Dreams can be realized in unexpected ways.
Wilson Logistics Inc. owner Darrel Wilson had his dream flipped on its head. At the ripe age of 20, he wanted to be an over-the-road driver. Instead, he did one better.
“I bought my first truck in 1980,” he says. “I was 20 years old and my desire was to hop in my truck and go trucking on the highway.”
Only problem, the Missouri Department of Revenue only issued commercial driver’s license to those 21 and older.
His dream forked while working at the MHC Kenworth Springfield dealership.
“A good used truck came in, and I scraped enough money together to buy it and hired a driver to drive it and figured when I turned 21, I’d hop on it and take off,” he says.
By the time he hit the legal driving age, Wilson owned three trucks. In an age before cellphones, Wilson says it was tough to manage all three. “I never got to take off on a big, long over-the-road career, but I spell my drivers when they need time off,” he says.
Wilson Logistics started in a shop off West Division Street, with Wilson maintaining his trucks and servicing others throughout the 1980s. By 1990, he owned 15 trucks.
The company basically acquired one truck at a time, growing to 100 by 2000 and north of 150 by 2009.
Then the Great Recession hit. Wilson waited it out and saw opportunities in trucking companies consolidating.
In the last four years, Wilson acquired two Missoula, Montana, companies – Jim Palmer Trucking Inc. and RJ’s Transportation – along with O&S Trucking Inc. and Haney Truck Line LLC in Yakima, Washington.
No slowing down
The over-the-road trucking company now has 800 trucks and generated revenue of $160 million last year. The next step is facility expansion for its large fleet.
“We’re in the beginning stages of developing a new terminal in Strafford,” Wilson says of his $7 million-$8 million development plan.
The company owns 100 acres off of Interstate 44 near Camping World, where Wilson plans to break ground in the spring. He’s hired Slone Architects & Interior Designers Inc. as project architect but not yet selected a general contractor.
“To start off, it’ll be 35,000 square feet for the administration building, some shop buildings and cafeteria,” Wilson says of the project expected to wrap up in summer 2020. “We’ll have a nice trucking community out there.”
The new development fits into Wilson’s plans for growth through internal training programs. “We’re really strongly focusing on organic growth within our company,” he says, noting it’s a way to combat the industry challenge of a shortage of drivers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ last 10-year outlook, employment in the trucking sector is expected to grow at a slower rate than the average for all occupations – 4 percent compared with 7 percent – through 2026.
Out of the company’s five offices nationwide, Wilson Logistics operates training programs on-site in Springfield and Montana.
“We vet candidates for our training program very closely,” Wilson says. “We want to make sure they’re a good fit for our industry and us and a good fit for them.”
The program pairs prospective drivers with a CDL instructor and puts them on the road for three weeks to prepare for the CDL test. If passed, the new driver spends 30,000 miles on the road with a trainer before becoming a full-time company driver with the option to lease a truck.
Wilson says 60 percent of the company’s drivers pass the test on the first attempt. “We treasure the ones we train,” he says.
Drivers for the company travel about 75 million miles annually, Wilson says. Wilson Logistics has over 1,000 employs, including 600-650 workers in Springfield, most of whom are drivers. Other offices are in Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
With hundreds of drivers, Wilson says the best way to stay in touch is through social media.
“It is vital to us,” Wilson says. “We’ve got a lot of young folks in these doors and in our trucks and that’s how they relate. It’s a great way to talk to our drivers. What better way than Facebook Live to reach out to our drivers all at one time.”
The company uses social media to hold safety meetings, for instance.
Another culture-building aspect, drivers can propose philanthropic ideas for the company to support. Recently, Wilson drivers have delivered Christmas trees with the Boy Scouts in the Washington market.
“Those opportunities sort of pop up around wherever we are and some are driven and organized by the company and a lot of them are brought to us by our own drivers,” says Michael Ensminger, the company’s marketing manager.
Wilson has four children involved in the business: Tyler manages maintenance and road assistance for breakdowns, Lisa manages the Springfield recruiting department, Kirk is a sales coordinator and load planner in Pacific, Washington, and Kameron is vice president in Washington.
One of his vendors, Glenn Larson of The Larson Group, has seen those kids mature after decades of business dealings. “It’s been interesting seeing his company grow and watching his family grow up,” Larson says.
The relationship was born when Larson bought the local Peterbilt dealership in 1988 and called on Wilson for business.
“On a daily basis, they’re one of our largest customers in Missouri,” Larson says, noting Wilson buys trucks and parts from him and also schedules repairs.
Wilson says he replaces about 200 in the fleet each year.
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