As anyone who’s ever driven for a living (or even just taken a road trip) knows, being a good driver means having a keen sense of direction. Knowing where you’re going — and what awaits you along the way — is a skill that long predates GPS and smartphones.
However, as some old-timers will tell you, having a natural sense of direction is much more valuable than any technological gadget — especially, they’ll say, when you’ve gone down the wrong street and need to get back on route.
Kierra Thomas and her fiance, Deon Smoots, are far cry from experienced truckers. Smoots has only been driving for three years, while Thomas has logged about eight months. But the team is already accomplishing their dream of owning a trucking company, thanks to the wisdom and grit that comes with reversing a wrong turn.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park, at all,” said Thomas to describe the couple’s journey to ownership. “It was hard. I basically wanted to quit sometimes, but I knew that I had to keep going.”
Thomas never envisioned herself behind the wheel growing up, although she did see herself as an entrepreneur. However, she always imagined her road to success would be in health care, where up until recently she was a certified nursing assistant and was working to continue her nursing education.
“I was working at a mental hospital and in school working on being a registered nurse,” she said. “I had plans to earn the money to start up my own group home and maybe invest into other businesses. But when the pandemic hit, I was too scared to work at the hospital because nobody knew what to expect.”
Because this, Thomas said she was unceremoniously fired from her job, a turn of events that caused her to take a hard look at her chosen field.
“I told God to guide me in the right direction, in whatever way that was possible to still achieve my goals as a businesswoman. Basically, that meant giving up on the medical field altogether,” she said. “I had a talk with my future husband, and he was telling me about teaming and how much money they make. After I did my research, it sounded like a good idea.”
Smoots also knows something about how hard it can be to reclaim a career, Thomas shared. Getting into the trucking business gave him his own chance at personal and professional redemption.
“My fiance, he’s a felon. You know, a lot of good companies don’t accept felons, or they have to wait like, seven years. So being a felon and going through what he went through, basically he wanted to go ahead and have his own business,” she said.
“And I agreed,” she continued. “(Deon’s) goal is to inspire more young men to strive for greatness and let them know there are many good ways to get money, even with being a felon. So, it was like, we went head-on with it and stayed focused. That was the goal.”
The first step in the process was for Thomas to get her CDL; then the couple’s thoughts turned to buying their own truck.
“We found an app and we were just looking on that app every day. We made a couple of bids and didn’t really go through with some of them because they were too high. It was like, nah,” she recalled. “Then, when we knew we had all the money for it, some kind of way we found this Mack truck. It was a 2015 and it just stuck with us.”
After picking up the rig in Atlanta and driving it home to Alabama, Thomas said it took some time for the reality of what they had committed to sink in.
“It didn’t hit me right then. It didn’t hit me until some days later,” she said with a laugh. “I mean, I was excited at the time. It was like, OK, we’re driving it home. But then you wake up and be like, ‘Yeah we really got this truck.’”
The last step in the process was the stack of paperwork that came with forming the couple’s company, Southside Runners LLC. It was a process that taught the couple many things about entrepreneurship, things they are more than willing to share with other people looking to do the same thing.
“My advice is, if you want to get into it you need to do all of your research before you jump into anything,” Thomas said. “Make sure it’s something that you want to do. You gotta have money saved up; that’s No. 1. Have money saved up for a breakdown and anything that can possibly happen.
“After that, it’s a hustle thing,” she explained. “It’s hard work as far as making all the phone calls and making sure you know how to talk to people and making sure you know how to book your loads. When you’re driving for yourself, the money that you’re getting, that’s your money. You basically make how much you want to make on your own. So, you gotta know your calculations, as far as your gas and your mileage, everything is on you.”
The couple’s homework and hard work paid off. After months of planning, the duo got its first load in July and have kept the momentum building — so much so, in fact, that they’ve shifted the next phase of their plans into high gear and planning to buy a second truck in January.
Meanwhile, as they run routes across the lower 48, Thomas said they’re enjoying the ride, both on the road and in building a business.
“As an owner, you don’t have anybody over you telling you what to do 24/7. Nobody really watching you,” she said. “These days, they tell you where to go and you just go there, and as long as you get there on time, everybody’s good. That’s the part I like the most.”
Thomas believes the best is yet to come.
“I’m very excited, and I think we have a real bright future ahead of us,” she said. “We basically live on the road. We stay on our truck; we don’t even have a house yet. We left my apartment and we stayed on the road. We’re all focus. This company is the only thing on our minds right now.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.