Smart Business
It’s all in who you know
Grant Sheldon helps his small trucking business by cultivating relationships with vendors and suppliers

With fierce competition for business and razor-thin profit margins squeezed by ever-rising operating expenses, trucking fleets often develop strong relationships with their vendors and suppliers to gain a competitive edge. They negotiate fuel prices, maintenance contracts, or discounts on products or services.

Even though owner-operators may not have the advantage of running dozens of power units, OOIDA member Grant Sheldon sees no reason why more of them can’t develop alliances and relationships with their vendors and suppliers and enjoy the same benefits trucking fleets receive.

The Henderson, KY-based owner-operator said over the years, by cultivating business alliances with his vendors and suppliers, he’s received:

  • Special pricing and financing arrangements;
  • The ability to get service on short notice;
  • Advance notice of sales or promotions;
  • Readily accessible parts and service records;
  • Technical help and support while on the road; and
  • Service by phone.

“It’s important to find dealers and manufacturers with whom you’re comfortable and then establish and cultivate a relationship with them,” Grant said. “When you establish and cultivate these alliances with your vendors and suppliers by showing them your loyalty as a good customer, they will always go the extra mile to help you out of a bind. They want you to succeed.”

For him, developing such relationships, which can be as simple as calling vendors or suppliers from time to time to talk about business, has paid off handsomely and saved his bacon many times over the years.

By Grant’s estimation, he has saved thousands of dollars in repair bills and hundreds of dollars in interest payments, prevented the loss of crucial business on several occasions, even garnered some new business, and avoided having to deal with significant issues on his own.

In April of 2004, when the new bearings on a rebuilt rear end installed just a month earlier on his 1998 Kenworth T2000 failed, he called the truck manufacturer’s 24-hour customer service. The long-hauler was on his way to an assembly plant near Seattle. It was Friday afternoon and he had to be at the plant by early Monday morning to meet the delivery schedule.

Customer service called the local dealer in Denver and his dealer, Roberts Motor Co. in Portland. The Denver dealer sent two trucks to pick up his truck and trailer and tow them to its repair facility 200 miles away in Denver. Roberts Motor Co. took care of the billing.

Grant said the repair shop quickly diagnosed the cause of the rear end failure – defective bearings – and by noon Saturday had the work done and Grant back on the road.

“Because of my relationship with Roberts Motor, I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay for the work and the towing bill,” he said. “Roberts took care of all that for me.”

Just a few weeks after the incident with his truck’s rear end, one of the fuel injectors on his Detroit Diesel truck engine failed. Grant said because of the relationship he had developed with the Detroit Diesel distributor in Henderson, KY, he was able to phone ahead and make arrangements to drop off his truck at the local distributor in Spokane, WA.

He leased a tractor to finish his trip and then went back a few days later to pick up his truck.

“Even though I was 2,500 miles away from home, because of my relationship with the local distributor, they were willing to call another distributor and ask them to help me out,” Grant said.

Grant said the fuel injector and rear end incidents are just two of many examples of how his business philosophy of being a loyal customer can pay off.

“I’ve found that there’s really nothing a business values more than a good, loyal customer,” Grant said. “And once they have your business, they will do what they can – and in most cases even more than what they would do for other customers – to keep your business.”

As another example, Grant cited the relationship he’s developed over the years with his tire dealer, Raben Tire Co. of Evansville, IN.

He recently turned in eight unused drive tires and received credit toward the purchase of Goodyear’s new line of fuel-saving tires. And on at least one occasion, Larry Raben, vice president of Raben Tire Co., extended Grant’s credit line so he could buy some tires when he really needed them.

Raben said while his company makes it a point to treat all of its customers as important people whether they have one truck or 500 trucks, it also places a great value on customer loyalty.

“Our company has grown over the years because of the relationships we’ve developed with loyal customers,” Raben said. “So, we’ll always do those little extra things to meet their needs even if we need to stay late or make after-hour calls.”

One such after-hours call came several years ago when Grant experienced problems with one of his tires while hauling freight to the East Coast.

Grant said he explained to Raben how the tire had been damaged on the road and repaired at a local tire shop in West Virginia, but that he was having trouble with it. He asked Raben what to do.

“He told me that I needed to get this tire fixed immediately since the repair had not been done right,” Grant said. “But he didn’t leave me to handle it on my own. He called the Goodyear tire dealer in Wytheville, VA, and made arrangements for me to drop off the damaged tire for repair and to pick up a loaner so that I could continue my delivery while the damaged tire was being repaired.”

Grant said when he returned a week later to pick up his repaired tire, the folks behind the counter at the Wytheville store told him all he had to pay was the cost of labor.

“And this was all because Larry Raben knew the owner’s brother and had asked them to take good care of me because I was a good customer,” he said.