MONROE - Anthony St. Bernard faced a choice.
Either continue to race his 1968 Chevy Chevelle at the Milan Dragway or sell the car to raise money to expand his budding trucking business.
He decided to sell.
A decade later, Mr. St. Bernard's Flatout Trucking Ltd. has grown from a single tractor-trailer to 50. Sales for the firm and a related business, he said, are expected to reach $8.5 million this year.
And he is in the midst of a $5 million expansion that will broaden services to include tractor-trailer repair and roadside assistance.
"I've been working hard and concentrating on using my head," he explained. "I want to avoid poor management. That's what makes businesses fail."
Mr. St. Bernard, 45, has driven trucks since the mid-1980s.
"I always had a goal to own my own truck," he recalled.
In 1995, that dream became a reality. But he wasn't satisfied to stop there. He soon added a second truck and hired a driver. More trucks followed.
The firm specializes in loads that can be transported on flatbed trucks, hence the name. Such loads include lumber, roofing shingles, stone, and other construction materials.
Customers include Toledo's Owens Corning and the Home Depot home-improvement chain, Mr. St. Bernard said.
Despite a slump in housing construction, Flatout Trucking hasn't suffered.
"We did some things different this winter, but we still stay steady," the owner said.
Growth hasn't happened without sacrifice, however.
He is a hands-on manager who estimates that he puts in 80 to 90 hours a week.
He decided to expand his business after learning about a choice building site in Frenchtown Township, just off I-75 in Monroe County, Mich.
He decided it would be a perfect spot for a repair shop to serve commercial truck traffic along the main north-south corridor. The resulting $5 million building, which will house his new business, Unlimited Truck & Trailer Services, will be ready by the end of March. Advertisements will soon begin going up on billboards along I-75.
Mr. St. Bernard said the time is right for such a business.
"There isn't a lot of competition, and a lot of people are not buying new equipment because of the cost," he said. "More people are fixing up trucks instead of buying new."
With the expansion, his staff of 60 will grow to at least 75.
William Secrest, president of Toledo-based Midwest Logistics Inc., said he is familiar with Flatout Trucking and not surprised by the firm's success.
Despite tough times locally and higher gasoline prices, the past few years have been good for the trucking industry overall, he said.
Many weaker firms were forced out of business in the early part of the decade, creating greater demand for remaining capacity once things began to pick up nationally. For firms that transport construction materials, there has been plenty of business hauling materials from the north to hurricane-ravaged portions of the southern United States, he said.
Prices have been strong. And although gas prices are up, trucking firms have been able to pass increases to customers through fuel surcharges, Mr. Secrest said.
Contact Gary T. Pakulski at:
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