How the Big Dogs Eat

Humble beginnings, pivotal moves, innovative ideas, Ozarks values and even near-disastrous mistakes pepper the backstories of six local companies that just won’t quit. Take an inside look at how they’ve become unstoppable.

(page 6 of 7)

Prime Inc. was founded by Robert Low in 1970 with a single truck. Today the transportation industry giant has more than 9,000 team members and $1 billion-plus in revenue. Controller Darrel Hopkins shares five pivotal actions that made Prime the success it is today.

When:1981

What: Prime filed bankruptcy after it couldn’t cover the debt service when interest rates skyrocketed.

Result: Bankruptcy gave birth to Prime’s employee-ownership business model. After bankruptcy, Low hired independent contractors to haul freight. From there the notion of employee ownership spread to in-house team members. “They created, effectively, an incentive program and a model that said, ‘You’re an owner, and we’re truly empowering you,’” Hopkins explains. “That’s really the model that we’ve built on from that day.” 

The Takeaway: A sense of ownership motivates associates to help the company succeed.

"They created, effectively, an incentive program and a model that said, ‘You’re an owner, and we’re truly empowering you,’”—Darrel Hopkins, Prime Inc. controller

When:1993

What: Prime established its affiliate company, Success Leasing.

Result:Success Leasing provides new tractor trucks for lease to drivers. Many independent contractors owned old, beat-up equipment or had no equipment. Success Leasing created an easier entrance into the business, Hopkins says, by providing new equipment for no money down.

The Takeaway: Sometimes you must invest money to save money. Success Leasing helped Prime improve its service and grow business by attracting more independent drivers, reducing the cost of maintenance and creating more consistency in truck load weights, all economically beneficial to the company.

Prime Inc.’s Triple Crown Detail Shop began in 1999.

When: 2000

What: Prime invested more than $9 million to construct its Millennium building.

Result: In the building, associates and drivers enjoy in-house services including a fitness center, hair salon, doctor’s office, movie theater, cafe, day care, convenience store, laundry service, post office and even driver bunk rooms. Leadership at Prime recognized they needed to show drivers and associates how much they were valued in terms of job satisfaction, retention, health and increased production. Hopkins says the investment has paid off triple what they put into it. 

The Takeaway: Companies are short-sighted if they don’t factor in soft benefits, including job satisfaction and increased productivity, of investing in their people.  

 

When: 2002–2007

What: Prime acquired Roccor International, a trucking company out of Oklahoma, and four other companies.

Result: These purchases significantly impacted revenue and accelerated growth to Prime’s current size. 

The Takeaway: Lessons from the first acquisition led Prime to establish better methods to assimilate new associates into company culture. Among them are sending a welcome team to provide information about Prime, establishing a three-day orientation, honoring a standing program if it’s better than Prime’s for the remainder of a driver’s career and keeping a team on-site for several months to ensure a smooth transition.

Prime’s drivers use three types of trucks, tankers (seen here), flatbeds and reefers.

When: 2009–2010

What: The Prime Student Driver (PSD) program was established.

Result: New independent drivers were training at poorly run truck driving schools that provided little time on the road, Hopkins says. The PSD program helps drivers get their commercial driver’s license and learn to operate a truck to Prime’s standards. They get hours behind the wheel in simulators and are matched with experienced drivers for five weeks of on-the-road training. The school is free if drivers work for Prime at least a year.

The Takeaway: When external resources don’t meet basic necessary standards, developing an in-house solution could be more cost-effective and produce better results. Before PSD, Prime spent millions to attract drivers and pay for external training. By offering a better opportunity, Prime gets quality drivers, reduces costs and keeps money spent within their own company. “It’s probably been one of the most important programs we put in place in our company,” Hopkins says. “We wouldn’t be the size we are today without it.”

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