Tom Schilli isn’t one to be the first to boast, but he does like to make one thing clear. “Our success is driven by our daily execution,” he says. “Our business is based on providing total transportation solutions. Our sales force is focused on distribution. Schilli has a foundation of offerings to support our customers with many different specialized services.”
Tom has enjoyed a lifetime of commitment in the trucking industry, where the word “family” has always been present. He was very excited about his decision to join the Daseke family of open-deck specialized carriers.
“My father, Ben Schilli, formed Schilli Motor Lines in 1961 by purchasing two ICC regulated carriers established in the mid-1940s. I first joined our family trucking operation in the mid-1960s,” he recalls. “I had helped my father in the summers and after school — and observed my brother, who had a great influence on me, as I grew in the industry. In 1968, at the age of 22, I joined the company full time and in the early 1970’s I purchased the company.”
Under its early operating authority, Schilli Motor Lines hauled dry and liquid bulk fertilizer products and building materials.
Before Tom took over, Schilli Motor Lines consisted of five owner-operators and eight semi-trailers. He grew the business by landing two accounts — GAF, a roofing manufacturer, and U.S. Gypsum — two accounts Schilli still serves to this day. GAF and U.S. Gypsum became the cornerstones for Schilli’s flatbed trucking operation.
“In the early days, we had to rely on our owner-operators and their trucks to provide the power units,” Tom says. “We couldn’t get the financing we needed to buy our own trucks because many banks just weren’t interested in loaning money to a 28-year-old who’s running the company. Today, that problem’s been solved.”
After nearly 50 years at the helm, Tom has watched as Schilli’s trucking operation has grown to a fleet of 365 power units and 750 trailers. Schilli’s trucking operation offers services through three operating divisions — Schilli Transportation Services, Schilli Specialized, and Schilli Distribution, which provides warehousing and logistics with six warehouses and distribution centers located throughout the Eastern half of the United States. The warehouses range in size from 46,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet.
Tom also operates Schilli National Lease, a National Lease franchise operating 10 locations in five states, providing long-term leases and daily rentals not only to the company’s trucking operation but also to other companies.
Schilli’s warehousing logistic opportunities began in 1993 when Caterpillar became a cornerstone customer. “We invested $6 million in a state-of-the-art warehouse with cranes to handle the engines manufactured by the Caterpillar engine division,” Tom says. “It was a great opportunity and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to fill their needs. Our warehouse provided an excellent base of operations where we could consolidate various sizes of Caterpillar engines for delivery to customers across the United States — and to Caterpillar dealers in the U.S., Europe and around the world.”
The Caterpillar operation started in Lafayette, Indiana, with one warehouse. By 2011, Schilli Distribution was managing shipping for three Caterpillar plants. “Today, at the Port of Savannah, we operate a 156,000 square-foot facility that provides Free Trade Zone (FTZ) services,” says Tom.
The Schilli divisions have also made their mark in supply chain management. “We have a vested interest in each facet of the industrial supply chain and the expertise to solve logistics or distribution problems,” says Tom. “By listening to and working with our customers and suppliers, we pride ourselves on offering the best and most effective long-term, cost-effective solutions for every unique distribution problem.”
Schilli’s solutions include third-party logistics (3PL), brokerage, dedicated services such as dispatch and load tracking, a fleet of company equipment including flatbeds with lightweight trailers for greater payload capacity and specialized van trailers equipped with cranes.
“Making it all work like clockwork is a dedicated staff and professional drivers who value our close culture,” Tom says. “Even though we’re relatively large and have multiple locations, we have a small family atmosphere.”
The roughly 70 mechanics with the Schilli National Lease franchise have a combination of knowledge, experience and tenure totaling more than 780 years. Many of Schilli’s drivers have driven more than 1 million miles with the company.
“We have great drivers,” Tom says. “More than 20 years ago, we were one of the first transportation companies to offer drivers a guarantee that we would get them home every weekend. We know home time is important and we stay true to that philosophy. We plan our driver routes so they can be home with their families on weekends.”
As past chairman of and officer with the Truckload Carriers Association (1988-1992), Tom says he became familiar with the current Daseke companies through the organization. “All of the Daseke companies have a great service reputation,” he says. “I knew Dempsey Boyd (founder of Boyd Bros.) from the time I joined the TCA in 1970. I was proud to watch Dempsey’s grandson Chris and daughter Gail participate in the TCA activities.”
What’s more, Smokey Point Distributing, Central Oregon Truck Company, Boyd Bros., Lone Star Transportation and Bulldog Hiway Express serve some of the same customers that the Schilli Companies serve. “Our new sister companies set the gold standard for open-deck specialized service,” says Tom.
“Each of the Daseke sister companies has a great reputation for service,” he adds. “I am looking forward to the opportunities for collaboration to benefit Schilli and all of the Daseke companies. It’s exciting to be part of such a successful organization.”
As for Daseke’s founder, Tom says he has known Don Daseke since 2012. “After watching him build the business over the past several years, I thought the time was right for us to become part of Daseke. Becoming a part of Daseke has fulfilled my long-term plan. Don certainly is a person who values the work our team has done over the years in building Schilli into a very successful company.
“With Don’s guidance and leadership, the Daseke companies have put together an organization that reflects his personal value that people come first,” Tom continues. “After a company joins Daseke, it remains focused on values and on providing customers safe and efficient transportation services. For those reasons and many others, we feel Daseke is a great match for our company. We will continue to grow our business successfully and achieve even greater success by being a part of that family.”
“Exactly,” adds Don. “That’s the whole purpose of bringing Schilli on board. We couldn’t be more pleased that they’re joining our family of carriers. They are another great example of the diverse nature of our open-deck specialized niche. Their industrial warehousing operations are terrific; their trucking operation is very specialized and their people are long-tenured. Schilli will be a great addition to the Daseke family. On a fun note, I am a Hoosier (native of Indiana) and it is great to have a company join us from my home state!”