When a carrier has a fleet filled with happy drivers, it’s already halfway to success. When that carrier also has a loyal customer base, the primary ingredients are in place for the business to succeed. And when that carrier concentrates on keeping both customers and drivers satisfied, it makes for smooth, efficient operations — both ends float evenly and feed off the success of the other.
R.E. Garrison Trucking, Inc., is one such carrier. Founded back in 1959 by Roy Garrison, the company started out with just a single truck that hauled poultry products and produce.
Today, in addition to its home base of Vinemont, Alabama, the carrier also has facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Last year, its fleet logged nearly 80 million miles serving the Eastern and Southeastern U.S., as well as the Central and Western states.
The company’s drivers haul refrigerated products ranging from beef, poultry, and protein to vegetables and other cargo requiring refrigeration. In fact, refrigerated trailers are almost all that R.E. Garrison’s trucks pull, with only 15 flatbed trailers in the fleet. Consisting of about 200 company trucks and another 620 owner- and lease-operators, R.E. Garrison is all about two things — employee satisfaction and customer service.
The Truckload Authority team recently had a chance to visit with Shawn Nelson, R.E. Garrison’s director of driver profitability. Nelson’s job title is telling — it affirms that the company connects its success to driver satisfaction. In fact, the company is so dedicated to its drivers that one-third of the firm is employee-owned.
Over the years, the company grew from a single truck to a modest fleet of about 80 rigs. Even though it changed hands a couple of times, the company has retained the same core values held by its founder.
In 1996, the company brought in owner-operators and lease-operators, and activity grew exponentially. Today, R.E. Garrison has 820 trucks on the road and almost double that number in trailers. While the company purchased some small carriers along the way, most of the expansion has been internally driven.
“The growth has been organic,” said Nelson. “We’ve brought drivers in and expanded to meet customers’ needs.”
Those drivers, mostly independent contractors, have become the main mast of R.E. Garrison’s business operations, he said.
“I think we truly treat independent contractors as partners in our business,” he said. “We’re transparent with them. We give them the tools to be successful, teach them how to use those tools, and use training and mentoring to help everyone that comes in to have a fair shot at being successful at what they’re doing.”
While the growth of its fleet shows that R.E. Garrison’s drivers thrive on being a part of the business, similar efforts go into taking care of customers.
“We’re good partners with our customers as well as our drivers,” Nelson said. “We have long-term deals with our customers, and we give good service. We give a good rate, and we’re accountable.
“The same things we do with our drivers we do with our customers,” he continued. “We’re open, transparent, and accountable to our drivers and independent contractors, and the same holds true with our shippers and receivers.”
In addition to the trucking operations, R.E. Garrison also provides factoring, logistics, freight management, and equipment servicing. In every division, communication, service, and accountability are hallmarks of the organization.
On top of its dedication to providing excellent customer service and, of course, a profit, the carrier has a goal of being an integral part of the trucking industry. As the company website notes, now is an exciting time to be in the trucking industry. R.E. Garrison prides itself on being proactive rather than reactive to the changing environment of trucking. The company has spent time, energy, and resources to provide a good mix of equipment, facilities, and people to be successful. “Failure,” the website notes, “is not an option.”
Nelson echoes the website’s statements of the company working to ensure the greater good of the trucking.
“We are proud to be part of this industry,” he said. “Trucking moves all of America.”
As part of the trucking community and a member of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), Nelson says, R.E. Garrison finds not only support, but also opportunities to bring about change for the better.
We’re proud to be part of the TCA and to be able to go to the call on Washington on behalf of this industry,” he said. “I don’t just mean for our drivers or our carrier, but for the entire industry. We’re glad to be a part of making this industry stronger.”
Nelson says he has high hopes for the future of trucking, noting, “A rising tide raises all ships. When R.E. Garrison gets better all companies get better and vice-versa.”
Since retiring from a career as an outdoor recreation professional from the State of Arkansas, Kris Rutherford has worked as a freelance writer and, with his wife, owns and publishes a small Northeast Texas newspaper, The Roxton Progress. Kris has worked as a ghostwriter and editor and has authored seven books of his own. He became interested in the trucking industry as a child in the 1970s when his family traveled the interstates twice a year between their home in Maine and their native Texas. He has been a classic country music enthusiast since the age of nine when he developed a special interest in trucking songs.