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A conversation with Michigan nurse Jane Dotson

Jane Dotson was drawn into the medical field over 25 years ago after her father was involved in a near-fatal auto accident that required months of surgery. The hospital where he dad’s life was saved and where she was born just happened to be the same one where she started her career. Throughout her career, Dotson has worn many different hats and seen many different things. She’s been a hospice nurse, a dementia nurse, a psychiatric nurse and is now a nursing supervisor in a subacute physical rehabilitation center.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way her Michigan hospital delivers care, including the halting of visitors per the Governor’s mandate. COVID-19 put an invisible barrier between the caregivers and their patients. “Essentially, we began keeping our patients in a 6-foot invisible ‘bubble’ and were only allowed to enter it to provide direct physical care. We initially isolated all patients in their rooms where all care and therapies were provided. As we learned more about the virus patients have been allowed out of their rooms if they are wearing masks and maintain 6-foot social distancing space,” Dotson said. “A serious side effect of COVID-19 is depression among patients. Since January, we have witnessed an increase in tearfulness and angry outbursts. We attempt to comfort and reassure patients when they are in distress over the social isolation, but comfort hasn’t been well received when it is from a gloved hand, or from 6 feet away.

“One patient I care for is deaf and can lip read but wearing masks limits some of us to only writing to communicate with her. She is attempting to teach us some basic sign language, but she says she misses being able to see people talk and smile.”

The facility that Dotson works in housed and cared for COVID-19 patients for a few weeks in an isolation unit created on a separate wing of the building. Strict entry and exit rules and restrictions were in place for the entire facility, along with additional very strict rules and restrictions within the unit itself.  A pervasive fear of the virus resulted in several members of the staff asking not to be placed in the COVID unit.

“I personally believe that if you go into the medical field, you should not be allowed to refuse to give care to someone if you are provided the tools to do so safely,” Dotson said. “So, I agreed to care for COVID-19 patients because I felt it was safer caring for known carriers of COVID-19 patients while wearing full PPE next to coworkers wearing full PPE.  Fortunately, none of the COVID caregivers I work with contracted the virus.”

Working in an isolation unit with all the different safety requirements was very stressful for Dotson. Her and her co-workers had to be mindful of every moment during their shift. After a few weeks of caring for COVID-19 patients, Dotson says she and her co-workers became less fearful of the virus and more frustrated with the isolation and the effects on their patients.

“It became emotionally challenging for me because my heart broke for those patients who didn’t have anyone on the outside to call or do window ‘visits’,” Dotson said. “I had one patient tearfully say that she felt like a leper and she just needed a warm hug.”

Thankfully, the COVID-19 unit where Dotson works has been empty for a few weeks now. Dotson hopes that they never need to use it again.

Dotson is from Flint, Michigan and says that their community has come together and has been very supportive of medical personnel since the pandemic began. She sees that unity as a positive that the community can take forward after this chapter.

“I’ve been out in public with my uniform on and have had people thank me for my service to the community. I find it mildly embarrassing but also rewarding,” Dotson said. “Our facility has had numerous donations of PPE and even meals for staff throughout this ordeal. I am happy and proud of our community for the first time in a very long time.”

Things have gone back to normal for Dotson, as much as they can with mandates still in place in the state of Michigan. Long before COVID-19, she was already in the habit of using hand sanitizer frequently and being cautions to not touch her face with her hands. “I know the kinds of microorganisms that lurk in our world and I live in caution, but not fear. I just want to be able to return to a normal life where there are no mandates.”

Dotson said this interview was an unusual opportunity for her to express her thoughts with someone other than a fellow coworker of a family member. She wanted to take the opportunity to pass along this message to the truck driving community: “Thank you for your service to our nation. None of us could survive if there weren’t professional truck drivers on the road day and night. I respect each and every one of you for what you do. You don’t always have it easy, but you keep on trucking. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.”

A Conversation with Taylor Wilson of Gypsy Threads

Like many small and large businesses, Gypsy Threads physical store was closed for two months during the Covid-19 shutdowns.   However, as soon as it was possible to do so the shop doors were re-opened to the public.

The owner of Gypsy Threads is Taylor Wilson. I first met Wilson in 2009 while I was working with her mother in the transportation industry. Wilson was in high school then, playing sports and creating her own fashion designs and accessories.  Now at 27-years-old, she has owned her own retail clothing store for two years.  As a young entrepreneur, she has managed to bring her small business through some of the most trying times in economic history.

After high school, Wilson attended North Georgia College & University in Dahlonega, GA. Marketing was Taylor’s major and during her senior year she did an internship in Los Angeles’ fashion district.   Having always had a love for fashion, she realized that she wanted a career where she could use her marketing skills alongside the fashion.

After finishing school, Wilson returned home where she and a roommate started their own social media marketing company, which they still operate today.   At age 23, in addition, to bartending, waitressing, and being self-employed, Wilson got a part time job handling the marketing for Gypsy Threads.   About a year later, she was hired to manage the store and handle the marketing. She then gave up her bartending and waitressing gigs and devoted herself to Gypsy Threads along with her own social media marketing business. Then in April 2019, Wilson was presented with the opportunity to purchase Gypsy Threads. She didn’t hesitate to take the leap.

Wilson’s dream location for Gypsy Threads was to be on the famous, historic downtown square in Gainesville and in a few months a rare opportunity came as a coveted store space on the square came available.   Once again, Taylor didn’t hesitate to take the chance and relocate the store.

January and February were spent gutting the store space on the square and completely remodeling it. Fortunately for her she had a lot of help from family and friends who were eager to help make the young entrepreneur’s dream come true.  Then came March. The week Gypsy Threads was scheduled to open at the new location the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Governor’s orders for all non-essential businesses to be closed. Resulting in Gypsy Threads having to remain closed.

Fortunately, Wilson and Gypsy Threads had a very supportive customer base who continued their support with online ordering.  After two long months, when the day rolled around that Gypsy Threads could open their doors it was a very exciting time.  With the move, Wilson had really been able to make the store her own, with her own vision of what she wanted her store to look and feel like to her customers.   She says the Gainesville community is very supportive of their small businesses and she contributes her success to that great customer base.

When you hear Gypsy Threads, you can probably surmise that the shop carries unique styles that customers may not find elsewhere.    Stepping inside you will find a lady’s boutique featuring primarily boho-style clothing and accessories.  The fashionista in Taylor is always looking for cool new lines to carry, but for the most part she has stayed with what has worked. “I have stuck with the lines that were carried before I owned the store,” Wilson said. “What people loved about the store was the styles and quality of the clothing, so I definitely did not want to stray too far from that!”

Wilson says that her store it is small enough that her customers feel safe.   She has stations set up throughout the store with hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and Clorox wipes.   If a customer comes in wearing a face mask she puts one on also, to make them feel comfortable, but if her customers are not wearing masks she does not mind.

When asked what is the best part of owning her business,  Wilson said “I love having a personal relationship with the customers. I have a lot of customers who come in with an item from their own closet and let me or my employees help find the perfect outfit to go with it! Aside from that, it’s like having a huge closet so, of course, that’s fun!”

“A huge thanks to all the people in the transportation industry! My mom was in the transportation industry for over 10 years, and I know it can be stressful,” Wilson said. “Without them, most small businesses, and large businesses, wouldn’t have survived. Not only through Covid-19, but also we have to have you for normal day-to-day business!”

Gypsy Threads can be found online at www.gypsythreads.me, Facebook and Instagram or in person at  210 Bradford St NE Gainesville, GA.

This piece is part of Ada Brewster’s conversation series. Previously, Ada has chatted with Kottke Trucking drivers Laurie and Buz Scutt, Dan DiGrazio with Butterball and Mary Weaver of Mary’s Southern Grill.

A Conversation with Todd Gilbert of Valley Companies

This week, Kyle jumps into the Conversation Series… I called an old friend to see if he and his views saw anything different than mine and with his spot in the industry being so different than mine, I had nothing to lose. The takeaways from the call were interesting, wide, and enlightening to me.  I asked his permission to share those takeaways with you.  Enjoy my conversation with my friend, Todd Gilbert of Valley Companies.  www.valleycompanies.com

How are Things Going?

It was no surprise to have Todd tell me how good things were with his family and how truly blessed he was.  I had to go with another question in to get to his business.  He spoke fondly of his team and how proud he was of the grit they continue to show.  He said he was disappointed on how COVID has made a couple divisions miss seasonal timing in certain markets and the way our government continues to operate in a vacuum.  Todd continues to wonder why Government will not learn or lean on those like us who are making safe, consciousness decisions for our team members, customers and society.

There is no doubt that Todd and his views align with mine perfectly.  We both agree that supply chain has shown many ways that others could look at with ways to deal with adversity.

Teams Dealing with Change

Both Todd and I went into remote teams and dealing with the change with much concern.  We both are enlightened that we got this right, with limited, if any, problems, and able to execute the heck out of the changes.  We are both in agreement that the workplace probably looks different in the future.  However, we both had a little issue painting a completely clear picture of it.  We agreed that as this transition continues post-COVID it will be powerful and transformational to many workers, how they work and what they do.

I found it very interesting that because of Todd’s team culture, his team was able to flex and cover non-traditional roles, something that probably doesn’t work as well if his staff was still in the office.  I was completely impressed with his stories of how his team figured out the will.

More of the same, but yet different

I found Todd’s words powerful when he said that our drivers don’t want to be called heroes, but they just want to do their job.  He finds that his drivers answer his thanks with a no thanks needed, thanks for the job.  They just want to do their job and be part of the solution.

Next topic from Todd is how his company continues to evolve in exciting new ways (watch for big things from Valley Companies), but still the driver remains in the center of that.  He talked about diversification opportunities, controlled growth, efficiencies and how they are going to do things better.  It motivates me to be more creative in my approach.

The Power of Trend

I must admit, I am not a huge trend guy.  I track using comparatives and results versus goals.  Todd was telling me that how they started to talk about trend during these COVID times and that has allowed him to rally his teams around things that matter.  It has also motived his trend that his business is up in all measurements of trend over the past seven weeks.  That is completely impressive.  One that he and his team should be proud of.

Easy take away for all: Talk about trend!

Family Business

I have always looked at the opportunities that family business has allowed me that you can’t get anywhere else in life.  I talk openly of my time with my mom and dad.  The many lessons they taught me that prepared me for life.

If was fun to talk with Todd about the same experiences.  It came up early in our conversation that supply chain has exercised resilience better than almost any other industry.  It was fun to hear our conversation come full circle to how our family businesses were better prepared in our minds for the deep changes due to our resilience that was taught to us through our parents and in our family and our business.  It was fun to talk about those lessons that we learned.  I encouraged Todd to continue to listen to his dad, Jerry. Everyone knows I would love to talk to my dad.

Think of things that are important and make them more important

As I was talking with Todd, it became clear that one thing we have done well through this time is to identify what is important to each of us and make them more important.  Sounds simple.  Have you tried it?

If you have not yet, consider this to be the one thing you can do better for yourself.  Todd and I are fans of John Maxwell’s book “Intentional Living”.  Maxwell speaks of your circle and how to manage it.  Both Todd and I spoke to increasing our influence in ways that matter to those that are in our circle.

Have you intentionally looked at your life and what makes it up?  Where you spend your time, who you spend it with and what you are doing?  You should.  You will find out interesting things about yourself.

My wish for you is that you fill your circle with people like Todd.  People you can call, talk shop, appreciate the investment of time and spirit into each other.  If you do not see this in your circle, go find it!

This Father’s Day Weekend

If your father is still with us, please express your appreciation, love, and thanks.  If you came from a home in which your father was a true influencer of your life and in a positive way – please share that with your father.  It is that man’s ultimate compliment.  Tell them why you are thankful and how their influence has made you better today.  Todd gets the chance to tell his father his thanks and gets to share the story of this article and how resilience came to the surface in our conversation.  Do the same.

If you are a father on this Father’s Day weekend, look at things that you are doing, could be doing, and should be doing to mold the children in your life.  It does not matter if they are one, 16 or 40; you have an influence on them and use it for good things.

If your father is in a family business with you or your children are in a business with you; express your thanks for being able to work together, learn together and remain a quality family – all at the same time.  Express your desire to be able to continue to do all these things, simultaneously and successfully going forward.  Share a moment of appreciation of how darn cool it is to be able to work with family!

Remember, leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.  Use yours wisely!

A Conversation with Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Josh Hedden

Our Ada Brewster continues her conversation series with a conversation with Georgia State Patrol Corporal Josh Hedden. Ada asked Cpl. Hedden about a series of different topics such as COVID-19 and recent protests to get his personal view as a law enforcement professional.

Cpl. Hedden was raised in a small north Georgia town, by his single, disabled mother and he grew up close to his extended family.   Cpl. Hedden says his grandmother was his greatest role model, she was a very intelligent retired elementary school teacher, who he never once heard speak a bad word about anyone.

Growing up, Cpl. Hedden always admired people in public safety, the local Police Chief, Jimmy Wright, was a positive influence in Cpl. Hedden’s life as a friend and someone Josh looked up to. Wright’s influence led Cpl. Hedden to want to join the Georgia State Patrol.

At age 25, after applying, passing a string of tests followed by a psychological evaluation, medical exam, and an entrance exam, Cpl. Hedden was accepted to the GSP Trooper School.   Before becoming a trooper, cadets undergo 33 weeks of intense physical and mental training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.  During that time Cpl. Hedden says, cadets complete a GA Post Curriculum with other training in Basic/Advanced Firearms, Basic/Advanced Driving, Crash Investigation (On scene Levels 1-3), Field Sobriety Training for DUI Enforcement, Radar and Lidar for Speed Detection.  Cadets also go through three months of Field Training and during that time we train at three different field posts throughout the state.  Once you complete, and successfully pass, you get to the prestigious title of Trooper.

Everyone starts their career as a Trooper.  After 18 months on the job and with a supervisor’s recommendation to the Command staff, a Trooper becomes a Trooper First Class (TFC).  There three levels to the TFC rank structure.  These ranks come with time, training and a supervisor’s recommendation to the Command staff.  While in the phase two of his career, Hedden became eligible and was promoted to the rank of Corporal.  “I feel extremely fortunate for this opportunity and I will continue working and serving to progress further,” Cpl. Hedden said.

Cpl. Hedden is assigned to Post 6, which is Gainesville, GA, the capitol of Hall County. Folks in the trucking industry know it as the poultry capitol of the world, with its claim to fame, the chicken monument. Cpl. Hedden says Hall County is much bigger than his hometown. Post 6 covers Hall, White, and Banks County.

The working environment is a little different than Cpl. Hedden’s hometown. His hometown only has one grocery store, no malls or big businesses.  “There is a two-lane road that runs through the town, and even at 34 years old, I can remember when we only had one red light in the county, now our small country town has four traffic lights,” Cpl. Hedden said.

When I asked about recent events including COVID-19 and how that has affected people in the communities he serves and his own hometown, Cpl. Hedden pointed to the fact that we don’t know when or if it’s ever going away completely, that people should maintain the safety procedures set by the CDC while getting out and enjoying their lives. Cpl. Hedden also said that we shouldn’t let fear of what may be going on around us keep us from enjoying our families.

In the past weeks, as protestors gathered to exercise their first amendment rights stemming from George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers, Cpl. Hedden has been called into work the protests in Atlanta.  When I asked him about that his reply was simply put, “I can say that it is my job to ensure safety for anyone exercising their First Amendment rights.  It’s our job to make sure life and property are protected while those rights are being exercised.   Anytime there is an event that brings a negative light on law enforcement, it’s hard. There are so many good law enforcement officers in this world.  I will continue to hope the public separates the good from the bad.” 

Cpl. Hedden and his wife, Tanya, have two young sons, and he says it all goes back to family for him. “I miss my family when work keeps me away longer than usual, but my family believes in what I do, and they are understanding.  There is no way to do this job without the support of family and friends.  My family understands my role as a protector of others.  They miss me while I am away and I miss them, but they support me in my role every day,” Cpl. Hedden said.

“When Josh leaves there’s always that fear in the back of my mind. The what if’s, but I can’t let fear consume my life. I pray, put my trust in God, and let Him handle the rest. At the end of the day He has the final say so.,” Tanya Hedden said.  “The boys always keep me busy, but we just continue with our normal routine. I never want to instill worry or fear in them. If Josh leaves suddenly and our oldest knows something may be going on then we vaguely talk about it, pray about it, and I try to make him understand that it’s ultimately in God’s hands.”

Family time is important for the Hedden’s. They enjoy visiting with friends and family, going out to eat, and just being outdoors in general.  Some of their favorite activities include riding four wheelers and fishing.

At the end of the day, Cpl. Hedden wants people to know that he and the other men and women in uniform are just like everyone else. “We are human. We have families and loved ones who depend on us, just like the public does. We work hard every day to keep the roadways safe and to assist other agencies with anything asked of us.  We enjoy interacting with members of our community and we hope they feel the same.”

Cpl. Hedden has a message he wanted to pass along to the men and women out on the roads driving trucks over the past few months. “I want them to know I appreciate the job you do, and your families. I understand you are away from your families for days, weeks or even months. Without you the stores would be empty, no fuel at the gas stations, no places to go eat and so on. Truck drivers are a vital source to everyday life and without them America would suffer, so thank you to every driver and your family for your dedication and time.”

This is the fourth piece in Ada Brewster’s conversation series. Previously, Ada has chatted with Kottke Trucking drivers Laurie and Buz Scutt, Dan DiGrazio with Butterball and Mary Weaver of Mary’s Southern Grill.

A Conversation with Mary Weaver of Mary’s Southern Grill

Our National Account Manger Ada Brewster chatted with Mary Weaver, owner of Mary’s Southern Grill about her restaurant and helping feed truck drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in March, grocery store shelves were being emptied faster than they could be restocked and toilet paper seemed like a valuable commodity. Truck drivers were doing everything possible to make sure those of us who sheltered at home had the necessities we needed. However, these essential drivers were having a hard time finding a meal to eat as restaurants were closing their doors, their dining rooms, and, of course, the big rigs they drive could not go through the drive-thru.

As my own travel had come to a screeching halt, and I was at home, I felt like I needed to try to do a little something to help these drivers who have been my heroes long before I ever witnessed a national crisis. So, on March 24, I called on my friend, Mary Weaver, who owns and operates Mary’s Southern Grill.

Most likely you are not familiar with this little hidden gem, and unless you have ties to the north Georgia mountains you probably are not even familiar with the town where Mary’s is located, but I will fill you in on all that shortly.

I told Mary that truck drivers were having a hard time out on the road and asked if she could help me feed some truckers. Without hesitation, she asked how many were we feeding and when do we need it to be ready to go? Out of this came our plan to take boxed meals to feed the drivers loading at Koch Foods’ poultry plant was born.

Mary, like other restaurant owners, was going through a struggle with her own business. People were afraid to go out, and a lot of restaurants had been forced to close already, not by the government, but because business had gotten so slow.  Nevertheless, Mary stepped up without thinking of the additional burden this might put on her own business. She told me, “We love our truckers, and because of them we have the food we need to operate our business.”

Giving to others has been in Mary’s blood since a very young age. At only nine-years-old she took a job in a restaurant in Millersburg, OH where she washed dishes and gave all her earnings to her mother to help the family pay bills. When she got a little older, she was able to start working as a server in the local cafe, still giving her wages to her mother.

At sixteen, in addition to working in the café, Mary would head to the bean fields where she had landed a second job hoeing beans. She was able to save the money from her second job, and when she had $80 in savings she left home for Sarasota, FL.

There was where Mary found an apartment, but she didn’t realize that in addition to rent she would need money for deposits on utilities, etc. So, she got a job in a little café making $7 per day and stayed with a relative until she had saved money for the deposits. After getting familiar with Sarasota she found a diner that served home cooked meals at lunch to the working class, and that was where she felt most comfortable and her real career in the restaurant business was born. Soon, she found herself serving the same people day after day, making friends and earning a very nice income of about $75 a day in tips (she estimates this would be about the same as $200 a day now). Mary loved her customers and they loved her.

After getting married, Mary left the restaurant business for a while, but when she found herself single again with two children to raise, she went back to doing what she knew best to provide for her family. As Mary’s two sons started getting into mischief, she figured the best way to deal with that was to put them to work. She got them jobs at the restaurant she worked at bussing tables and washing dishes. This solved the problem, but little did she know she was planting a seed for their own futures in the business.

Mary remarried, and her husband loved wonderful homecooked meals and desserts she made daily from scratch, telling her over and over she should open a restaurant of her own. He was a store manager for Publix in Sarasota, and owned a second home in Hayesville, NC. In 1995, after Hurricane Opal brought destructive winds to north Georgia and western North Carolina, the couple came on the property in North Carolina. While here they decided that his managerial experience and Mary’s knowledge of the restaurant business would be a perfect combination for a successful business in a town that needed a good place to eat.  The Country Cottage opened doors in 1995. Ten years later the business was going strong, but the couple split, and Mary came just across the Georgia line and opened Mary’s Southern Grill.

Mary’s has been in the same location since 2005, at the three-way intersection between Hiawassee, GA; Young Harris, GA and Hayesville, NC, in Towns County, Georgia. People wonder how a restaurant that seats 100 survive in a county with an entire population of under 12,000, many of whom are snowbirds that retreat to Florida during the winter months. Simply, you are hard pressed to find a person in the surrounding towns who hasn’t ate at Mary’s.

Everything on the menu is homemade from the salad dressings to the desserts.  At Mary’s you can find homemade biscuits and gravy, a hand-patted burger and fresh rainbow trout just to name a few. You always find familiar smiling faces, too. Very rarely does a server leave Mary’s, like Suzanne who has been with Mary since 1995 or like Jocelyn Byers who started out busing tables at 15 and now, at 22, is a Senior with a 4.0 average, on the President’s List at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, majoring in Marketing. Jocelyn intends to continue working at Mary’s part-time after graduation because of the relationships she had built with customers, co-workers, and Mary.

To no surprise, Mary’s sons are both also in the restaurant business now. One is working with her, managing the kitchen at Mary’s, while the other owning his own restaurant, called Sweet Onion, in Waynesville, NC.

Mary says the government shutdown earlier this year was the most stressful part of her life.  When dining rooms were ordered to close, she locked up for one week. She soon realized her business was a part of the community and she felt a duty to serve those, like the elderly patrons, who were regulars and depended on coming there every morning for breakfast or lunch. From that point on, for the next six weeks they did take out only.  Now, under the current phase of reopening, they are able seat half capacity, with servers wearing masks. Mary says without the unwavering support of the community and the help from the government for small businesses she would never have been able to reopen after the shutdown. Her motto is the more you give others, the more you are blessed in different ways.

Technology and computers are not a top priority for Mary, she prefers making delicious creations and serving others.  She doesn’t do online banking, preferring to be given a paper invoice and hand write her checks. One of the things that personally hurt her the most during the shutdown was when a vendor that she has bought supplies from every week since 1995 and thought she had relationship with, came to her on a Thursday and told her if she didn’t sign a form for automatic draft from her checking account that day her order for the following day would not be delivered.   She has a choice of a few different vendors but has had trouble finding other suppliers who offer the same quality in some of the items she buys. For example, when she tried another mayonnaise it changed the flavors of her homemade potato salad, coleslaw, and salad dressings. With that in mind she was forced to sign the agreement for automatic withdrawals.

Since the shutdown it has been difficult to be able to rely on getting everything the restaurant needs on a weekly basis. At times they have been out of potatoes, chicken, country ham, bacon, cheese, sour cream, and butter. Since everything is homemade, Mary wants the best quality in products she can find, because her customers expect a good, quality meal every time they come in. Also, important is serving produce grown in American whenever possible as the restaurant prides itself on supporting American farmers.

When I asked Mary what she has seen change the most since COVID-19, she says people are afraid of one another now. It was they were afraid of the pandemic, but now, in addition to that she has seen people fleeing cities, to find tranquility in the north Georgia mountains.  One such couple from Atlanta found Mary’s last weekend, they told her they had left their home on Friday, heading north away from the destruction and unrest because they were afraid. Then while waiting on their breakfast, the couple realized how busy the restaurant was with people waiting to be seated, and decided they were afraid to be exposed to that many people so they took their food to go. Mary’s heart went out to them, they did not feel safe in their home and they did not feel safe away from home.

The scale Mary set for cleanliness and sanitization was already above what the government required for restaurants, so that didn’t present anything new to the staff. The masks, on the other hand, are proving a little more difficult to deal with as they greet customers and take their orders.

Mary is thankful to the community, to the tourists who have found her, and the first responders. She also is grateful for the truck drivers who have kept everyone supplied with what we need.

Ada Brewster can be reached at ada@kottke-trucking.com and by phone at 320-510-0033. This is Ada’s third piece in our conversation series. Ada has talked with Kottke Trucking drivers Laurie and Buz Scutt and also with Dan DiGrazio with Butterball.

Mary and her staff at Mary’s Southern Grill.

Step inside Mary’s Southern Grill.

The scenic views of the north Georgia mountains.

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.  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!

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

Kottke Trucking, Inc.