Summitt Trucking fell so deep into bankruptcy in 2009 that it was never expected to make it out the other side, let alone become the successful company it is today.
“At one point I sat down, threw up my hands, looked up and said ‘Bring whatever you got because I’m not quitting,’” President David Summitt remembers. “That was a turning point. A couple weeks later everything started coming together and the business grabbed ahold of itself.”
The Clarksville, Ind.-based company was founded in 2003 with 125 trucks and 200 trailers. The next year, Summitt Trucking acquired Big T and added 300 trucks and 600 trailers, and then in 2005 it purchased the assets of Harry Owen and grew to 456 trucks and 1,088 trailers. The company was growing quickly – until the bottom fell out. “In the first quarter 2009 our finance company closed their doors with no warning, took our line of credit with them and forced us into Chapter 11,” Summitt explains. “We had a great company, but we had a bad balance sheet because we grew so fast.”
A series of unexpected events led Summitt to his company’s sole chance of survival when he met and formed a partnership with Doug Carmichael, owner of Transport Enterprise Leasing, the nation’s premier commercial truck and trailer equipment management services provider and Derwin Brendle of Transport Funding Solutions. “Doug bought our equipment, gave us the equity and that equity bought our way out of Chapter 11 in 2012,” Summitt explains. “Doug bought the equipment and leased it back to us. He replaced 50 percent of the fleet with newer equipment and that gave us better fuel efficiency, lower maintenance cost and a better start.”
Today, Summitt Trucking operates a much smaller fleet of 175 trucks and 550 trailers, 400 of which are dry van and 150 are reefer. About 25 of its trucks are owner operated. Summitt’s service area decreased from 48 states to 20 and the company averages about 160 loads per day. “Becoming very humbled can be a good thing,” Summitt says. “The education process of that bankruptcy has been a good thing for myself and the company.”
Throughout the company’s bankruptcy, Summitt says the one thing he was amazed by was the loyalty of his employees, customers and vendors who never left despite Summitt Trucking’s troubles. “I have virtually the same customer list now as I did during bankruptcy,” Summitt notes. “All those people stood with us and believed in us. Looking back, I can say I never lost a customer, employee or vendor that was directly related to bankruptcy.”
Summitt Trucking employs 238 full-time and about 25 part-time people, some of who have been driving for the family’s companies since 1985 when Summitt’s father, William Summitt, founded Bestway Trucking. “I am most thankful for my employees,” Summitt says. “To stay with us through our ups and downs is an outstanding commitment. The loyalty, respect and honor from the members of our team set us apart from everyone else.”
The company’s driver retention rate is about 78 percent and its office staff retention rate is 99 percent, but Summitt says he has never asked anyone once to stay with him. “I always told them – and still tell them – if you think the grass is greener across the street, and you can make a better life, I want you to do what you need to do,” he adds. “I want them to benefit because of their capabilities, knowledge and experience, and if I can help them I will.”
Summitt Trucking is entering its third year out of bankruptcy and has positioned itself for continued success. The company’s fleet of new trucks is backed 50 percent by Transport Equipment Leasing and 50 percent by a full maintenance lease with Penske. The fleet has been upgraded with the latest aerodynamic technology for optimal performance. “Technology advancements are not just about electronics,” Summitt notes. “On our trucks we are installing the Flow Below Tractor Aerodyne Kits and wheel covers. On our trailers we have equipped them with side skirts, air inflation systems, Flow Below wheel covers, trailer tails and low-rolling resistance Bridgestone/Firestone tires.”
Including the aerodynamic technology on its trucks and new transportation software, Summitt Trucking has invested about $2 million in technology in the past year. “We now play with the big boys; we are state-of-the-art,” Summitt says.
Moving forward, Summitt Trucking plans to grow 10 to 20 percent annually by adding more customers and service lanes. To ensure history does not repeat itself, Summitt says he is growing slow and smart. “We will not rapidly expand, but stay focused, lean and profitable,” Summitt says. “I’ve been doing this for 32 years and growth doesn’t scare me. I am perfectly comfortable saying we can grow at a 10 to 20 percent pace.”