The Realities of Owning a Trucking Company
Entrepreneurship runs deep in the blood of Daniel Stoychev. He started his first business at the age of 19 and is now the co-owner of Danieli Inc., a hazmat carrier with around 50 trucks based in Rolling Meadows, IL. In a recent podcast, FreightCaviar spoke with Daniel about the biggest lessons he’s learned in business, his advice for those trying to grow a company, and the approach he takes when dealing with some off-the-wall situations on the job.
Take us over your journey in entrepreneurship from when you started at 19 until now.
“I’ve always been inspired by business owners. My parents have been in trucking since we came to America in ‘07. They started as drivers and little by little they kind of built a fleet that really put us on the map.” This is the company Daniel would later take over alongside his sister.
Daniel didn’t want to waste any time, though. He found a partner and started his own company while still in school. “I knew certain parts of trucking, but I didn’t know others. So [my partner] was more of the dispatch side.” After growing the fleet for around 3-4 years, the two decided to go their separate ways.
After that ended, Daniel took over Danieli Inc. and has been running the business with his sister for the past year and a half.
What are some of the key takeaways from that first trucking company that you apply to the work you do now?
“The biggest thing I learned is always be paranoid.” Daniel rattles off the list of everything that can go wrong in the trucking business, from unpredictable drivers, lawsuit chasers, insurance problems, and funding. “Today you might have a successful business tomorrow that business might come crashing down.”
So what have you done to kind of safeguard yourself to be more secure?
“Obviously being prepared for the worst-case situation because if anything can happen, it’s gonna happen in this business.” Being prepared for every scenario is another lesson he got from that first company. This sort of doomsday prep mindset seems to have allowed him to weather the current market storm with a bit more ease.
With the current market that we’re in, what kind of steps are you taking to manage your business and continue to grow it?
“So the biggest thing is that you gotta keep the drivers happy, alright? That’s number one. Without the drivers being happy…there’s nothing,” he says. It’s this strong focus on driver retention that is going to save money in the current environment. They want to make sure they keep their drivers on the road, and that comes from establishing strong relationships from the very beginning.
He states his mantra again: “When things are good, you gotta prepare for the bad.” It’s clear that Daniel has had some run-ins with people who have tried to get a piece of the pie when things were good, only to now be sorely disappointed by the downturn.
“I hate to say it, but many companies are going out of business and will go outta business because they enter during the good time thinking this is the reality of trucking, and it’s not like that.” So his other piece of advice is to keep a nice little nest egg to fall back on and be careful with spending even when things are going well. “Having funds is huge… We’re gonna ride this wave of downfall.”
Let’s talk Hazmat. Can you tell us more about the pros and cons of hauling hazmat? How profitable is it? How do you deal with all the regulations?
“Hazmat is profitable… hazmat right now is keeping a lot of guys afloat.” He explains further that for hazmat runs they can bring in around $2.90-3.50 a mile compared to $2.30-2.60 on regular loads.
However, he says there are some unique aspects to be aware of. You’re going to need the proper insurance to be totally covered if anything goes wrong. You have to make sure the drivers have special certifications.
“The biggest thing is the safety portion of it… The easiest thing to do is to book a load, right? But are you prepared to haul that load?” he warns.
So you really need to stay on top of tracking everything, keeping track of all the costs. How do you manage that?
Daniel sorts through the information and data that the company has to keep tabs on. From internal KPIs, diesel rates, most convenient fueling locations, general freight analytics and statistics. It’s a lot to keep up with, but when it comes to managing the company’s numbers, he prefers to keep things in-house.
“Never will I use outside services like that that get to control such an important aspect of the business, the finances…I don’t believe in outsourcing things like that anymore.” He admits that there are benefits to it, but for him, it’s gotta stay in the family. “There’s no way that these companies care about the business and look after it the way we would,” he states.
We’ve got some questions coming from followers on Instagram. “What is the worst issue that you had on a hazmat load?
That one is more of a funny story. One night, he gets a call from a driver whose truck is leaking a mysterious red liquid.
When they fail to reach the broker they decide to go on and cut the seal, and turned out a barrel had turned over. The load wasn’t flammable or a bio-hazard so the driver decided it was safe enough for him to clean it up himself.
When he goes inside a truck stop to wash the red stains from his clothes and hands, folks were a little freaked out. A trucker, covered in red splatter, in the middle of the night…yeah, the optics weren’t great. He ended up having to explain to security that no, he hadn’t just slaughtered anyone.
All’s well that ends well. The next user asks how you scaled your business.
“It’s obviously easier the second time around but, vision, right? I mean, it kind of sounds cliche, but you have to have a vision.”
After there’s a clear vision, Daniel says that’s when you can start to put the pieces together: recruiting the right people, marketing, taking everything one day at a time, but always being prepared. “Gotta have that cushion for when things get rough.”
Do you ever have the thought of leaving the trucking business given this current market?
“Quit and leave. I just don’t like those two words. No, we’re not quitting. We’re not leaving. We’re not shutting down…I have a vision for where I need to be, where the company needs to be.” He understands that for those who are just in it for the money, getting out now would be the best decision, but that’s just not him. He’s planning for the long road ahead.
On the topic of recruiting, our follower asks what is the most important quality you look for in employees.
When it comes to hiring the right staff, Daniel says he always asks: Where do you see yourself in the next 1-3 years? It may sound obvious, but you can always tell a lot about a person based on their answer to that question.
“You want to see people get excited about what they’re doing. This is a tough industry. Not everyone loves to be in it. But you gotta have some sense of dedication and vision to the industry.”
It might be a good idea to know what you’re not looking for in terms of employees. Any funny stories about that?
“Listen, there are more crazy stories than funny stories, I’ll tell you that,” he laughs. He tells us about a guy they hired who shows up dripped out in a Louis Vuitton bag, Gucci flip-flops, and a set of gold teeth—looking like money. One of the first things the new guy asks is if he can get a $7000 cash advance to cover credit card bills and the rent on his penthouse.
Daniel tells him, “You’re crazy, man. Like, you know, we can’t do that. $7,000! You haven’t even started,” and tells him to get on the road. Somehow the guy accidentally ends up in Canada, and while being escorted back by Canadian Border Patrol he blows a tire.
The next day they found the trailer truck left in the parking lot with keys on the ignition cleaned out, and a book on the passenger seat titled ‘God, Save Us All.’ Thanks for the enlightenment on exactly what not to do.
Finally, what’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
You can reach him by visiting Danieliusa.com or visiting his profile on LinkedIn. But he’s happy to connect face-to-face, too. “Stop by the office, check us out, have a coffee, have an espresso in Rolling Meadows,” he says.