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Robert Low
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
Robert Low

2019 Dynamic Dozen Judges’ Choice: Prime Inc.

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Springfield Business Journal: What has been key to your recent growth?
Darrel Hopkins: One, there was a regulatory change in December 2017 requiring electronic logging devices that thinned some competition out. More importantly, it restricted the productivity of all trucking companies. It’s just part of the laws of supply and demand. Because of the shortage, rates pushed higher, and that really created the right environment for trucking companies to grow.

The other thing: We pay our drivers dramatically different. In our company, because most of our drivers are independent contractors, they get a percentage of revenue – actually 72% of revenue. That is a powerful model for us, and drivers recognized that.

SBJ: What are your top issues when it comes to managing growth?
Hopkins: If you add drivers too fast without the capacity to support them, they will not be getting as much from their truck as before. We don’t want to outgrow the amount of freight that’s out there. Also, we’re tightening our standards to say who is going to drive for us. That’s unusual in trucking. We are making sure we have the best candidates available to run a safe and profitable business.

We also keep growing out of our buildings, so we’re strategizing on how and where to accommodate in-house growth. We added office space two years ago, and it was a five-10 year plan. We’ve already filled it up.

SBJ: What has the company’s growth enabled you to do?
Hopkins: We have realized a greater ability to leverage ourselves with suppliers and vendors, so we get better pricing for drivers. We’ve been able to add amenities for our drivers including a new plaza facility and a body shop for repairs. On the innovative front, we are about to open our own tire recycling facility. We used to send 60,000 tires to the dump. Now, we will repurpose those tires into mulch, outdoor pavement and other things that beautify the area.

SBJ: Is your fast growth sustainable? 
Hopkins: It’s interesting. I started here 23 to 24 years ago. Prime has grown every year I’ve been here. Some of those years, the economy was not very nice, yet we still grew.

It’s an entirely different thing to grow at $2 billion in annual revenue. We’re projecting 10% to 11% growth again. Double digits will be hard to maintain at our size. But I think we’ll grow strongly for many years. Part of it is because we continue to look for new avenues. We started out in the refrigerated business, then added flatbed, tanker and intermodal, which is on the rail.

SBJ: Is there such a thing as growing too fast?
Hopkins: Growth percentage will slow. But I see us continuing to find opportunities. Our culture is one of ownership and entrepreneurship. That’s the type of people we hire. As proof of that, the idea of the tire repurposing facility came from one of our accountants. He did the research, budget, etc., and proved it was a concept that would benefit the company and the area. Now, he’s running it. Our structure is flat. Every one of our salaries is based on some sort of incentive component. It’s like being an owner. You make good decisions; you get rewarded.

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