Brian Sutton, CEO
George Copeland, CFO
Brian Sutton and George Copeland co-founded Austin Freight Systems (AFS) 20 years ago, after the freight brokerage they were working for lost its biggest customer. At that time, both men already had 19 years of transportation experience under their respective belts.
Today the company has 14 employees, including Sutton, the CEO, and Copeland, the CFO. Many of the company's employees have 20-plus years of experience. That depth of knowledge has earned customer loyalty and steady growth for the company.
“On average, we see revenue growth of about 15% to 25% each year—with some exceptions, such as post-9/11, our toughest period,” Sutton said.
The secret to steady growth
How can a brokerage get through the down times and survive to celebrate 20 years—especially when competition is fierce? Sutton offers these five tips:
1. Know your costs
Sutton says that as an owner of a freight brokerage, you have to know your costs. You have to know your margins and your seasonal margins. He prefers to look at year-over-year numbers, rather than month over month. “Look for trends and identify low margin customers and address it,” he says.
2. Choose who you want to do business with
Austin Freight has many long-term customers. They keep coming back because they appreciate the dedicated service and the expertise of the staff. Customers that are simply looking for the lowest price will always go elsewhere, Sutton says. “You cannot do business with everybody,” he said. “There are some people out there that just won't let you make any money. You have to move on.”
3. Don’t be afraid to raise your prices
It’s always tough to raise prices, especially in a down economy when shippers are putting on the pressure, but it’s necessary says Sutton. “If you are truly doing your customer a top-notch, quality job, don’t be afraid to raise your prices. They are not going to go with another company,” he said. “So many salespeople, so many owners, are afraid to raise their prices.”
4. Keep your administration light
Austin Freight has only one full-time, administrative employee, plus Copeland who spends about half his time on admin duties. Technology—including DAT products—helps back-office administrative staff to maximize productivity. Austin Freight’s high customer retention rate has reduced the need to hire additional staff for sales and business development. “We haven’t hired a salesperson in the past nine years,” Sutton says.
5. Be loyal to your employees
Sutton maintains that if you’re loyal to your employees, they will be loyal to you. He’s proud of the fact that Austin Freight has so many long-term employees, and that in the past 20 years only two employees have voluntarily quit. “If you give loyalty, you’ll get loyalty.” he said.
DAT was there from the beginning
Austin Freight has used DAT products since its inception. Today, the company uses DAT Power for posting loads and searching for trucks, DAT CarrierWatch® for qualifying and monitoring carriers, and DAT RateView™ for checking current lane-by-lane freight rates.
“As we've progressed and grown, DAT has helped us grow exponentially over the last 20 years,” Sutton said. “I don't know where we would be without DAT.”