What John Phillips says to every new driver who comes on board with Builders Transportation is something he says with great pleasure.
“When drivers are about to be sent off on their first delivery, I tell them to remember our DOT number — 0000531. Then I tell them to look at all the other trucks at a fuel station, or truck stop, and look at their DOT numbers.”
Numbers tell a lot. For one thing, they tell a story.
“Our DOT number is a tremendous source of company pride,” says John, son of founder Frank Phillips Sr. and CEO of the company. “And we want it to mean as much to our drivers as it means to my dad, my brothers and all those who have worked with us over the decades.”
For John, 0000531 translates to both longevity and success. Only 530 other carriers had been issued DOT numbers before Builders Transportation received theirs back in 1954. Moreover, only a handful of those companies still exist today.
“Most carriers have DOT numbers in the millions,” says Frank Phillips, who, at the age of 85, serves as CEO emeritus of Builders Transportation.
He works closely with his three sons — Frank Jr., John and Gene. Frank Jr. now serves as vice president of sales while Gene takes over as COO. Frank Sr.’s sons first came onboard during the late 70s and early 80s, and each graduated from the University of Mississippi with a business or marketing degree.
“We may have gotten our business degrees from the university, but we all got our logistics degree from our dad,” jokes Frank Jr., vice president of sales. “We all cross-trained at the company, working in dispatch, operations and sales. This way we’re following in our dad’s footsteps. He knows all the aspects of the business.”
Headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, Builders Transportation is the newest Daseke company. And, like many of its fellow Daseke operating companies, everything that’s helped make Builders Transportation such an exceedingly well-run business has deep roots in its family-first culture.
Having four family members involved in the day-to-day operations of a large company might seem like a recipe for family feuds. Not the case with the Phillips clan.
“In all the years we’ve worked together, we’ve always shared the same vision and beliefs on how to run the company,” says Frank Sr. “The boys have always been 3-0 in votes, and we’ve never been split on decisions. We support each other and work together with a common goal. I think that speaks volumes.”
Don Daseke, CEO of Daseke, clearly agrees.
“I first met the Phillips family back in 2014,” he recalls. “They immediately impressed me with their culture and way of doing business. We’ve stayed in touch, and I couldn’t be happier that time was now right for them to join Daseke. Each will make the other stronger.”
The story of Frank Phillips Sr. and Builders Transportation begins in 1961. Just a day shy of his 28th birthday, Frank purchased the company from Melvin Rutherford. Frank was already a small (three-truck) fleet operator who was making a name for himself. So, when Melvin started experiencing health issues at age 46, he decided to sell the company and its six trucks to a proven commodity: Frank.
“With nine trucks, I thought we were pretty big at the time,” Frank Sr. recalls with a chuckle. “We had limited authority in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas hauling concrete pipe. But flatbed was pretty fragmented, and our competition wasn’t that great.”
Growth for Builders Transportation took off in 1980 thanks to deregulation.
“At the time, our annual revenue averaged between $5 million and $7 million,” recalls Frank Sr., “but, after deregulation, our numbers grew fast.”
The company was also already well established with steel haulers and active in ex-barge operations. Loads would be floated down the Mississippi River, then transferred to flatbeds at the Port of Memphis for short-haul deliveries.
As Frank Sr. explains, “once we were free to truck in all 48 states, our business grew like wildfire. Our relationships with the steel companies allowed us to start running long-haul freight for them. Today, aluminum and steel represent about 60 percent of our business.”
With a fleet of more than 300 company trucks, nearly 500 48-foot spread-axle trailers and around 15 owner-operators, Builders Transportation now also services the oilfield/energy sector and the building products industry.
Perhaps most importantly, Builders Transportation has always been committed to its drivers.
“They are the heart of our business, and many have been with us for decades,” explains Frank Jr. “We offer what we feel is the best pay package in the industry and provide our drivers either pay per mile or a percentage of the load. (Most of them have opted for the percentage package.) We also are very conscious of home time. For those who want to get home for the weekends, we’ve always made that a priority. Our philosophy on our loads and lanes is: Choose what’s best for you and we will make it work.”
That collaborative, can-do attitude is reinforced during Builders Transportation’s new driver orientation. Once training is complete, John and Gene take the new drivers out to lunch, connecting with them on a personal level and answering any questions they might have about the company’s culture.
“We often have drivers say, ‘I’ve never had lunch with owners before,’” says Gene, who serves as Chief Operating Officer for the company. “It’s our way of showing that we’re truly vested in their success. We want to show them that we’re here to work with them and help make them more successful. We know that if they’re successful driving for us, we’ll be successful as a company.”
Proof of that success is provided by the multitude of Carrier of the Year awards the company has received. Alcoa, American Cast Iron Pipe Company, IPSCO and MRC are just four of the major industry players that have recognized Builders Transportation over the past several years.
Like other companies that have recently joined the Daseke family, Builders Transportation was never for sale.
“Over the years, we’ve had companies approach us, but we never took any of that seriously — we didn’t want to give up what we’ve built,” says Frank Sr. “We have a long history and are very protective of our heritage. We have people here who have been with us their entire career.”
“But whenever we talked with Don over the years, it was different,” adds John. “What he and his team were building was special and built on the Berkshire Hathaway business model. You work with already successful companies, not companies in distress, then let them continue doing what they’re doing while offering resources to help them grow and prosper even further. That business model made sense to us, and it’s ultimately why we decided to join Daseke.”
Gene is also quick to point out the other benefits of this move.
“The list of operating companies we’re joining reads like the ‘who’s who’ in flatbed and specialized trucking,” he says. “We’re looking forward to sharing best practices and comparing notes on business strategy with our new sister companies. It’s quite a brain trust. The consolidated purchasing power of Daseke Fleet Services is also very compelling. That will help us reduce our costs and make us even stronger.”
Frank Sr. sums up the illustrious past, exciting present and bright future of Builders Transportation quite succinctly.
“My daily business is: Watch over our customers, watch over our money and watch yourself,” he says. “Those principles have served us well. As we enter a new chapter with Daseke, we’re looking forward to enjoying new opportunities and being part of a very special organization that will foster our growth.”