Freedom Transportation has achieved huge growth in a few short years. Dan and Natasha Shirey share their business’s road map.
Natasha and Dan Shirey don’t have typical resumes for the owners of a trucking business. She’s a former fashion buyer who used to operate a daycare. His background is in IT, with time spent in the military and as an actor.
In just three years, though, the Olathe couple has grown Freedom Transportation from a single-truck operation earning less than $100,000 a year to a small fleet that employs 10 people and is on pace to generate $1.5 million by the end of 2016.
“We have no background in transportation,” she said. “None. It’s one of those stories where, if someone else would tell me about it, I would say there’s no way that happened.”
The Shireys got their start by purchasing an existing business and its contract with FedEx and, through hard work and reinvestment, gradually added trucks and routes for other high-profile clients like Target.
Recently, they participated in ScaleUP! Kansas City, an elite training and mentoring program offered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City Innovation Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration. The free four-month program is designed to help smaller companies “get over the hump” and hit $1 million or more in annual revenues.
Natasha and Dan shared three lessons that have driven their company’s growth.
Everything Starts With People
While Dan Shirey holds a commercial driver’s license, the Shireys rely on their team of drivers to make all the company’s deliveries. A lot of Freedom Transportation’s success hinges on its employees, so the couple treats drivers with as much care and respect as they do their customers.
Because Freedom’s jobs can take drivers away from their families for days at a time, “it takes a special person,” Natasha Shirey said. “It’s very hard to find someone that lasts in that position.”
So the Shireys try to show appreciation, whether it’s through the homemade cookies that she and the kids make every Christmas or the new TVs being installed in the trucks’ sleeper cabs.
“That’s kind of been our key,” Dan Shirey said. “I’m the backup to our backup. We have a part-timer, but if that part-timer needs time off, I can always hop in the truck.”
To make it easier for potential drivers to find them, they recently created a website where job seekers can learn more about Freedom Transportation.
The Shireys know their drivers appreciate them, too. Their most recent hire brought them a cake made by his cake-decorator fiancee. The dessert was strawberry-filled and decorated with trucks. “We have people who say, ‘This is the best place I’ve ever worked,’” Natasha Shirey said.
Outsource What You Can
Natasha has the skills to handle practically every chore on the management side of the business—which, by the way, involves a ton of paperwork related to transportation regulations. Dan, in addition to coordinating drivers, took responsibility for driving trucks to the mechanic and the wash.
But juggling all those jobs didn’t leave them much time to do anything else. “It was just too much,” she said.
The mentors at ScaleUP! showed the Shireys that they could hire experts to run background checks on drivers and manage Freedom’s payroll. And they paid one of their employees more to start helping with some of Dan’s maintenance chores. It’s reduced their stress level and allowed them to spend more time on their family and planning for the business.
Always Keep One Eye on the Future
Some of that extra time is going to the Shireys’ new business, ASC. (It’s an acronym for the couple’s kids: Ashton, Sophia and Christian.)
While Freedom Transportation will deliver all over the country, ASC focuses on “home daily” routes that allow drivers to stay local and sleep in their own beds every night.
The new business is just a couple months old, but it already looks like a hit. For one thing, it’s even easier to hire drivers for these routes. When the Shireys advertised ASC’s first position, they received 50 queries in the first day. A typical Freedom route might attract a couple job seekers.
Natasha and Dan had been mulling over the idea for ASC for a while, but ScaleUP! helped them crystallize the concept. The program also led them to work with an accountant and put together a five-year projection of the company’s finances. It’s given them a road map for adding trucks and a better idea of how each new addition could fuel their growth.
Running their own business has demanded sacrifices, the Shireys said, but it’s also allowing them to give their kids a better life. Natasha Shirey points to a photo on the wall—a picture from a family vacation. When they gave a presentation on the new business, they made sure to include that photo of the kids, too.
“That’s why we do everything,” Natasha Shirey said, “to have family time.”