For Stevens Trucking, success is all about balance
In business, the hardest times teach the greatest lessons. When Kenney Stevens founded the trucking company that bears his family name, the cyclical nature of the energy industry and the challenges of running an oilfield delivery business collided to give him the ultimate masterclass in successfully navigating uncertainty.
The complexities of dealing with hard assets, managing equipment financing, and staying afloat during booms and busts served his new company well, and set the stage for over 40 years of success regardless of market conditions.
“That really taught us a lot of lessons as a family, and as management we were able to be successful through trying times because we cut through all the cycles of the boom and bust,” said Cole Stevens, Vice President of Sales for Stevens Trucking. “That helps us to stay even keel because if the markets we serve fall flat on their faces, they'll bounce back. Managing our business in a proper manner like that really prepared us for all the years that we've gone through those cycles.”
It also prepared them to respond to the pressures of the pandemic and leverage their expertise in new directions. Before the crisis emerged, company leadership had been making plans to widen their scope to add dry freight services in addition to their oilfield specialties. As with many businesses, the emergency presented an opportunity for the Oklahoma firm to kick start their plans. Being well capitalized and poised to scale made the accelerated diversification possible.
Stevens now transports goods for the e-commerce, retail, consumer paper goods, and food and beverage sectors as well as the oilfields. While general freight hauling only makes up a small percentage of their mix of capabilities, the routine nature of serving industries less affected by cyclical disruptions acts as a stabilizer that will keep the company moving into the future.
“These sectors may not be like the oilfield, where you jump in and try to expand your margins during boom cycles, but we’re perfectly OK with that. We love the steady longevity of these types of sectors,” Stevens said. “We feel we are an incredibly steady company, moving forward and poised for good organic growth.”
A knack for asset optimization also helps keep the company on solid ground. The Stevens fleet is made up of over 300 tractors and more than 1500 53-foot air-ride dry vans, and has made several investments in new technologies for them. One such investment is trailer tracking technology.
“We have a very high truck to trailer ratio because we have a lot more trailer pooling and drop and hook freight, and in order to get those drivers turned and get them the mileage that they want to see so they can get the pay to take home, we’ve really invested in trailer tracking assets,” Stevens explained. In addition to enabling the company to optimize their assets within their network, it allows them to keep drivers and loads moving efficiently.
The technology brings a hefty customer benefit as well. Because the tracking software is installed in the trailer, customers have complete visibility and accurate information about one of their greatest concerns: the movement of their commodities.
Making smart capex investments in down cycles is a testament to the organization’s resilience during juddering market phases that cause “wag the dog” effects. “The market is kind of a tail. Sometimes it wags us a little bit and we have to adjust, and we just go about it with our best projections, always looking for longevity for the company and our employees,” he stated.
In addition to diversifying their customer base, the company takes a belt-and-suspenders approach to ensuring that shipments move effectively, monitoring lane density. “If you’re going into Chicago and a load cancels, you still have a load to pick up out of Chicago.” Stevens said. “You always have to have a backhaul matched up to that front haul if you’re going to turn any type of profit in a dedicated space. You have to make sure you’ve got enough loads going in to hedge your volumes.”
When drivers have a lane they like, the company works hard to accommodate their preferences. “I think we do a really good job at adjusting to that,” he added. “We’ll do everything we can to make sure that those drivers are running that lane or a mix of that lane they want.”
Clearly, the lessons Kenney Stevens learned the hard way back in the day are supporting his company as it moves towards the future.
Balance and the family business
“This is legitimately the only place we’ve ever worked,” the youngest Stevens son quipped, speaking of his family’s devotion to the company. His father’s love of the trucking business was an easy bug for his kids to catch, and together they represent more than 100 years of combined industry experience. Kenney continues to helm the operation, his eldest son Chad oversees freight operations, middle son Eric manages the drivers and recruiting, and daughter-in-law Jessi heads up the accounting department. Cole is the company’s VP of sales, and the youngest of the Stevens brood.
The family’s love of the road attracts employees that share their passion. In 2021, The Oklahoman named Stevens Trucking one of the best places for workers, especially those looking to build a long-term career. Stevens has the receipts to prove it, with employees that have worked for them over generations. (Kenney’s executive assistant has been by his side for four decades.)
That blend of hard-won experience and youthful enthusiasm is a point of pride for the family. “We’re here to stay and to continue on our organic growth path,” Stevens stressed. “We’re always making decisions for the long-term betterment of our people because we all want what my dad has had, which is people who have stuck by his side for 40 years. That’s very special.”
Work-life balance has a lot to do with that specialness. Today’s truckers are looking for opportunities that give them more time at home. In recent years, the need for home time has become the second most important aspect of employee retention; the first, of course, is good pay. Stevens offers both.
“That’s a huge generational shift from somebody in my dad’s generation. They were always ‘live to work’ and the younger generation is more ‘work to live.’ They want to be home, and they want to see their family more. That’s a huge expectation that we’ve tried to lean into,” Stevens revealed.
“Obviously, pay is No. 1, they want to be compensated for their value and I always think that has to be fair. We’ve never shied away from that, but home time is one of the biggest changes in the industry that we’ve seen.”
Today’s trucking industry is changing rapidly, and that suits the company just fine. “We are very happy that times are changing, and they’re changing for the better ultimately, and there’s more transparency from the companies themselves,” said Stevens.
Kenney has imbued the business with a sense of deep and abiding gratitude. In a tough industry that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the entire year, that acknowledgement makes a tremendous difference in the lives of employees and inspires the Stevens family to keep growing and striving for excellence.
That appreciation also extends to their customers and vendors. “We appreciate everyone that comes across our path,” the youngest Stevens concluded. “We’re just incredibly blessed and fortunate. Covid brought that even more to the forefront of all our minds. Things can always be worse, so really enjoy and appreciate what you have today because it can change very quickly.”
Founded with a single 1-ton hotshot truck, Stevens Trucking grew from that small oil industry operation to the shipping giant we know today.
Created to provide service to the oilfield industry, Stevens moved into the dry freight business when oil prices hit $8/barrel.
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Now operating over 300 power-units and 1,000 trailers, Stevens Trucking can take on your shipping challenges with ease.