The importance of the trucking industry to the nation’s economy cannot be underestimated. Scott Barnett, the co-owner along with Dan Justus of Diamondback Systems, is sure of that. “If you’ve touched it, it came on a truck someway, somehow. It’s the lifeblood of the country.”
Diamondback Systems is a freight shipping and logistics service based out of Tucson, Arizona. On a day-to-day basis, the company tends to get around half of its work from hauling auto parts, with a lot of restaurant materials, sprinklers, and refrigerated goods making up the rest. With a combined total of 40 years’ experience in delivering freight, Diamondback now has offices in Cincinnati, Orlando, and Huntsville and drives throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
While Scott is now thoroughly steeped in the ways of shipping, it wasn’t always that way. Though his father was a trucker, he wasn’t involved with trucking from a young age. With a degree in political science and a young life spent outside of the industry, his entrance into trucking wasn’t the obvious move. Yet here, over 30 years later, Diamondback Systems employs around 110 full-time workers, including drivers and sales reps, and has a logistics side of the business which runs under the name First Choice Logistics. It is safe to say Scott’s foray into trucking has gone well.
And like the beginning of any good adventure, Scott’s story began with a chance happening.
Many years ago, when Scott was fresh out of college and working for the family business moving broker freight, his father received an unusual shipping request from a company he worked with, Hospital Specialists. The company owner requested a wedding present be moved so Scott’s father offered to do so.
“So my dad said, ‘What is it?’ He was just going to put it in the back of the truck. But when he found out the items’ importance he said to the owner ‘I’ll just throw it in the bunk where I sleep and I’ll sleep on the steering wheel’”.
So impressed was the company owner that he hired Scott’s father’s business on the spot as his exclusive hauler. The meeting, in turn, sowed the seeds for Scott’s first hauling company.
This customer-focused perspective has informed every part of Diamondback System’s business model. Excellence in customer service and the quality of performance is what Scott believes sets his company apart. “Our customers are always complimenting us for our own efficiency, communication, and professionalism,” he says.
Such is its importance that Diamondback includes customer service in its unofficial motto. “We like to say ‘care more than most think is wise’” says Scott.
He believes that Diamondback Systems is currently “a little old school, but becoming more tech-savvy.” Certainly, technology has changed the state of play in the trucking industry.
“Technology has made the administration end of the business that much better and efficient. Things that used to take forever can now be done with a third of the people.”
Yet while the need for administration workers declines, the demand for drivers only increases. The drought of qualified long-haul drivers is being felt everywhere, though Scott believes new legislation, influenced by the availability of improved technologies – the ELD – will change all that.
“I think if you ask any trucking exec across the country they’ll tell you the same thing: they’re a great company, they’ve got a great team, and they still can’t get enough drivers because it isn’t a pretty job”.
“The problem with the lack of drivers is that the pay scale isn’t what it should be”, he explains.
“Good pay is necessary to make the job enticing. A good driver makes $50,000 – $60,000 a year but for what they do that’s probably about $20,000 short. And that’s the market forces at work.”
The Electronic Logging Devices Mandate will have a major impact on the industry and businesses are going to have to come to grips with the new market environment quickly, Scott believes.
“I really think that’s all going to change when the ELD comes into play. I think shippers are in for a rude awakening when they see where freight rates are going to go in the next couple of years. ELD will level the playing field between trucking companies. You’re only going to be able to drive so many hours and you’ve got a lot of drivers that are cutting corners and doing things that are semi-legal, which, in my opinion, keeps rates depressed.”
Despite the changes looming to the industry, Scott relishes the difficulties that can come with being a trucking company boss. It’s an atmosphere he can’t find anywhere else. “We’ve got to be able to wear a lot of hats and act on a dime,” he says. “I love the challenge of every day. Every day you go in thinking you know how it will go but then you start hitting curveballs. But I thrive on it; I love to problem solve.”
To find the success that Diamondback has done requires an awful lot of hard work, so it’s no surprise that Scott tends to work 16 – 17 hours a day. Indeed, the entire business structure of Diamondback Systems is directed towards energetic, motivated people who want to work hard and fast. “Our dispatch is like a mini stock market!” he says. “Lots of people busy, screaming, moving stuff around. It’s very high-paced.”
The hard work involved in being a driver and the time away from family that they must endure is part of the culture that Scott believes the industry is becoming slowly more aware of.
“It’s hard. I was a trucker first and I remember growing up when his dad working and away from home,” says Scott. “But I think each of us is getting better at tweaking our lanes so that we can get our drivers home a little more frequently. We’re all cognizant of the time at home and the importance of family for our truckers.”
Certainly, without drivers, the trucking industry would be in dire straits. Considering his own experience, Scott is sensitive to the sacrifices his drivers make. “Our drivers aren’t just drivers. They’re part of our community, part of our family, and we want them to enjoy quality home time.”
For the future, he intends to simply keep Diamondback Systems moving in the right direction. With a current fleet of 65 trucks roaming around the company’s niche market area of Odessa, Laredo, and El Paso, Diamondback Systems has grown rapidly in the last twelve months. Scott hopes for more to come.
For now though, he takes every day as it comes. “My job is shaking hands and kissing babies,” Scott laughs. And that is what he’ll continue to do.