A Truck and a Thousand Bucks

Picture this. Your country is in a recession and you’re an over-the-road truck driver. You have two children to take care of and need to make money. Your boss tells you that you must haul an illegal load for him — no ifs, ands, or buts about it. What do you do? If you are like one local man, you start your own business.

It sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what Max Weigman did when he started up MLJ Trucking LLC. He was tired of driving over the road and being forced to haul what he called “junk equipment.” He wanted to drive locally, but since he had little experience driving locally, no one wanted to hire him. Running out of options, Weigman decided he would start his own business. After about a month of searching for a loan, Weigman finally convinced a loan officer that he had a sound business plan. He now finally had the capital he needed to start his business.

“I was tired of having to run junk equipment and having to do a driving job the way other people wanted it done when I knew a better way,” Weigman says.

On Jan. 6, 2009, Weigman created MLJ Trucking LLC, which stands for Max and his two sons, Lance and Jonathan. Weigman started out with one truck and $1,000 for gas. After working for a while driving his dump truck, Weigman realized that work was really slowing down and his company would never make it with only one truck. He had to diversify, and he had to go back to his roots — over-the-road driving. He bought a road truck, but he hired someone to drive that truck for him. Shortly after buying the road truck, Weigman bought a trailer so that he did not have to rent one.

Four years later, the business has two trucks and one trailer and now runs in 47 states. Weigman hopes that one day he will have a whole fleet of trucks — about 20 trucks and 25 trailers. He also wants to have an office that is not in his home. Eventually, Weigman wants to manage his trucks instead of being a daily driver. He feels like expanding his business will be easier than it was starting his business. Now that he has an established business that is doing well for itself, it will be easier to raise the capital needed to expand.

Looking back on his journey, Weigman says there are some disadvantages and advantages to owning your own business. When starting out, profit is minimal due to covering costs, and most of the profit that is made ends up being reinvested into the company. He says the hours are long, and it can be very stressful at times. When things get bad or something goes wrong, you only have yourself to blame. On the positive side, he can haul what he wants to haul. He knows when his truck gets checked that there is nothing illegal on it and everything will check out. Weigman also likes the fact that he can take off work when he wants. Plus, being in the trucking industry means he really only has to work eight months of the year, but his road truck runs year round.

“It takes a lot of time out of the day,” Weigman says. “It’s no longer an eight-hour day. You get some long days and nights no matter what time.”

Weigman has learned a lot through his experience of starting up MLJ Trucking. As a result, he has some advice for people wanting to start their own business. First and foremost, be patient. It doesn’t just come to you on a silver platter; it takes time to start a business. He also says you have to knock on doors, look around, network, and look around some more. Don’t be too hasty. For people wanting to enter the trucking industry, Weigman says to start small. He also recommends starting with an older truck to keep your payments down. However, he says the key to making it in the trucking industry is to save more money while you’re working. Since you only work eight months out of the year, it is very important to make a budget and save up so you can get through the months that you are not working.

“Take it slow, explore your options, and don’t get in a situation where you’re limited,” Weigman says.

He took a risky path by starting a new business right after the start of a lingering recession. It’s a decision that many people would be afraid to make. Yet he knew this was the only way that he could do what he truly wanted to do with his life, and to do it the way he wanted it to be done.

“It makes it a lot easier knowing when I get in that truck in the morning that it’s right and I don’t really have to worry anymore what’s going to happen, (like) am I going to be able to get the load off, is the equipment going to break down,” says Weigman. “I know the equipment and what kind of shape it’s in.”

— This story was written for an Economics 361 Money and Banking class taught by University of Southern Indiana Assistant Professor Marie Bussing-Burks. Andrea Davis graduated from USI in May. For more information about MLJ Trucking LLC, visit www.mljtruckingllc.com.

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