With demand for trucking continuing to climb, the Crete Carrier companies should be in a good position with the opening of a new facility on the Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township.
Located across the pike from the New Kingstown industrial area — where the original Shaffer Trucking site is located — the new depot sits on a 14-acre lot and will serve as a hub for 465 drivers and 80 office staff.
“We first started talking about this site probably 30 years ago,” said Tim Aschoff, Crete’s president and COO. While the new facility is not particularly lavish in terms of size or finish, it is one of the most state-of-art and efficient trucking hubs ever built.
“We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest, but we want to be the best in terms of quality,” Aschoff said.
Crete’s presence in Cumberland County began with Shaffer, which was founded in 1937 and built the original New Kingstown industrial depot in the mid-1950s, according to Crete CEO Tonn Ostergard. Crete, based in Nebraska, purchased Shaffer in 1974, an important acquisition for Crete founder Duane Acklie.
“One of the first times I came out here, I recall Duane saying that ‘at some point, Tonn, we’re going to have to build a better facility across the road,” Ostergard said.
That conversation happened in 1984, said Ostergard, who is Acklie’s son-in-law and now runs the company with his wife Holly, Acklie’s daughter.
“Thirty-four years later, we’re finally here,” Ostergard said. “We’re going to use this as a springboard to launch our growth.”
The trucking industry is dealing with one of the tightest markets in years as demand for shipping has driven up prices and sent companies scrambling to find more drivers to take advantage of the bull market.
The spot rate for basic service was $2.26 per mile in January, according to industry data firm DAT Solutions, up 15 cents compared to December and 59 cents higher than January 2017.
This is an all-time record for spot-rate shipping — as opposed to rates for previously set long-term contracts — according to DAT.
Spot shipping demand last month was up 28 percent over December and 65 percent compared to January 2017, DAT said this month, estimating that only one truck is available for every 12 loads.
With demand increasing at such a fast rate, the Crete-Shaffer truck lines have had to battle to find qualified drivers.
“Hiring drivers, especially good, qualified drivers, is one of our biggest challenges,” Ostergard said.
Part of attracting and retaining drivers isn’t just paying more — although that certainly helps — but providing them with better equipment, Ostergard said.
Search for drivers
To that extent, Crete has promoted its “Patriot Fleet” program, in which a certain number of the company’s new trucks are painted with a flag-and-eagle scheme and driven by military veterans, highlighting the quality of vehicles afforded to the company’s most dedicated drivers.
The Patriot Fleet currently comprises 20 rigs, but is rapidly growing, as the Crete companies are now replacing trucks at a rate of about 1,200 per year, Ostergard said. The company has roughly 13,000 drivers between the Crete, Shaffer and Hunt lines.
One of those is Roy B. Rayford, a Marine Corps veteran who has put 25,000 miles on the newest Patriot Fleet truck since getting it just a few weeks ago. Rayford estimates he pulls 2,700 to 3,200 miles per week.
The biggest obstacle to getting people into the profession is dedication to the lifestyle, Rayford said. But Rayford actually prefers doing overnight jobs, sleeping in the deluxe bunk compartment of the new Patriot Fleet tractor.
“I get as much time off as I would doing a local job, it’s just in blocks between runs,” Rayford said.
Rayford has been with Crete almost six years, he said. Pay started at 20 cents per mile, but rapidly shot up to Rayford’s current 53 cents, which nets him a salary of $65,000 to $70,000 per year, not including the value of company-sponsored health and retirement.
More importantly, however, is the company culture. Rayford said he’s stayed at Crete because management has always been easy to deal with.
“I can walk in and talk to anybody in the office,” Rayford said. “It’s never been an ‘us versus them’ situation.”