In celebration of the Stoops Freightliner 25th Silver Anniversary, owner Jeff Stoops was interviewed to discuss highlights of the last 25 years of the company as well as it’s direction moving forward. As featured in Stoops The Magazine Volume 2 – Issues 2 and 3.
Q: When did you first develop your passion for the trucking industry and what was that practical first step into the business?
Jeff: It goes way back when I was at Ball State and worked part time at the county highway department. I drove a dump truck while in college and after college I became a school teacher. A friend of the family owned a large grain elevator and they had three semis hauling grain. So I started hauling grain when I was 21 years old. I taught for three years and drove trucks in the summer. That’s how it all started.
Q: What do you remember most about the early days of Stoops Freightliner?
Jeff: The early days were a little bit different than they are today. I had been in the trucking business before and I sold my truck line, Stoops Express, which had about 600 trucks at the time. When I became a dealer I hadn’t thought that the people I’m trying to sell my trucks to had been my competitors when I owned my truck line. It took quite a bit of time to win those guys over. In fact, it didn’t really happen until we built this facility. It was the largest facility built in the United States for trucks, about 80,000 square feet. It really showed our customers we had a commitment to the marketplace and were in it for the long haul. After that it became much easier!
Q: A large percentage of your employees have been with you more than ten years, what do you attribute that to?
Jeff: It’s a multitude of things, and probably more than anything it was when I got in the business, I made a commitment to our people from day one. We were gonna pay the most we could pay. We were gonna lead the pack in innovation and we were gonna lead the pack with what we do in the community. We’ve stayed pretty true to that. We treat our people like we want to be treated. It’s an open door policy I have. If you have an issue you can come see me. We can’t always fix it, but we can discuss it. I think they like that. They like to feel they work for somebody who has feelings for them as well as the company.
Q: If you could affect one change in the industry today to make it better what would it be?
Jeff: In our particular segment of the industry, parts & service and truck sales business, we
really have a lack of new people coming in. Somehow if we could get to the high schools and the trade schools and let those kids know our business is here and it’s a viable career. That would make a big difference. Right now if you go into our shop, the average age of a technician is probably 45 to 50. We just don’t have the young people coming into our industry. Same thing on the truck drivers side. I read an article recently saying that they’re 200,000 truck drivers short in filling empty trucks. We just need to let people know they can make good money, provide for their family and have a solid career. That would be number one on my wish list.
Q: Tell us about Stoops commitment to helping veterans?
Jeff: As far as hiring veterans, we’ve been pretty active in doing that. In fact, we were introduced to the program ESGR (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) by Panther Racing here in town, who is sponsored by the National Guard. ESGR basically encourages employers to sign up to at least on veteran a year. Of course we try to hire more than that. We think it’s a big part of what we do as far as community involvement. We get these guys coming back from foreign soil and with the unemployment rate at 8-9% most of them come back and have no jobs. We signed up for the program, we’re committed in doing it and we’re very excited to do more.
Q: What is one of the biggest differences between Stoops Trucks Sales and Service in 1987 compared to today?
Jeff: Probably the biggest difference is our capabilities. When we started we were a small dealer. We had five mechanics, probably seven parts people and four or five salesmen. Over the years we’ve grown and have become a one stop shop for everything that a trucker could possibly need. We now have sixty-five technicians at our Indianapolis location. Throughout our system we have about a hundred and forty mechanics and around eighty to ninety parts people. So a guy could bring a truck or trailer here and we can do anything he wants done. Prior to that we were kind of limited to what we could provide. So today we’re a one stop shop and we’re proud of that. It doesn’t work for all our customers, but for most our customers we do everything.
Q: Describe your and Stoops involvement in the local community and why you do it?
Jeff: The thing I’m most proud of is something nobody ever sees us do as a company. Any employee or partner in the business who has a son, daughter, spouse or even themselves, involved in any community activities; soccer, little league, travel baseball, bowling, church support & any activity that they are involved in, if they ask for a donation we never say no. Whatever comes to my desk, we sign off on. We support all six hundred of our people and their activities. As a company and individuals, my wife and I support the Make- A-Wish Foundation every year with a corporate contribution. Nancy has served on the board of the Indiana State Museum. We bought an icon there at the Indiana State Museum and continue to raise funds there. She’s pretty passionate about it. We’re involved with the Eitlejorg Museum. I’m the chairman of the board at the United States Auto Club. We promote racing. They don’t pay me for that, but I’m involved in that. I’ve been active in the State Trucking Association. I’ve been the treasurer of our State Trucking Association for the last 15 years. We just made a nice donation to the Red Skelton Museum at Vincennes University. I went two years to Vincennes and two years of Ball State. We’re pretty active in all community affairs. We just did a sponsorship at The Villages for children this month. We think it’s important to give back. Our people that work with us at all our locations appreciate that. They see it in the community and it makes them proud to be an employee here.
Q: How would you describe your company as forward thinking as opposed to reactionary?
Jeff: Well, one thing that has set us apart from our competitors is having been a trucker myself. Starting as a school teacher, truck driver, a trucking company owner and then getting into this business, we’re able to have a little more insight into what customers go through on a daily basis than some of our competitors do. As we see trends in the industry changing we try to tailor our programs to stay ahead of the competition. We don’t just sell equipment and services to people, we like to become their business partner. Our major customers have been partners for twenty years and that never changes. We use everything from software that Freightliner has developed, software we have, maintenance programs at our shop, contract maintenance through our leasing company to direct contact with OEM to our customers. In fact, I have a meeting today with a customer in the factory. We like to think that we don’t just sell equipment and service, but we have a service to help them grow their companies.
Q: Whether early on, or during your growing years, what adivce would you give other business owners that may be facing the same challenges you did during those times.
Jeff: It’s probably a pretty simple answer. My thought has always been always follow your gut feeling and follow your instincts. Work hard, hire the best people and never go against what your tummy tells you is wrong. Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do. Stay true to your business. If you make a mistake, fix it and move on down the road. Bottom line is follow your gut and don’t stray from it.