by Debbie Ingram
||Jay Jones, left, manager of the Headland Peanut Warehouse Co-op, and Jack Marshall, truck dispatcher, pose next to one of the Co-op’s eight tractor-trailer rigs. Headland Trucking was launched in May 2004.
In the beginning there was a need. And soon, very soon, the need grew.
Two years since the founding of Headland Trucking LLC, as a division of Headland Peanut Warehouse Co-op, the company has grown to eight semi-trucks, nine hopper trailers, six dump trailers, one flatbed trailer and a cargo van.
"We started off in May 2004 just to buy one truck to haul peanuts out of the field," said Jay Jones, Co-op manager. "We bought a dump trailer for that truck and hauled fertilizer and lime. Then we got real busy."
While the truck was purchased to aid the Co-op’s 75 stockholder members, Jones soon found transportation was in demand for other Co-ops and among local companies who deal in bulk products.
"We began hauling for Ashford and the Dale Farmers Co-op," he said.
Steadily, the list of Co-op customers has expanded. Two months after the first truck was purchased, the company added a second. "We had a good corn crop that year," Jones said. "We hauled a lot of local grain for farmers."
By early spring 2005, another truck and trailer were added. Business continued to grow and Jones began hauling for Anderson’s Peanuts, a division of the Alabama Farmers Co-op located in Opp. Another truck and trailer were purchased. This year, four more semis have been added to the fleet.
Today the Co-op does a lot of hauling for farmers and Co-ops as well as Tri-State Plant Food and Red Fox Fertilizer, both located in nearby Dothan.
"We travel about 300 miles from Headland," said Jack Marshall, dispatcher for Headland Trucking. "We go as far east as Augusta, GA, and as far south as Tampa, FL. We’ve been hauling a lot of landscape rock to a landscape supplier down there. We pick up fertilizer there and bring it back to Tri-State."
Trucks run as far west as the Alabama-Mississippi state line and as far north as Decatur.
On a recent summer day, Marshall recounted the location of several trucks on the road – Hurtsboro, Elba and Enterprise in Alabama, Greenville, GA and Campbellton, FL.
"We’re blessed," said Jones. "Our trucks are rolling."
Marshall joined Headland Trucking early this year, after Jones saw the need for a full-time person to keep the trucks busy and supervise the Co-op’s eight drivers.
Marshall was a former trucker himself, operating a small fleet of four trucks. When Jones approached him and shared his story of growth, Marshall was a little skeptical.
"People were discouraging me," Jones said, "warning me to not get too big too quick."
But even in a drought year, Headland Trucking has not had to park trucks. "It’s unbelievable – the hauling," Jones said.
The Co-op did something else to ensure the success of this new entity. Jones only purchased good, used trucks. New trucks would have been too costly. The oldest truck in the fleet is 14 years old.
"There are still trucks on the road hauling that are late ‘70s, early ‘80s models," Jones said. "We know we’re got to pay drivers good to keep them. Putting the money in our people instead of the trucks has paid off."
Dothan is home to numerous large trucking companies, including Covan and AAA Cooper Transportation, two of the largest trucking firms in the Southeast, as well as Alabama Motor Express, AWC Carriers and Southeastern Freight Lines. Competition for drivers is stiff.
"There are not that many drivers out there. They have to have a physical, pass a Haz-Mat test and be alcohol and drug free. That’s not easy in today’s society," Jones said.
The trucking company has proven to be profitable for the Co-op, Jones said. "It diversified us. We found a market – a growing market – that gives us a larger piece of the pie. We are not just on the retail side anymore."
Diversification will pay the bills, Jones said, as farming continues to decline and agri-related businesses seek new means of revenue. An in-house trucking service has saved money because it was a service the Co-op paid for in the past.
Jones said the thousands of miles accrued haven’t all been smooth, but growing pains have been overcome.
"In any business when you have growth like we’ve experienced, it’s a mixed bag," he said. "But we had a vision and a board of directors who saw that vision with us. Our board was all for it. There was no negative."
Jones likens the trucking industry to another segment in terms of the two being service driven.
"It’s like a restaurant," he said. "You have to offer great service. You can get your foot in the door, but you have to produce. You have to have quality people working for you and provide on-time delivery. You can find anybody with a truck. Service makes the difference."
Including the truck drivers, the Co-op employs 21 full-time employees at the Headland Co-op office and the fertilizer plant in Newville.
"The Co-op is a big family," said Jones who has worked at the Co-op since 1984. "And everyone is a part of this family."
The Co-op began operating in 1975 as a chemical, fertilizer and peanut warehouse. Today it includes a supply store and a trucking company.
The Co-op, which comprises 20 acres on the southwest side of Headland, is open Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturday. Jones was named Co-op Manager of the Year a few months ago.