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Different: The Class of 2020 in a world of Different

I don’t remember much of my high school graduation. The blur of 13 years together in a small rural school district in a class of 50 kids was an emotional experience, but I, frankly, don’t remember much of it.

I do remember walking across that stage, listening to the hum of the crowded gym, being handed my diploma and giving my favorite school board member a hug. Thanks, Dad.

The other memories I do have are quick snapshots of random moments of the ceremony and the days around it. Fun last memories with that group of 50 that I grew up right beside and moments of sadness knowing it would be the last time we would all be together. Also, memories of being a naïve 18-year-old…

No matter what the memories are, I’m glad I have them. Do you know how many days in our lives are unmemorable? We can live our life to the fullest, but the sad truth of life is that we will not remember more days than we do remember.

We are all going through days right now that none of us will ever forget. A (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic is mind-boggling and something I never thought I’d see. The Class of 2020 didn’t think they would ever see a world where they wouldn’t get to spend their final school days together and have a “normal” graduation.

A blur of 13 years is now going to culminate for so many in a weird ceremony sitting in a car in a parking lot or spread out across a football field or purely online apart from one another. A day that is imagined by every kid to ever walk down a school hallway is sadly perverted into a makeshift celebration.

Schools and communities are doing their best to celebrate these kids. In our current world, there is not a whole lot else that we can do, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t different.

I have seen way too many people that have lived decades after their graduation claiming that graduation doesn’t matter. That this is no big deal. That it is just getting a piece of paper.

High school graduation is so much more than that. It is a milestone for every senior. The end of high school is different for everyone, but it is a milestone, nonetheless. It could be a happy or sad one, an excruciating or exhilarating one, a frantic or freeing one or any multitude of emotions. Do not allow different to mean diminished.

If you are close with a graduating high school senior, listen to them. Listen to what they want, what they need and what they feel. There are not many things in life that we are programmed to look forward to for 13 years, but graduation is one of them. Ask the seniors how they are dealing with different.

We could all learn to listen a little bit better.

I remember listening to the excitedly nervous conversations my classmates were having in the cafeteria as we waited for the ceremony to begin. I remember listening to the roar of laughter during the speeches of my peers. I remember listening to the sniffles of crying faces as the reality of the final period on the final sentence of our final moments together officially ended.

Listen, the Class of 2020 does not get to enjoy this rite of passage. We cannot diminish this state of different for a class that appears destined to make a world of difference.

A Conversation with Butterball’s Dan DiGrazio

Our National Account Manger Ada Brewster chatted with Dan DiGrazio, Sr. Director of Logistics at Butterball and we wanted to share her conversation with him with you.

As our country faces great crisis, Dan DiGrazio, Sr. Director of Logistics at Butterball, has found inspiration and has been humbled by the trucking industry. Not only are truck drivers getting in their trucks and carrying on in order to keep the supply of food and essentials, while everyone else hunkered down, but it also is happening at a time when rates have spiraled downward while owners of these companies, many of whom are facing financial challenges they may not recover from, are still doing everything they can to keep America going.

This is not the first economic downturn that DiGrazio has seen. He joined the logistics world after graduating from Penn State. It was at Penn State where Dan was intrigued by both a friend who worked in supply chain and a professor who had great enthusiasm for logistics and supply chain. Realizing that he would be graduating at a time when the country was in a recession he was happy to find that there were still job openings in Supply Chain, and his career began working in the steel industry managing shipments on flat beds, rail and specialized freight, where he spent 12 years. From there he went on to broaden his craft in brokerage and LTL (less-than-truckload) before entering the food service world with Ocean Spray in 1991.

Now with over 35 years in the industry, the biggest changes to the industry DiGrazio has seen have been as result of the governments interaction. First with deregulation, which completely changed the pricing structure offering discounts for LTL shipments and a price war that forced 20 of the 30 largest companies out of business, followed by about 400,000 new owner operator companies coming into the business. Then the hours of service ruling completely changed the playing field for everyone from truckers to shippers.

DiGrazio said that business is tough right now, there are a lot of companies calling and telling him they will haul a load for a fraction of what his carrier base is charging.  “You have to ask yourself, if one of these carriers, who is struggling to survive, has a Butterball load on their truck and has a breakdown, do they have the money to get necessary repairs, and if they lose a load, will it be at Butterball’s expense?”

When looking at 3PLs (third-party logistical services), DiGrazio is cautious when not having a long standing relationship with them and knowing or not knowing if they are financially secure with a huge risk being that they may never pay the actual carrier who hauled the load.

“The risk in dealing with these companies who want to undercut prices just is not worth it,” DiGrazio said. “Plus, the tables will eventually turn, we are not asking our carriers to decrease their rates right now, and we will have loyalty from them when things are in their favor. Our team at Butterball pride ourselves in long standing relationships with our carrier base, we want to see them grow and be successful, and they take care of us. We believe we have true partnerships with our carriers. Partnerships are built on service, communication, response, reliability and pricing.”

The why behind what DiGrazio does is simply put in three points: give God the glory, feed and serve others, and serve as a mentor for those who work for him and with him.

DiGrazio has enjoyed working from home the past couple of months, he has found extra time for reading, and refocused on the important things – God, family and friends. He and his wife, Cathy, have made a point to stay in contact with those they love and have tackled several home improvement projects. The couple also made an unexpected trip to Maryland in order to be with their son and his family after the loss of a family member. The bright spot was some special time with their four-year-old granddaughter.

“I’m a man, working from my home office, and I feel tremendous gratitude for the many men and women who are leaving home to do a thankless job.”

Ada Brewster can be reached at ada@kottke-trucking.com and by phone at 320-510-0033. This is Ada’s second piece in our conversation series. Ada talked with Kottke Trucking driver’s Laurie and Buz Scutt last week and you can read that article here.

A View from the Road with Laurie and Buz

Our National Account Manger Ada Brewster called up drivers Laurie and Buz Scutt to get their view and story on what they see from the road during these times.

“We are doing something to help feed America.”

That is what Laurie Scutt said without hesitation when asked what she and her husband, Buz, were most proud of during the coronavirus pandemic that is hampering the country and the world. “We are proud to get people the things they need and depend on.”

As it has become even more clear over the past couple months, everyone depends on truck drivers to deliver the things that they need. Laurie and Buz Scutt have been depended on for a long time.

For Laurie, trucking runs in her blood. Her dad was a truck driver with a line of truckers going all the way back to her great grandfather. Laurie would often ride with her dad in the truck and on one of those trips that is where her driving career was born. When riding along one time, her dad became too ill to drive and it was up to Laurie to get them home. She hopped into the driver’s seat for the first time and, with instructions from her dad, got them home. Laurie’s father recovered and her own driving career had begun.

Laurie didn’t immediately become a full-time driver but kept it firmly on the backburner. Listening to advice from her dad, Laurie would drive occasionally every few years and kept her CDL up to date to make sure that she was ready to jump into that seat if she ever needed to do so.

Buz found himself behind the wheel at a young age, too. He started driving a hopper truck while working on the family farm. He would go on to join the military, but also kept his foot in the trucking world by picking up some work on the side driving at night or on weekends to make some extra money.

Flashforward a few years, divorces and children later, both Laurie and Buz found themselves driving truck as full-time gigs. Sixteen years ago, the two married and continued to drive separately for the first few years. They always arranged to meet at home on Saturdays to have a date night, go to church on Sunday morning, hopefully lunch that afternoon and then they went back out on the road in different rigs.

The pair didn’t team up at the beginning because of Buz’s daughter. Buz’s daughter was very sick at the time and he needed the ability to be able to get home at any moment. Sadly, Buz’s daughter did pass away leading the Scutt’s to the decision to start running as a team together 13 years ago now.

Today, with the coronavirus pandemic, the Scutt’s say they have seen changes in the way people treat each other. People now are fearing each other more, are not as friendly and are more standoffish than before. Laurie said she has encountered people who she has spoken to who won’t even muster out a greeting in response.

When delivering recently, the Scutt’s were in line to get unloaded and saw a pair of scammers trying to take advantage of the situation. The scammers, with clipboard in hand, claimed that they worked for the receiver and that drivers had to have $250 cash to get unloaded. The Scutt’s did not fall for this scam, but they saw others that weren’t so lucky.

Despite the bad, the Scutt’s say they still see more good than bad in people.

Normally the couple cooks in their truck (they gave a shout out to Kwik Trip for doing an awesome job keeping an assortment of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables in stock), but typically on Sunday’s they have a nice meal out. In just about every town they have found a restaurant to be very appreciative of their business when they call in to place an order. They ate at a Chili’s where the manager personally brought out the food to them and made sure it was fresh and hot. A Mexican restaurant in Gainesville, GA went above and beyond to make sure that they got exactly what they wanted delivered to their truck door.

Some shippers have done nice things for the Scutt’s during this time, too. When picking up a load at Boars Head in Grove Port, OH, along with their paperwork they were given two big plates filled with enough food for both to have two meals out of it. Several other shippers have given them snacks and water bottles and have treated them with respect and appreciation.

The Scutt’s appreciate the attitudes of shippers and receivers who are going out of their way to make the wearing of masks and required temperature checks not so bad to deal with.

When the pandemic is dealt with, the Scutt’s know exactly what they look forward to most: sitting down at a Mexican restaurant and having a big margarita.

Arkansas is home for the Scutt’s when they are not driving. They love spending time with their children and 15 grandchildren. When not feeding America, they love to take their fifth wheel camper and tour the country.

Ada Brewster can be reached at ada@kottke-trucking.com and by phone at 320-510-0033.

Economic Report From the Trenches and Without an Economics Degree

From the desk of Kyle Kottke… (P.S. you can click on the graphs below to make them bigger and easier to read)

Heck, the reality is that I barely have a degree of any kind and these times will go down as a chapter in a book I will never sell!  The market for the past three years has been interesting and the market for the past 45 days has been wild.  At the home front for Kottke Trucking, four of our top six customers have a major reliance on the food service (restaurants) side of the world.

Craig Fuller did a nice job in his articles at FreightWaves outlining the market along with the spike and drop.  The real story isn’t what is going on now, but rather what is going on now plus how we entered this time of the economic cycle.  What do I mean?

Source – FreighWaves SONAR

Chris Henry of Transportation Profitability Program wrote a great article on March 6th outlining margins in trucking.  Being that refrigerated markets are the closest to my heart, it was worth noting that the average profit margin for a trucking company in the past 36 months was 3.821%.  His read is from main street trucking, where he has the data of 238 companies, including ours.  It got worse quickly, as he shared that the rolling 12 month ending February 2020 was .002% or $.002 of every dollar of revenue.

Source: Chris Henry’s LinkedIn

Also coming out on May 1st was data from FTR Trucking Update (subscription required, and I highly recommend it) and in it Avery Vise talks about what he is expecting for the year ahead with volumes and rates.  He is projecting rates in all of transportation to be down 7.8% in 2020 and specifically in refrigerated was 3.3%.  So, if you compare his forecast to Chris Henry’s rolling 12-month results ending in February, the average trucking company will now be losing 3% on all revenue received (103 OR).

Source – FTR

Because my job is to report bleak pictures, this doesn’t include the runaway health and liability insurance markets that have most trucking companies taking double digit increases.  Some in the liability space is much more than double digits and some approaching 20-30% increases.

In the world of uncertainly, the government will give many companies short term support and some banks will add to that.  The reality is, even with all of this, something must give.

I told a good friend this past week, it is like everyone is giving all truckers a long runway, but some will never get off the ground.  Some will just not turn the corner.  Those with deep reliance on the spot market will be first, but the reality is, there could be deep changes in the marketplace.  The uncertainty of today and the deep declines in some spot markets have made the changes come faster than one would think.

Until next time, keep on keeping on!

Roll on, eighteen wheeler, roll on

As the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic continues around the globe, Kottke Trucking General Manger Kyle Kottke sent out this letter to our drivers and staff. 

There was a time in the early 1980’s that a boy ran around his house with a toy semi-truck singing Alabama’s song “Roll On”.  His daddy was a trucker and he asked him momma when he was coming home.  Fast forward a few decades and everyone is quick to jump on the bandwagon of calling each of you heroes.  For some of us, truckers have been heroes all our lives.

I live with the regret that I never told my daddy that he was my hero, but I get the chance to pay that forward.  I get to call 225 of you my heroes instead. Everyone appreciates what you are doing day after day and when the other side of this comes and eventually your stardom fades similar to the heroes of 9-11; I want you to know, you all will still be my hero.

I am deeply troubled that the virus has taken away many of the personal living gains on the road.  I hate hearing about bathrooms closed.  I hate hearing about places that don’t give us an alternative. And it certainly is an encumbrance wearing a mask every time I step out. These deeply disappoint me and trust me when the other side is here, I will be the first one to fight to get what we had and hopefully more.

Closer to home, we are seeing the restaurant side of our business start to slow.  We are working hard to replace that freight with grocery things, and we have had some good wins.  We will continue to work our way through this to the other side.  I am confident that some situations will be pretty darn smooth, and others will have some challenges and bumps to them.  We will do our best to find more smooth than bumpy.  Let me know if there is anything, I need to know about what is going on for you personally.

Brenda has been working hard to get more supplies to our offices to help you with your on-road needs.  I believe we have a supply of gloves, sanitizer, tissues, etc.  So, if you find yourself not able to find some, please feel free to find Brenda to get your hands on some of our supply.  If you have a need that we are not supplying, feel free to ask Brenda if we can get it for you.

Knowing that social distancing, doing a job, having a life away from the truck and at a time in all of our lives that is different than ever before (and hopefully never again), if I can do anything for you – please ask.  I will do my best to help as many as I can.  Even if it is just an ear to talk to, don’t assume I am not here to help as much as I can.

In closing, I want you to know that those notes, emails, texts and calls you are sending are my fuel.  My tank needs refilling too, and it is your stories, your notes and sometimes just your smile on the other side of the line that keeps me driving through the next challenge to find my way.  You see, you are my hero to that little boy singing “Roll On”.  Roll on family, roll on crew and roll on eighteen-wheeler, roll on!

Thanks for helping define #BLEEDINGBLUE.

Until next time, Keep on Keeping on!

Kottke Trucking’s 2020 Valentine’s Day Coloring Contest

Time flies when you are having fun! We are almost a month into 2020 already and that means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Valentine’s Day at Kottke Trucking means it is time again to start thinking about our annual coloring contest!

Our coloring contest is open to anyone and everyone! You don’t need to work at Kottke Trucking or have a relative that works here to enter. Heck, you don’t even have to know who we are to enter!

We will have prizes for the winner of our age groups: 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13+.

Please drop off your submissions at any Kottke Trucking location, send your submissions to Kayla McDonald via email at kayla@kottke-trucking.com or via US Mail. Our mailing address is:

Kottke Trucking

% Valentine’s Day Coloring Contest

PO Box 206

Buffalo Lake, MN 55314

Most importantly, have fun! We can’t wait to see your submissions! To be eligible for prizes, the submissions need to be in by February 14th.

Here is the link to this year’s coloring sheet: Valentines Day Coloring Contest 2020

Kottke Trucking wins back-to-back-to-back TCA Fleet Safety Awards

We strive to make safety one of our top priorities at Kottke Trucking. We do our best to make sure that safety resonates throughout every division of the company and everyone knows just how important it is. We are proud to pass along that for the third straight year, Kottke Trucking has been named the safest fleet in Division III by the Truckload Carriers Association.

We’d like to pass along congratulations to everyone in Kottke Trucking on this wonderful achievement! It is truly a team effort to earn this recognition. Thank you all for #BleedingBlue and making us the safest fleet in our division in back-to-back-to-back years!

Here is the TCA’s press release:

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) has recognized 18 companies as division winners in its 44th Annual Fleet Safety Awards competition. Sponsored by Great West Casualty Company, the awards identify trucking companies who have demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to safety. The top three winning companies in each of six mileage-based divisions had the lowest accident frequency ratios per million miles, annually.

“For yet another year, TCA is honored to present the Fleet Safety Awards to our members who continually prioritize safety in their operations,” said TCA President John Lyboldt. “These awards showcase the best of our industry and set these carriers apart as truly maintaining the gold standard when it comes to protecting their drivers, their loads, their equipment, and the greater motoring public.”

The 18 division winners are now invited to compete for one of two grand prizes – one for carriers with a total annual mileage less than 25 million miles, and the other for carriers with mileage greater than 25 million miles.

Division III Winner

(15-24.99 million miles)

1st Place

Kottke Trucking, Inc.

Buffalo Lake, MN

Congratulations again, Kottke team! We are incredibly proud of this achievement. It is all due to having one of the best driver fleets and teams in the business. Thank you all for #BleedingBlue!

Kottke Trucking’s Sixth Annual Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year is Sam Harman

On January 4, 2020, Kottke Trucking named Sam Harman as the Sixth Annual Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year. The banquet was held at Jackpot Junction Casino and Hotel in Morton, Minnesota.

Harman has been with Kottke Trucking since March 2011 and has been in the trucking industry for over 35 years. Harman was named the 2019 Second Quarter Jim Doering Award of Excellence recipient which qualified him for the Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year Award.

Kottke Trucking’s statement on Harman:

A good quote to set the stage for Sam Harman is this: “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.

Sam is the most selfless person one can imagine. He is always someone that is looking out for others more than himself. That not only makes a great truck driver, but that makes an amazing human being and that makes you #BleedingBlue.

Sam often does his job so darn well, that you forget about his daily doings. His tremendous record is one of always doing his best, day by day and trip by trip. His excellence is what makes him truly special and an excellent recipient to be added to our Hall of Fame and being honored as our Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year.

Kottke Trucking’s Driver Board created the idea of the Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year and it was carried out by our staff. The Driver of the Year award is named after our second-generation visionaries: Duane and Connie Kottke. Their ability to build the foundation that our company stands on today, does not go without notice and is felt every day.

Harman’s fellow nominees for the award come from the three other Jim Doering Award of Excellence winners: First Quarter recipient Paul Wright, Third Quarter recipient Brad Reid and Fourth Quarter recipient Ettienne Alberts. The quarterly award is named after Kottke Trucking’s first long-time driver and nearly 40-year employee Jim Doering.

Previous winners of the Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver if the Year are Tom Erickson, Ricky Pautzke, Jeff Bass, Carlo Garcia and John Flathau.

Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year Sam Harman.

Kyle Kottke, Sam Harman & Kory Kottke.

Kottke Trucking, friends and family raise $9,080 for Trucks and Toys

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all from all of us at Kottke Trucking!

It is truly the most wonderful time of the year, because we get to share with you all that our Trucks and Toys toy drive was once again a success. Our toy drive this year was again a success thanks to all of the Kottke Trucking employees, friends and family who helped raise $9,080 worth of toys and goods this season.

Over the past two years we have raised $19,001 in our efforts to make it as merry of a Christmas as possible in Minnesota and Florida. The organizations that these donations go to surround our terminal locations and help ensure happier holidays for those in need. We are proud to support the following organizations with this year’s donations:

  • Renville County Santa’s Closet
  • McLeod Country Christmas Project
  • Common Cup Ministries
  • City of Davenport Toy Drive
  • The Mission of Winter Haven
  • Helping Hands Angels

 

Whatever you may have donated or however you may have supported this amazing cause, we thank you so much for your support. There are many individuals who put in so much time and effort into making the Trucks and Toys program a success year in and year out and we thank them for their time, dedication and love. Their efforts result in every cent going towards making the holidays a little bit brighter this year.

As the Kottke family, we thank each and every one of you for everything you do to make this program a success. We appreciate you and are blessed to have such amazing people in our lives. We could not do it without you. The Trucks and Toys program was one that was near and dear to Duane and Connie’s hearts and we smile wide this holiday season knowing they would be glowing with pride on how successful Trucks and Toys has been again this year.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

May your light shine bright this holiday season! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

Pictured below: Members of the Kottke Trucking staff shopped at Target in Hutchinson, MN to purchase toys to donate from monetary donations received this year! Thank you, Target, for your support!

Marlene drops off a portion of the toys with the folks at Renville County Santa’s Closet!

Ettienne Alberts Named Fourth Quarter Award of Excellence Recipient

Kottke Trucking is proud to announce that Ettienne Alberts has been named our 2019 Fourth Quarter Jim Doering Award of Excellence Winner. Alberts has been with Kottke Trucking since May 2015 when factoring in his Wayne T. Fellows hire date. It has been great having Ettienne as part of the Kottke Trucking family since August.

Ettienne’s nominator said that Ettienne always has a smile on his face. It doesn’t matter if he’s coming in, going our, or somewhere in between, he always appears happy, pleasant, courteous and professional. He greets and speaks to everyone he sees, all with the utmost manners. He has an outstanding work ethic, a bigger smile and an even bigger heart. He is #BleedingBlue and will be an asset to Kottke Trucking for years to come.

The Jim Doering Award of Excellence was established in 2014 in honor of Kottke Trucking’s first employee and nearly 40-year employee Jim Doering. The award is designed to honor a driver each quarter that has the same great qualities that made Jim such a special man. The four winners of the quarterly Jim Doering Award of excellence are also the finalists for the Duane and Connie Kottke Distinguished Driver of the Year Award. Our other Quarterly Award of Excellence recipients for this year are Paul Wright, Sam Harman and Brad Reid.

Congrats, Ettienne! We thank you for your hard work and dedication for #BleedingBlue with us at Kottke Trucking!

Ettienne Alberts with Vice President of LTL Operations Donna Fellows-Coffey.

(800) 248-2623 (320) 833-5385

Kottke Trucking, Inc.