, licenses, and so forth, can be pretty easily estimated in terms of cents-per-mile driven and then converted to cents-per-mile per-vehicle-shipped.

So we thought it would be easily understood and intuitively reasonable to price our product to Carriers and Brokers in terms of cents-per-mile.

But what WE think doesn’t matter much if our customers think differently!

As we entered the market on an initial “soft launch” basis during the summer, we found that this model caused both Brokers and Carriers a lot of problems.

What we thought was very simple didn’t seem that way to the users.  For whatever reason – and a number of reasons were given – what we thought was an easily understood and workable approach was seen as complicated and difficult to our initial users.

The last thing we want in bringing Auto Load Logic to the market is a problem explaining or justifying pricing structure. So….

 WE HEARD YOU

We’ve modified our pricing structure as we ready the release of ALL 2.0.

The new structure is still a pay-on-use model, which we continue to believe is fair and appropriate and acts to align our interests with those of our customers. But it is the ultimate in simplicity. It extends the price-per-vehicle-moved approach to both Brokers and Carriers.

PRICING CHANGE

Our pricing model for Brokers and Carriers is now as simple as this:

Brokers pay $3.00 per vehicle moved using ALL.

Carriers pay $2.00 per vehicle moved using ALL.

That’s all there is to it.

No need to measure revenue. No need to measure mileage. Just count the vehicles and multiply.

And if the count is zero, the cost is zero.

The only exception is that the first 15 vehicles moved are on the house!

Registration as an ALL user is simple and it’s free.

Check us out and register at: www.autoloadlogic.com.

And sign up in the space to the left to receive our newsletter!

Let us know what you think. We’re listening!

Software for the Auto Transport Carrier | A True Story

We had the unusual experience yesterday of having a carrier question the language of the Privacy Policy governing use of our software. Our policy is pretty much industry standard and we were actually quite surprised that someone took the time to read and question it!

In any case, once the language that he was concerned about was explained to his satisfaction, the conversation moved in a different direction:

Carrier: OK. That sounds fine to me. We’ll give it a try.

AutoLoadLogic: Great, thanks!

Carrier: Do you guys think you can really pull this off, though? I keep hearing about Auto Load Logic and everybody seems excited about it; but are you really going to be able to change the way things are done? We’ve needed this sort of change in the industry for a long time!

AutoLoadLogic: I know. Nobody’s really done anything for the Carriers in a long time. But we think we can. We know we’ve got a product that can really help. We know it might take a while for people to believe we’re for real and be willing to give it a try. That’s OK. We understand. We’ll just have to prove ourselves.

Carrier: Well, if you really have what you seem to have, they’ll come around.

AutoLoadLogic: Yes. We think so too. And we’re just going to keep at it and show the industry that we’ve got a product that delivers what it promises. We’re not just another glorified load board being sold with a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Carrier: OK. We’re in. We’ll sign up this afternoon and get that car moved.

AutoLoadLogic: Thanks, man. Call anytime if you need anything. We’re here.

 

Combating “Promise Fatigue”

 

When materials are used beyond their reasonable capacity too many times, engineers describe the deterioration that results as “fatigue”.

In the business of auto transport software too many promises have been made by too many providers over too many years and the result, for many in the business, is “promise fatigue”.

You’ve heard the promises too many times and no longer trust that there’s any “there” there.

We all know the market leader, which has been operating since 1999. How many clones of that software have been brought to the market in the past 10 years? How many have added anything of real value? How many have been nothing more than glorified load boards?

In fact, if you do a Google search on that oldest software in the market you’ll find a request from someone who actually is looking for a programmer to “clone” the old system. What good would that do anyone?

Recently there have been a couple of new entrants into the market with pretty impressive looking home pages and some pretty impressive sounding claims. In fact, the features claimed by one of those companies sound a lot like some of Auto Load Logic’s features.

But when you get past that product’s home page and look at the actual functions provided it becomes clear that the promises are empty. That offering just did not do what it said it would do. And it created an even greater degree of skepticism in the market.

So, we at Auto Load Logic know that we have to battle the problem of “promise fatigue”. We have to be patient with the companies that have been disillusioned by the broken promises of others.

We have to SHOW the market what we can do rather than just TELLING people what we offer.

That’s just a reality and that’s OK. Reality has to be faced.

Auto Load Logic DOES offer what we say it does.

The features are there. The functionality is there. The commitment to the customer is there. The commitment to continuous improvement is there. The clear and significant value proposition is there for every user group.

So take a look at Auto Load Logic. Call us to talk about it. Write us with your questions. Share your concerns.

We’re here and we’re for real!

Increased Vehicle Sales Puts Pressure on Transport Industry

 

The strength of mid-year vehicle sales figures has surprised many industry analysts. It now appears that full year domestic sales will approach 16 million units, a figure not seen since 2007. That would represent a gain of nearly 60% from the low point of 2009.

There is no question that the recovery in vehicle sales is a good thing for the US economy in general and for entire automotive industry segment. But what does it imply for vehicle transport specifically?

The sharp decline in vehicle sales in the 2008 to 2009 period created a ripple effect of destruction throughout the industry, causing a significant decline in overall vehicle transport capacity. We saw auto transporters go out of business, trailers get taken to the scrap yard, trailer manufacturers file for bankruptcy and drivers looking for work in other industry segments.

But the pendulum is swinging back. Manufacturing volume drives OEM transport demand and OEM transport demand has an outsized effect on the overall transport market. When a manufacturer wants service the transport industry responds.

Let’s take a look at what that response might require.

If this year’s total sales figure does approach 16 million, it will represent an increase of about 1.5 million vehicles over the past 2 years. Those new vehicles have to be moved from point of manufacture (or port of entry) to the point of initial sale. In other words, from a plant, port or railhead to the location of initial sale or use. And that movement is going to be by truck.

Here’s a simplistic but hopefully useful analysis of what that might require. Let’s assume that:

a) all of the transporters moving OEM vehicles use 10-car trailers,

b) all trailers move fully-loaded,

c) allowing for maintenance and other downtime, an OEM fleet trailer is moving 300 days per year, and

d) the average trip duration from loading to delivery to return is two days, including waiting time and other down-time.

Those assumptions would suggest that an OEM-contracted trailer makes 150 round trips per year carrying a full load of 10 vehicles. So, each trailer moves 1,500 vehicles per year.

[Obviously some vehicles are so large that a 10-car trailer can’t really carry 10 of them. And some round trips might be only a day rather than two. But we’re just looking for a reasonable approximation, here.]

If this actually is a reasonable approximation, an increase in OEM transport demand of 1.5 million units will require an increase of 1,000 OEM-dedicated trailers. And if the manufacturers need 1,000 more trailers, either 1,000 more trailers have to be built or the pressure of that increase in demand gets transferred to the non-OEM market.

I realize that this back-of-the-envelope approach ignores a lot of issues and that the assumptions are simplistic. But I don’t think that the basic point can be refuted.

As the OEM activity continues to out- perform expectations, the pressure is likely to be felt most acutely in the non-OEM transport market. That puts a premium on increased efficiency in that market. Those who can do the job faster, more efficiently and with lower risk will have the advantage.

That’s the advantage that Auto Load Logic provides!

Auto Load Logic – Solving Problems in Auto Transport

CEO and COO of Auto Load Logic

Deron Balch, COO & Charles Lightner, CEO – 2013

Auto Load Logic is the only logical software for auto transport.

It is the outgrowth of a simple question posed in frustration by an auto hauler: our founder and Chief Operating Officer, Deron Balch.

The question Deron asked was: “Why isn’t there a better way?”

Why wasn’t there a better way to figure out the best mix of possible vehicles for him to transport?

Why wasn’t there a better and faster way to figure out how to optimally load those vehicles on his trailer?

Some people ask questions and do nothing.

Deron didn’t. He went to work to solve the problems.

From those initial questions, and from his initial work, came the idea for what is now the proprietary trailer loading algorithm built into Auto Load Logic.

But then Deron also became a Vehicle Transport Broker and the list of questions exploded.

Why did the only significant piece of software in the market still require hours of faxes, phone calls, and paper documentation to get a vehicle moved?

Why was so much employee time spent in trying to find carriers willing to move the loads he was trying to ship?Always ask questions

Why were so many errors made on inspection documents and bills of lading?

Why were his employees constantly fielding phone calls from shippers and from those awaiting deliveries, always wanting to know where the drivers were and when delivery could really be expected?

Why couldn’t things as standard as insurance certificates, terms of service, load assignment sheets and authority packets be made available electronically 24/7?

And on and on and on…

So the concept of Auto Load Logic grew.

It grew from first-hand experience of the problems faced by those in the vehicle transport market.

It grew from frustration with a lack of tools that SHOULD be available to them but have not been.

It grew from a determination to take on those problems and solve them.

It grew from a commitment to a balanced approach to service: to providing real, value-added functions for EVERY participant in the transport chain; the shipper, the broker, the carrier and the recipient.

It grew from a willingness and an ability to step back from the narrow point of view of a single user group and view the needs of the vehicle transport process as a whole.

Our Commitment:Making a commitment

 

Auto Load Logic is not driven by the interests of only the dealer community, or only the carrier community. And it clearly recognizes the value of the brokerage community.

 

  • We understand that relationships matter.
  • We understand that flexibility matters.
  • We understand that choice matters.
  • We understand that service matters.

Auto Load Logic has been created to serve the entire network that is required to move a vehicle from one place to another safely, efficiently and reliably.

It has been created to solve problems; to improve the work lives and increase profit margins of every user and user group in the transport chain.

We are committed to the idea that solving problems for customers is good business for them and for us.

The people of Auto Load Logic understand the problems of the vehicle transport industry. We are committed to solving those problems.

And that is why Auto Load Logic will soon be. . . the only logical software for auto transport.

You’ll be hearing a lot more from us soon!

Chuck Lightner

CEO, Auto Load Logic, LLC