Kevin Kocmich and his wife, Joy, might take a vacation. With a $25,000 check in his pocket, the two could afford a little time off. But like many other self-employment opportunities, working as an owner-operator means running a small business — and the business’s finances and stability come first.
“We want to make a trip to Alaska,” said Kevin, noting that he and his wife have driven there in the truck for work. “Joy wants to make a trip up there for a vacation. That might be in the plan for next year. It won’t be this year, but I want to go on a couple weeks’ vacation like that. I want to go on a vacation and enjoy it.”
Kevin, who is leased to Diamond Transportation System, Inc., didn’t just stumble upon $25,000; he earned it as the 2019 grand prize winner of the Owner Operator of the Year contest presented by the Truckload Carriers Association and sponsored by Love’s Travel Stops and Cummins. As a requirement of the contest, Kevin had to submit his tax returns for the past couple of years and a business plan, among other things, in order to be considered.
Kevin said that part was pretty easy since his business plan and budget haven’t changed since he began his career. He has always budgeted for a new truck every few years and allowed plenty of money for repairs and equipment. Keeping his finances in order is one of the essential pieces of being a successful owner-operator, according to Kevin.
“If you want to make more money as an owner-operator, you have to run your business as a business,” he said. “We’ve never overspent. The truck comes first. That is what makes us our money. The truck is in the budget, and it hasn’t changed for years. We’ve never gotten into a bind, but I watch the future.”
Kevin, who has driven a truck for more than 30 years, was a company driver for a while before buying his own truck. Since taking that step, the truck has been his main financial focus, and he has built a business in a pretty specific area of the industry — oversized, heavy loads. Kevin said he can haul up to 92,000 pounds with special permits in some states.
With a gooseneck trailer of his own used for hauling everything from military machinery to a 40-foot Christmas tree headed for the Alamo, the duo spends most of the year on the road. Although Joy doesn’t drive the truck, she keeps the business in order by monitoring the load board, watching for loads that make the most sense for the couple.
“She does everything else [other than drive],” he shared. “She puts the flags and signs on, and she prints my permits and paperwork. She will keep her laptop in front of her, watching the load board. She calls for directions and talks to brokers for information about the loads.”
The freedom to make decisions is another thing Kevin said he enjoys about being an owner-operator, adding that it also helps to be leased to a company that keeps the best interest of its drivers in mind, which is a quality he found in Diamond Transportation System, Inc.
“We are able to run our business as we see fit,” shared Kevin. “They work hard for us. They try to get the best rates for us, and if we don’t want to go someplace they’ll offer it to the next guy. They don’t force anything on us. They take care of us. They’re all good in my book.”
With 3.7 million accident-free miles, he has an impeccable safety record, which is another consideration for the Driver of the Year contest. How does he manage to remain safe on the highway when running between 100,000 and 150,000 miles a year? He simply looks ahead and makes plans, just as he does with his finances.
“Kevin is always safe and courteous on the road. He takes the extra time to secure his loads properly, recheck the points of contact, and properly measures and scales his loads,” said Diamond Transportation System, Inc. President Jon Coca. “Not only is he both safe and provides the best service, he’s a great representative. We truly wish we could have 100 owner-operators just like Kevin.”
Kevin said that the thorough evaluation of an owner-operator’s performance as well as his or her emphasis on safety and financial stability is what makes this award so special to him. Admittedly, he shared that he’s typically the “one at the back of the room” who doesn’t seek attention, but when he was nominated for the contest, he was excited and honored to even be considered.
“I’m pretty proud and honored to win this award,” said Kevin. “They looked at pretty much your whole life, so it is a pretty big award. It really covers everything. There are good truck drivers out here, and we are doing the best we can. It is a very hard industry, and we give up a lot. An award like this is good to get out there and show the public, as much as possible, that the industry is working hard. It is good to recognize the people that work hard at this.”
Outside of the truck, the Kocmichs have been involved in the Trucker Buddy International program for nearly 15 years. The program pairs elementary-school teachers with truck drivers that can serve as pen pals to students in the classroom.
Kevin said technology makes it even easier to keep in touch with the students through email. They send photos of the places they travel and enjoy showing the students the world through their truck’s windshield. Whether it is exploring a new part of the country or learning about a piece of equipment he is hauling, Kevin said he enjoys contributing to an educational environment.
Throughout the interview, there’s no doubt he takes great pride in his job and even though it isn’t easy, Kevin will never regret getting into one of “the most important industries.”
“It makes me proud that we are moving all of the freight for everybody else’s needs,” said Kevin. “Whether you are an owner-operator or a company driver, you are going to get out of this what you put into it. I think that is what has kept me in the business. I’ve never fallen behind on anything. It has been an adventure.”
Wendy Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in strategic communications. Wendy has been a journalist and editor for nearly 15 years and has specialized in niche publications for the past eight years. Wendy draws her love for the trucking industry from growing up as a trucker’s daughter.