How Three Freight Agents Found Their Path to Success
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In this episode, we’ve got a panel discussion on what makes for a successful freight agent. This conversation was recorded while up in Charlotte attending the annual agent conference hosted by Armstrong Transport Group. Three agents, Tony Orton, Pamela Mitchell, and Rod Clark all join the show to talk about what they looked for in an agent partner, where they struggle the most, and how future freight agents can vet their next partner. 


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Blythe Brumleve: 0:10

Welcome into another episode of the digital dispatch podcast. I'm your host Blythe Brumleve. And since July, I've been planning a road series to conduct interviews with everyone from executives to creators within the logistics industry, it's been a chance for me to move those digital first conversations that I've been doing over the last year, and cultivate those lessons learned in the digital first environment to an in person conversational environment. And the difference between the two has been dramatic. I sort of a peek behind my content creation workflow. I typically over prepare, like, by a lot. But what I quickly learned during this process is that interviews don't need to be as structured when you're sitting face to face with someone and simply having a conversation. All of this to say that conversations like what you're about to hear in this episode are as genuine as they come. No questions were off limits and no scripts were read just people within the freight world sharing their experiences that hopefully you can pull a little insight from and apply it to your business. In this episode, we got a panel discussion on what makes for a successful freight agent. This conversation was recorded while up in Charlotte attending the annual agent conference hosted by Armstrong transport group. Three agents Tony Horton, Pamela Mitchell and Rod Clark all joined the show to talk about what they looked for when looking for a freight agent partner, where they struggle with the most and how future agents can vet their next partner. Hope y'all enjoy. Alright, well welcome into another edition of cyber Lee hits the road. I'm your host Blythe Brumleve, owner of digital dispatch and today we have a very special panel with us. We were located in Charlotte North Carolina right now for the annual agent conference where Armstrong transport group and these are few of their Diamond Elite agents. Is that the right terminology I'm sure maybe all of us have been called up some better or worse names. But go ahead and introduce yourself in the name of your company and how long you've been in business.

Rob Clark: 2:22

My name is Rob Clark. name of my company is RC trans. I've been doing transportation brokering for over 10 years now and been with Armstrong for roughly six of those seven of those years. Nice.

Pamela Mitchell: 2:38

Pamela Mitchell PLM logistics and I've been in the freight business since 1997. So I think that gives me about 24 years and I've been with Armstrong for six years. Awesome.

Tony Horton: 2:50

My name is Tony Horton and with a bounce transport I started my career right after y2k in 2000 and awaited out before I jumped into this and four years ago we joined are started though with the with our Armstrong

Blythe Brumleve: 3:07

so when you all start with you first whenever you're making that decision to join an agent program, what kind of decision process does that look like? Are you looking for specific things pros cons

Tony Horton: 3:20

of course probably the top of the list is you look at what the commission levels are. Okay so what you pay is support staff and all of that behind the scenes is important but one of the big factors and actually I weighed three or four different companies and it narrowed it down to two and actually chose to go with network FOBT at the time and was with him for three years and then they went bankrupt alright so it was devastating because you know here we are just starting out from nothing. And and the reason we chose to go with network of FOB used the had a better software at TMS program. And they said they're just getting ready to launch a new okay a new software is coming out that never occurred with it. And Armstrong was very close second, but it was the ATMs that we chose to go with the with with FOB so that was a big factor how quickly to pay and support back office are good. And in that I actually did interview other agents that were with network fo B and Armstrong because that's really you want to weigh in on what the actual agents experiences.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:40

And Pam I see you shaking your head because you have sort of a similar history right

Pamela Mitchell: 4:44

I do. So I signed on with network FOB as well and I was with him for six years. And I chose to go with them because of also their ease their easy use of their system. The back Around the TMS, the the support that you felt initially, and the communication that I had with other FOB agents that really promoted, promoted their program. And it was great for a while, you know, it just there was a lot of empty promises. And eventually, you know, they they filed bankruptcy and went out of business.

Blythe Brumleve: 5:21

That's unfortunate. Yeah, but I mean, obviously, you chose Armstrong, maybe, because of the technology and because of the

Pamela Mitchell: 5:27

vacation. Yeah, and you know, I really probably should have given Armstrong more of a look at before I chose to go with FOB because their system is really easy to use, and their support on all levels is like was so much better, you know, their person to person. Availability, you know, the the fact that if I needed something they were they jumped on it, they were right there, and you talk to Thomas, it was Tom and Lauren, and Chris Cobb, they all three came up to see me actually in met me for lunch and talk to me about their program. And I was just kind of unsure, you know, it's scary to leave, it's really scary to leave your safe environment and try to get your customers to transition over to a new company. You know, so you weigh your options, and you take your chance. But you know, I wish I wish that I would have just gone with our son for sure. Right? And

Rob Clark: 6:22

what about you is sort of similar I was with a company that's still there and great company, I enjoyed working with them. But we did an outside agent program, then the state of Oregon came in and said, No, you guys aren't really independent contractors. And so they had no place to really bring us back into the office, we had to maintain an outside office and the commission structure was not beneficial to us being able to do both. So at that point, I started looking around, and I mean, you get on internet, truckstop or DHCP. And there's always the little header on the front, you know, it's like all these different agencies. So I started looking around, and I pulled up like 15 of them, and then started making the calls and going and going through each one of them, I got it down to about three, and the one that kept on coming back. And I had a lot of them calling me, after I made that initial contact, Hey, have you made a decision yet? Do you want to come with us come on board and like, hold on, slow down. And so there was like, some high pressure on some of this stuff. And every time I came back to Armstrong and talked with Tom Thomas, and, you know, he was just, just genuine was trying to push me and answered all my questions, and just real good to work with. And I think that personal touch was the thing that really brought me in, but then also the back the back room, you know, everybody behind the scenes, how they manage claims, you know, all those things, you know, were really important to me. And then of course, you know, the the commission, you know, that was top of the list, you know, and so they paid 75% some of the some of the places I talked to were like you could do 80%, but they didn't, you know, it was just some different things,

Blythe Brumleve: 7:56

but it cost me a

Rob Clark: 7:59

little smoke and mirrors. So he was like, Yeah, I'm strong to the one and I'm so thankful that I wound up with them.

Blythe Brumleve: 8:05

And between the three of you Why Why choose to be an agent, why not just go it alone and try that route? What Why choose to

Rob Clark: 8:14

look at initially, and there was $75,000 mind. And you know, I pulled up an MC number got on online to the whole thing. And I was like, but the fact that I wouldn't have the backing, you know, you have to have a presence in the market. And at least with Armstrong, it's like right now they're kind of 800 pound gorilla, you know, when when a carrier looks at how soon they get paid. And you know, like, Oh, I've done work with you guys for five years and they're like, they'll look at my load before they'll look at somebody that's not has that experience really makes a big difference

Tony Horton: 8:48

for me at least. Well, there's been countless times when my wife and I have had this conversation, you know, because we waited until the f2 we do this go out on our own we could do this but remember previous company that before network b i was also recharge of claims okay with claims it's it's quite ugly and you can lose many customers on a single train driver make an event mistake concession. So, we had some big customers that were lost due to claims and I realized that you know, you it since I've been on this side, you know, we have one customer that has $800,000 credit limit, okay, and my wife and I, we all make our own generic carry that we'd have sleepless nights, wondering what would occur if one little claim or whatever thing, whatever COVID or whatever. Yeah, they've always been generous in providing up in the credit limit and I've ever prior smaller company, you know, is like, oh my gosh, I'm gonna have to give my firstborn to get increased 10 loads here. I mean, credit equality, you need to pay they need to pay back when they're about 20 days out, you know, oh, yeah, beat them up for money and for sure. You don't have any of that. So it's been really refreshing to just do been increasing credit limits. And if you were carrying all that yourself, there's a level of

Rob Clark: 10:06

load or burden. The other thing about, you know, Armstrong at least is like, you know, I'll set a new customer. And it's like, we're kind of hesitant to give them a little wiggle room on that scale, you know, payment up front or credit card or something like that. And it's nice to know that, you know, they're kind of looking over your shoulder as well, too, because, you know, it's like, oh, I want to make money.

Pamela Mitchell: 10:27

So definitely, it would definitely cost you way more than the 20 25% to provide the attorney, the carrier department, the claims department, the customer service, the accounts receivable, everything that they do, for me to hire people in my own office to do those jobs, it would be a lot more than what their take is. And all I have to focus on is doing the sales and booking the loads and the customer service for my for my customers. And I mean, that's the key to having a growing your business and being a successful businesses is those things and

Blythe Brumleve: 11:03

I love that you brought that up, because it brings me to my next question that obviously that with outsourcing essentially do to another company, they get to take care of all of the things that you don't want to do. So now what do you what do you get to focus on that really lights up your day? Is it that customer service aspect? I mean, I'm sure most of the customer service, maybe not all of it. But what are the things can you focus on in your day to day job now that that time is freed up,

Pamela Mitchell: 11:27

like even the carrier relations, like building up the relationships with the carriers that I use on a regular basis, taking a little bit of more time to talk to them, finding out where they have trucks or where they're focusing their lanes, so I can try to figure out how that's going to help me. Besides just having the free time to work with my customers, I also work that side of it as well. And it's hugely beneficial. When you go into truck crunches, and there's no trucks available. You can call your carriers text your carriers that do the loads for you regularly in there available. You know, you have that relationship on on both sides. I think it's like super important. Absolutely.

Blythe Brumleve: 12:06

Especially from a relationship standpoint, are you guys finding that now with that freed up time that YouTube can can also focus on that relationship?

Rob Clark: 12:13

You know, it's, for me at least, it's been an interesting year, we've had to reduced availability, there's less drivers, things have kind of consolidated, there's a bottleneck of freight that's out there now. So that extra time is just being used right now to try to keep up. Keep the keep the wheels turning.

Blythe Brumleve: 12:34

And that's I think that that's an issue that most companies are facing right now. And it and because you brought up COVID, I tell me a little bit about how you're operating your business today versus 12 months ago, because I'm sure it's vastly different.

Tony Horton: 12:47

Well, having an office space, not all of us have office space, you have to have office space. And so we were able to work in an office environment, we started in our home, and then we expanded to an office. And with that, it allowed us to work from home. So there'll be money for the most part, then you get cabin fever, you get out of their wife's you get out here,

Rob Clark: 13:12

you work with all your family.

Tony Horton: 13:16

So it was interesting, too, to the three guys into my living room in my office, to sprint on my wife. I wanted my house back,

Pamela Mitchell: 13:28

I want you out of those pajamas.

Tony Horton: 13:32

Which you should be here. But she's decided to stay home. But anyway, with that being said, so it's changed a lot from not being in our home and moving into office. But we're the guys have the ability to work from home. That's a wonderful thing. And

Rob Clark: 13:47

I think that's the beauty of this job overall is that you can you know, work from remote, you can go to Charlotte. And you know, I had to do that yesterday and Lauren's office, I sat there for two hours, it didn't work, you know, but, you know, we do have that flexibility. And it is nice to be able to do that kind of thing. So

Blythe Brumleve: 14:04

that's I think you guys are a lot of you who are booking freight during a lot going on today. And so So tell me a little bit about how you're balancing the continuing education part versus the day to day business operation.

Rob Clark: 14:19

Okay. And I think your guys's presentation when you were up here earlier was amazing, because it is so true, that it's not something I know how to do. I mean, it's just it's not something I've had any real interest or knowledge and how to promote my business or promote my image my brand. And it's it's so true that that's the world we live in now. And so to have you guys say Hey, this is this is something that works this is going to be the future. And you know, with Armstrong, you know and the heavy push for technology, you know, those things are going to help us be better at what we do. And so yeah, I got on the LinkedIn and started doing stuff, just as I was sitting there listening to you guys.

Blythe Brumleve: 15:05

You're learning more about LinkedIn. And I love that. Yeah, that you tried it, especially after our talk with Chris jolly on the stage. And Brian is the CEO of Armstrong. And so what about you? What are you continuing education on? Or is it just in the in the day to day business?

Tony Horton: 15:22

Well, one of the things that touches on which I didn't answer that question, as far as, you know, what does it add to, to us, you know, this specialty, okay, if I was out on my own, there's one more point on that is that to invest in technology and learning that it's, we have people that are specialized in claims and marketing and, and all these things, and I even think of the company that I left that was with them for 15 years, they're not keeping up. And now they're becoming really a smaller, smaller brokerage in light of, of the companies that are investing in technology. And

Rob Clark: 15:57

I says, arms, I loved what what Brian said, you know, he says, You know, I, you know, I'm

Tony Horton: 16:02

doing well, what I do, but I hire people that are smarter than me. And that's what makes the whole thing that's more valuable than working on my having my own gig that I can beat on my chest and say, This is my Yeah, but I still found that fuel, it's ours, it's mine, my business, I have enough to do our own thing. And they leave us alone. Sometimes I did, they do just a great job of staying in touch with us and providing the tools that we need, and we can, we can grasp what we want and use what they have available. And sometimes you do have to jump in there get educated on the technology,

Rob Clark: 16:40

that's what I'm looking forward to checking out is the platform where they're going to have the education tools, you know, the training. And I know the last guy that I brought in that tried to get started off under in our office, and he utilized a lot of that. So it was helpful to him. And I think they've kind of brought that into something that's more usable for us.

Blythe Brumleve: 17:02

What about the continuing education? Are you guys building that into your workflows now? Or is it something that you come to some a conference like this, and that's where you learn, give us motivation.

Pamela Mitchell: 17:12

100%, like, because I realized today listening to the forum that I was just like, I'm kind of stuck in my in my way where I built, I built up the customers that I have, and I'm maintaining it, but realizing that there's so much more out there that I could be doing to increase my volume. And, you know, because I'm uneducated about it, and I don't really, I mean, I use it to the point, you know that I know how to use it, but there's so much more available. And this this, I mean, it will be a big tool for me to be able to like really learn and promote myself, my business, what I can do for my customers, not just my current customers, but new ones, to be able to get my name out there and get, you know, get more business

Blythe Brumleve: 17:55

in it. And you're referring to LinkedIn, right? Because I feel like that is the platform that either you are on it already and you are actively engaged. Or you're standing off and like who is LinkedIn like really that is going on?

Pamela Mitchell: 18:08

I've been spying on it for I can't even tell you probably since it started. But I thought it was more of like, you know, the only messages that I would get I felt like we're more for like dating. People tried to like, or other agents like agent companies like trying to pull you in. So I just ignored it right. And I don't really utilize it for all it could be used for

Blythe Brumleve: 18:27

it's definitely gotten better. I think over the last year, I think that that's where it you know, sort of the the logistics community, they lost a lot of those in person conferences, and LinkedIn became that catalyst for all these little groups to start.

Rob Clark: 18:39

Probably a bit of a catalyst from COVID to right became that platform where people met, you know, because they weren't doing it face to face.

Blythe Brumleve: 18:48

So are you Are you active on LinkedIn at all? No. I'll be looking for you later.

Tony Horton: 18:55

Of having two young boy, yeah. techie, they're all into this. So like, some of the things I divide and conquer, you know, this is what I'm good at. And this is what they're good at. So I just say, Here you go, run with it. And then I'll take this and take care of this part.

Blythe Brumleve: 19:12

I love it because that's where I got my start is my boss at the time and a three PL found out, you know what I was doing on the side? He said, Well, why don't you do that for our company and put the you know, the assistant in charge of doing all of those things. So I think that there's definitely some some value and letting someone who is a little bit more, I guess, adaptable for the new technology. It's, it's one of those new, you know, trying out new things they have the time for that, you know, most of us that are in business, it's one of those things where it's like do is this valuable or not? I'll move on to something else. But speaking of, of where you're going to invest your time, where do you see how your business is going to evolve after I wouldn't say after COVID Because we're still kind of in it. But now that we've kind of have a, I guess a steady or footing compared to a year ago where Do you see your business? I mean, obviously, you're laughing. So there's, that was way off.

Rob Clark: 20:05

As long as I've been in trucking, there's no nor there's no like, you know, it's always gonna be like this. And yes, this last year was it was a roller coaster ride, but, you know to say what it's going to be in the future will, you know, hopefully the bottleneck will kind of break loose and we'll see more drivers get in the field and, you know, things will kind of go back to normal. But, you know, you plan in advance at all and how far in dollars a gallon all of a sudden, it's like, yeah, okay, everything's out the window again. Yeah. Well,

Blythe Brumleve: 20:36

I mean, are you able to even set goals right now? Or is it incredibly challenging? Or you're you're kind of just going through the motions until maybe things?

Tony Horton: 20:44

Well, you learn, we learned, we all learned what was essential and what is not essential in this world? You know, and we get hit pretty hard, because our businesses that we were tied to were mostly on essential items. And so the rippling effect on that has still are spilling plan out. Yeah, absolutely. So then with that, on top of that, the impact on carriers, you know, the problem linked effect on carriers, availability, and capacity. And so when you find a truck, and the rate is here, where you're bidding custom paying here, in order to stay in the game, you know, you have some sense of compassion, you know, you've been charging a customer 950 7050. And you feel like mandatory reduce some of this thing, I'm going to reduce my margin. And because they finally found a truck I'm willing to cover for Yeah, it's a sense of, I'm trying to hang on to all I can, but it's had a greater price point that customers are having a hard time swallowing. So you're trying to maintain your trust in you and your pricing. And what you're trying to accomplish is,

Pamela Mitchell: 21:55

I think it's something that we've all kind of done is sort of given up a part of our piece, to kind of for the greater good to keep the freight moving to keep the food moving to keep the toilet paper moving. You know, we've all sort of had to evolve, and it's really a day to day, you just, I mean, you could wake up one day, and it's just totally different than it was yesterday. And it's it's it's volatile. And it's the the greed that we've seen has been it's been difficult. And it's hard to explain it to the end customer who's paying the bill. And you know, how it's going to affect the consumers in the end when they're going to buy a gallon of milk for $10. You know, and it's, it's been, there is no way to really plan and I think, yeah, I mean, in my 24 years, in this business, I've written the roller coaster quite a few times. I mean, there used to be a normal, a little bit of a normal, you know, spring and fall and winter. And, you know, we took our vacations in the winter, when it was slow. And, you know, we knew what to expect in the spring in the summer. And right now, it's just, it's really unpredictable. You take vacations over Christmas over Christmas, when there's like two

Blythe Brumleve: 23:08

people in the office. So last question, if you were to advise if somebody else was looking to become an agent, what would you tell them? Or would you do anything differently is as a piece of advice to get them to become an agent?

Unknown: 23:24

Asked agents. Yeah. Many agents, many agents that

Tony Horton: 23:29

were, you know, different companies, because it really gives you some insight and some quick questions. How are you paid, and some of the things that you go through when you look at this COVID one example, I have felt real confident that they are doing their analysis on credit checks. It's, uh, yeah, they reduced our credit, and many of our customers, thankfully, because some of them, you know, some of them had to fold. And I'm glad they were keeping. I'm trying to be paying attention to that. But that is another layer of of a burden of responsibility that is really crucial for us to survive as, as independent agents versus going out on our own and carrying that leather layer of responsibility that could crush you.

Rob Clark: 24:18

So your question again, was more about somebody coming into the industry or

Blythe Brumleve: 24:22

to come into the industry? What advice would you give them to do something differently than maybe maybe you started out and you wish you would have known this when you first

Rob Clark: 24:31

Yeah, technology? I mean, we were just talking about jokingly earlier is like, when I started we were faxing paperwork, yeah.

Pamela Mitchell: 24:38

And there was no barely even email. Right.

Rob Clark: 24:40

And so that that's, it's so far removed from where we are today to listen to how you guys said, Hey, if you if you put something out there, it's working for you. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, you know, and it's like, that's not just a cold call. That's not picking up the phone. That's what I started doing. So yeah, somebody's coming into it now. It's it would be, it'd be a different it'd be different thing,

Blythe Brumleve: 25:03

different investment, probably more on the content side and prioritizing that instead of making those 100 cold calls. Exactly.

Rob Clark: 25:10

You know, and, and I think, you know, that's probably you, Tony and I were talking about that it's like hiring people now that are maybe younger savvy, or that know how to do that stuff that's natural to them to, you know, work from that place. And, you know, yeah, that's, I think they probably teach me more than I can teach them

Pamela Mitchell: 25:30

become a Netflix instead of a blockbuster.

Blythe Brumleve: 25:33

That's a great analogy. And what what piece of advice would you give somebody coming into the game? Um,

Pamela Mitchell: 25:38

for me, as far as like choosing an agency, I would say, to look at, you know, a lot of people come into this business because of the financial ability, but it's not just the financial standpoint, it's, you know, who's got your back? Who's going to be there? Who's gonna support you? How easy is it is to use their system? You know, how much free time do they allow you to just do what you do best, which is, you know, the relationships with your customers and the relationships with the carriers and moving the freight versus worrying about so much about a claim or accounts receivable or payable? You know, it's, you know, it's just a lot more than than the money part, it's the overall lifestyle part. Like how much free time are they going to allow you to be able to take a vacation, take a day off? Or, you know, it's,

Blythe Brumleve: 26:32

it's using the power of the network? Exactly. I think that that that's where the common theme weighing your, you know, all of your points is, is really the power of the network technology and communications and being able to do what you do best. Alright, well, where can folks follow more of your work? I'll start with you folks follow more of your work your company website, social media channels. We got to work on that.

Rob Clark: 26:57

You guys go whoa.

Unknown: 27:00

I gotta get with the program. Please tell

Blythe Brumleve: 27:02

people your business name. So then that way or to tell them again where they can

Rob Clark: 27:07

go look up my name right.

Blythe Brumleve: 27:15

Well, we'll add that into the later life that and maybe later on.

Pamela Mitchell: 27:24

PLM logistics, and I have a Facebook page that's kind of tied to Armstrong. So I don't really I'm I'm so like old school. I just people just know me. And I get I get business leads from other people that have used me referrals. And so yeah, it really is. But I definitely need to look up and start doing a little bit more myself.

Tony Horton: 27:50

I'm gonna bounce transport. Here again, relying on my two boys, that, in fact, just this last week, my son TJ, we just mentioned about how he gets tweaking on our website. And by golly, you got a website. That's wow.

Unknown: 28:12

Oh, Tony, TJ

Blythe Brumleve: 28:17

I appreciate all of your time today and your perspective. Glad to hear that sort of a more of a deeper dive into what makes what drives those agents decisions on who you go with and why or why not you make those decisions. So thank you again for your time today. Thank you I hope you enjoyed this episode of the digital dispatch podcast. As always, you can find each show I publish along with more insight over on my website, digital If you liked this podcast, and I think you'll love another show that I host cyber li which covers the attention economy b2b Marketing Tech and how it all ties into the world of logistics. That show airs every Thursday from two to 3pm. eastern standard time live on freightwaves. TV. There are also some links to my social media accounts along with my products and services that might be of interest to you. You can find them in the show notes or again overall my website at Digital If you found this episode interesting and or entertaining, be sure to share it with your friends. Word of mouth is the best kind of marketing and since podcast discoverability has and remains an issue in this medium. I trust and rely on folks like yourself that will share it with those who would also find it useful. Until next time, my name is Blythe Brumleve and I will see you real soon.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.