David Freymiller remembers the highs and the lows. And to see today the familiar Oklahoma City-based Freymiller fleet of Peterbilt Model 579s, now up to more than 450, hauling refrigerated meat from coast to coast, it’s hard to believe there were ever any significant lows.
The highs would include the late 1970s, when David’s dad, Don, had completed the transition from struggling dairy farmer in tiny Shullsburg, Wis., to running a full-time refrigerated goods hauler, with Peterbilt cabovers providing much of the muscle. A few years later, the Freymiller family, their 53 trucks and the families of about 20 drivers and employees up and moved to Bakersfield, Calif., to be better situated on their east-west corridor and the routes they served to Chicago. The move worked out so well that by 1986, with more than 400 trucks, Don took the company public.
But the lows nearly permanently sidetracked this American success story.
A worker’s compensation matter had a wide-ranging impact on the company’s finances and ability to do business. The impact was such that by 1994, it played a role in the firm’s decision to relocate to Oklahoma City. But the move was far more expensive than the Freymillers had forecast it to be, and soon the company declared bankruptcy. By 1996, they were pressured into selling the company. They initially retained their jobs, but not for long.
“Dad was fired on a Monday,” David recalls. “I was fired on a Tuesday. Dad comes up to me and says, ‘Well… what are you gonna do?’
“I said, ‘You never taught me anything else. I’m going trucking.’ I owned five trucks in my wife’s and my name. Dad owned four. Away we went.”
It took a dose of humility for the Freymillers, who once headed up a fleet of nearly 900 power units, to reach out to their former vendors at that point. But that’s when they learned that their integrity, reputations and past relationships had real tangible value.
“We needed trailers and went to the guy who had sold us in the past,” David recalls. “He said, ‘I have 11 old Freymiller trailers here — come and get ‘em.’ If you can’t get financing, I’ll finance you.’
“I called the insurance company and said, ‘We’re doing this again, I need insurance.’ He says, ‘Done.’ I say, ‘Wait, I don’t have any money.’ He says, “Don’t worry about it. Done.’ I had insurance on file the next day.”
Freymiller also found that the goodwill equity he and his father had established would land them some office space. It wasn’t much — a bank-owned building in which the banker allowed them to set up shop — but it allowed them to get started. The same banker set them up with a line of credit despite the fact that their only tangible collateral may have been their reputations.
“Drivers and customers? We had all we wanted. They were all ready for us to get back in the business.
“All of this was a result of the relationships my father had grown over the years. They helped us get back on track.”
While Peterbilts were a presence off and on in the Freymiller fleet over the years, it wasn’t till 2004 that Freymiller started to truly invest in the value of Peterbilt ownership. The economic hardships of that period put a lot of lightly used equipment on the market, and Freymiller started stocking up.
“I went to a lot of auctions and started buying a lot of long and tall,” he says, referencing Peterbilt’s traditional styling line of conventional tractors. “The ones we didn’t use, we started to sell retail. Everybody knows that the used market, particularly owner-operators, like Peterbilt.
“But it just started to become very clear that you put two trucks, side by side, spec for spec, and the Peterbilt is going to bring a better dollar.
“I can’t do it in the stock market, but I’ll do it in trucks with Peterbilts. Buy low, sell high.”
Another group happy to be operating Peterbilts is Freymiller’s own team of drivers.
“They love ‘em,” he says. “One year I bought four or five of another make and I was going to give them to guys coming out of orientation — new trucks. One guy says, ‘I came here to drive a Peterbilt. If you’re not gonna give me a Peterbilt, I’ll go somewhere else.’
“We gave him what he wanted. Got to pick his own color, too.”
Freymiller orders his new Model 579s, many of which now include PACCAR MX-13 power, in up to six different colors, driver’s choice.
“My dad saw our first yellow truck and he said, ‘What the hell is that?’ But some drivers like it. I like it, too. And if the drivers like it, the second buyer is gonna like it.
“If they’re all one color, people just think, ‘That’s a company truck,’” he adds. “But these Model 579s are well-liked on the resale market. The ride is quiet. It’s roomy. And we spec them with an 80-inch sleeper and some of the other features drivers like. Driver acceptance is easy, and the second buyer is pretty smart these days. They see what we’re capable of doing in fuel economy with these Model 579s.”
Freymiller reports that the total cost-of-ownership sweet spot for reselling his Peterbilt equipment is about 40 months, at which the trucks will have accumulated about 400,000 miles.
“It comes down to what you buy it for on the front end, minus what you sell it for. I’m not going to buy a cheaper truck that will sell for less than the difference. That’s the way I look at it.
“Driver satisfaction and resale — the two go hand in hand. I’ve got a product my drivers want to operate, and it’s gonna get me more on the resale market. It’s that simple.
“And it’s a big part of what’s helped us get back on top.”