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A Conversation With Two Men and a Truck Franchisee Bryan Gerstner and Ryder Business Development Manager Michael Cates

Bryan Gerstner discusses how Ryder’s truck-fleet management resources save him time and money, and the importance of trust in business, while Michael Cates weighs in on the unique scope of Ryder’s solutions.

A Conversation With Two Men and a Truck Franchisee Bryan Gerstner and Ryder Business Development Manager Michael Cates

Anyone who has moved into a new home or office knows how complicated that seemingly simple operation can be. Given the logistics (and stress) involved—choosing the right vehicle; gauging time and materials; managing unforeseen complications—it’s no wonder most of us hire professionals. For full-time movers like Bryan Gerstner, who runs Two Men and a Truck franchises in and around Kansas City, Missouri, the complexity is multiplied. Partnering with a transportation-solutions company like Ryder has been critical to his success.

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As Michael Cates, a business development manager at Ryder, points out, “Ryder consistently works with many of the biggest brands in the world, but more than 60% of our customers are small businesses. We know what they need to help them grow.”

Here, Gerstner discusses how Ryder’s truck-fleet management resources save him time and money, and the importance of trust in business, while Cates weighs in on the unique scope of Ryder’s solutions.

Bryan, you’ve been in the moving business for two decades. What’s the most significant change over the past 20 years?

Bryan Gerstner: Without a doubt, it’s how much higher the customer-service standard is. Back in 1996, when I started, the equipment that companies were using was not nearly as sophisticated as what we use today. We weren’t stretch-wrapping or shrink-wrapping every item on the truck. That sort of service is now standard. It’s included in our rate. Beyond that, our employee standards and the rules we follow, like pre-employment drug screening, background checks, Department of Transportation regulations—all of these things have combined to elevate the entire industry.

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It’s just a much better, much higher-quality product today. And on top of that, customers’ expectations are much higher. We pay very close attention to our referral rates, the satisfaction scores, and the feedback we get. Our minimum standard for customer satisfaction is a score in the upper nineties, out of a hundred. Back in the day, we were nowhere near that.

Michael, in what respect was Ryder able to provide genuine value to Two Men and a Truck right out of the gate?

Michael Cates: Well, first off, Ryder brings a level of know-how and a network of resources that would be virtually impossible for any customer to develop or match in-house. For Bryan’s business, specifically, we analyzed their needs and were able to draw on our own historical performance records of vehicles used in similar industry applications to develop the most efficient, reliable fleet specifications. Those included things like figuring out the most likely or useful truck manufacturers, engine types, transmissions, gear ratios, special body configurations, and other factors. And on top of that, we were able to optimize the reliability, cargo accessibility, and storage capacity in Bryan’s trucks.

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Bryan, what made you turn to an outside company to help manage your fleet? Why not keep it in-house?

BG: That’s always been the conversation internally. Do we own our own trucks? Or do we lease them from a provider? That debate still goes on today among our franchise owners. There’s a divide: Some people own, and some people lease. We’ve done both, and quite honestly, our first experience with a leasing company did not go very well at all.

What happened?

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BG: A leasing company—it was not Ryder, by the way—came in and sold us on the fact that they could take care of the maintenance work on our trucks. They’d file the required paperwork, they would deal with the DOT, they had the mechanics to keep the trucks in good running order—the whole deal. It sounded really good to have all of these costs and jobs rolled into one leasing agreement. But it was a constant battle. They wanted to nickel and dime us on invoices, and tried to charge us for maintenance issues that were not our responsibility. It was incredibly frustrating.

If that experience soured you on a partner, how did Ryder enter the picture?

BG: When I got involved with Ryder and met Michael [Cates], what they were offering was pretty similar. It was a package deal—they’d take care of all our maintenance, deal with DOT requirements. They’d handle that side of the business so I could focus on other things that would help us grow, like marketing. I was close to going back to owning and maintaining my own trucks, but I figured I’d give Michael a chance. About six months into the program, all the invoices were checking out, nothing was being charged back to us, and my managers told me that all the preventative maintenance schedules were being kept up. That was the “Aha!” moment for me. They were delivering on what they said they were going to do for us.

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You sound amazed that a company actually kept its word.

BG: [Laughs] Let me give you an example of why that matters. Six years ago, when the Great Recession hit, the housing and real estate markets came to a screeching halt. Now, because of our reputation and all the effort we had put into building a reliable business, we were lucky—we only lost half of our business. We went from running at a $4 million to $5 million clip down to $2.5 million, pretty much overnight. That is a big, big deal.

We had all of these trucks sitting in the parking lot with full-service contracts with Ryder, a lot of overhead that had to be maintained. What surprised me is that Ryder decided to get into the trenches with us and ride out the storm. We were able to maintain our entire fleet so that when we came out of the recession and the market bounced back, we didn’t miss a beat.

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Michael, what are some of the tangible on-the-ground benefits that partnering with Ryder brings to a franchise that other fleet-management or solutions companies might not offer?

MC: Certainly, one of the key benefits is that Ryder can extend the geographical service area of any company’s existing operations through our network of hundreds of service centers nationwide. But we also have roadside assistance capabilities and can provide replacement vehicles—as quickly as within two hours—to ensure reliable deliveries no matter how far a driver might be from the company’s home base of operations.

Bryan, now that the U.S. economy has by and large recovered, what’s the biggest challenge you face down the road?

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BG: The biggest issue I see all of us having to face in the next three to five years is inflation. There are a lot of forces driving up the cost of goods and services right now, and as those costs increase for businesses, they’ll get passed on to the consumer. So it’s inflation, and the expense of what we have to do to compete for quality labor. We need drivers to drive our trucks. But with raised standards, background checks, age requirements, and the like—and as legislators pass higher minimum-wage laws—we’re all competing for the same qualified employees. In the meantime, we’ll do what we’ve always done. We’ll keep moving forward.

Bryan Gerstner runs Two Men and a Truck franchises in and around Kansas City, Missouri.

Michael Cates is a business development manager at Ryder System, Inc.

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