Added by Pat Williams on February 26, 2012
The finer points of moving freight come easily to Dean McNeely, founder and CEO of Houston-based LTL Freight Center LLC — perhaps because he began in the business at age 16.
“I had a little company called Texas Trucking in high school,” said McNeely. “It was a pickup truck, and I hauled people’s stuff around.”
Realizing early there’s always a need for someone with a pickup truck, McNeely has largely stuck with what he knows.
For eight years, he held a minority interest in one of the largest importers of ATVs, dirt bikes and scooters from China. That experience, he said, served as a natural progression into the shipping and freight business.
“I always wanted a freight company,” McNeely said. “It’s not sexy, it’s not glamorous, but there’s an enormous amount of opportunity in it. Being a customer for eight years gave me a unique perspective. I used to be solicited, and now I solicit.”
Founded in 2008, LTL Freight was not out to reinvent the wheel, just to make it better and faster. Part of the company’s edge, especially during a recession with rising fuel costs and smaller company budgets, is the required contracts, or rather the lack of them.
“One of our biggest selling tools is completely 180 degrees different from our competitors, and that’s no contracts,” he said. “If you like us, use us. If you don’t, don’t. People love that. People don’t like to be bulldogged into a two- to four-year deal.”
In his business, McNeely said, it’s easier to gain an audience when people are shopping for better shipping rates, thus the recession proved more helpful than harmful for the young company.
“People are willing to listen,” he said of the last few years, which have been rough for many companies. “When things are roaring, they don’t want to deal with it. I’m selling savings. I’m selling them money back in their own pocket.”
Though most entrepreneurs tout careful planning, McNeely said it’s possible to over strategize.
“Oftentimes — and I’ve been guilty of this — business owners get ready, aim and they fire, but I’ve spent too much time aiming. Don’t spend all your time studying, strategizing, hemming and hawing,” he said. “Jump off that cliff and go in head first. We’re all ruled by time, whether we’re the president or a bum under a bridge.”
True to this philosophy, his company has taken the plunge into Twitter — user name LTLFreightRates — and Facebook.
“In my industry, social media is not on the forefront,” he said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot for business, but I do agree with the philosophy of getting on board the social media truck or getting run over. You can’t fight it and you can’t hide from it. You’ve got to embrace it and bathe in it. I don’t know how much good it does, but we are on that wagon.”
As his company continues to grow, McNeely fine-tunes logistics to offer customers the best rates possible for LTL, or less-than-load shipments. “Less than load” is anything that ships on a pallet —freight that is larger than a parcel, but smaller than a full truckload.
“At some point, we’ve discussed branching into other areas such as small parcel freight,” he said, “but currently we want to continue with our ace of spades, which is LTL freight.
”While factors such as price, efficiency, service and marketing strategies have added up well for McNeely, he maintains the most important lesson he’s learned in business has nothing to do with any of them.
McNeely’s advice for those who go into any type of business is to have a good exit strategy in terms of partnerships, and to hire slow — but fire fast.
“I learned later in my career that my job is to get the right people on the truck and the wrong people off,” he said. “I don’t know they are going to sit on the truck or even where it’s going, but the ability to see and capture quality people is key. It doesn’t matter if they are a sacker in a grocery line or a waitress in a steakhouse, you look at their ability to get along with others. This is a critical component.”
Punctuality, resourcefulness and ability to work with a team take precedence over test scores.
“I’m not a micromanaged company or boss,” McNeely said. “I look for self-starters. You interview, you preinterview and you reinterview. And again, hire slow and fire fast. That works for me.”
LTL Freight Center LLC
2010 Revenue: $2.5 million
2009 Revenue: $1.3 million
Top Exec: Dean McNeely, CEO
Business: Provides less than truckload third-party logistics for domestic surface freight shipping