President of Cool Runnings: Costs are Hurting Truckers

Fred Plotsky and his staff at Cool Runnings arrange about 8,000 loads a year.  He sees the biggest issue facing trucker is financing, followed by the rules and regulations on the trucking industry.

“However,” he adds, “If you can’t get the financing, the rules and regulations don’t matter.”

The president of Cool Runnings, based in Kenosha, WI, says truckers are facing rising costs with everything from tires to fuel and labor.  An engine overhaul that was $13,000 two years ago now costs $20,000 to $21,000.  The mechanics who work on those diesel engines have hourly rates that have increased from $60 to $100 per hour.

While the produce rates have gone up in recent weeks, the price of disel fuel remains high as well.  For example, Fred says a truck averaging five miles per gallon, running 3,700 miles per week, at today’s diesel prices, that is costing $3,000 a week, which is hard to finance.

While Cool Runnings charges a two percent fee for advances on loads, Fred points out a lot of truck brokers charge three to five percent.

“The broker has to borrow to finance advance loads.  The bank is not loaning you that money for free,” Fred states.  “Financing is tight.  You either pay the bank, or the broker for the cash advance.  It is going to cost you more either way.”

It used to be the average cash advance was around $500 to $700 for the fuel to cover a trip from Idaho to Chicago.  The advances are around $1,500. 

“You are talking two percent of $1,500 when it used to be two percent of $700.  The truckers have to find a way to finance this themselves, while the others who do not figure it out fall by the wayside,” Fred says.

Cool Runnings works with a lot of owner operators and small fleet operations.  “The guys who used to have 20 trucks now own eight or 10.  If he had 10 trucks, now he only has three or four trucks,” Fred says.  “They just don’t care anymore.  They’ll say, `I’m tired of fighting the rules and regulations and everything else.'”

One example of excessive government interference, Fred notes, are the CARB (California Air Resources Board) rules in California.  The requirements, some of which have to do with reducing emissions, increase the costs of operation and is make it very difficult for truckers to comply, much less continue to operate profitably.

He knows one trucker who delivers freight to Utah and runs to Idaho and to pick up  potatoes and French fries for delivery to Chicago.  That trucker receives a consistent, steady fair rate.  The trucker also does not have to comply with California’s CARB rules.

“Now that those rules are stabilized, just don’t keep changing them,” Fred states.

 Cool Runnings History

Although it has been nearly 26 years, it seems almost like yesterday when I first met Fred Plotsky.  I was riding in a car with a friend and business associate named Gary Robinson in Highland Park, IL during a week I was working in Chicago.  Gary had just sold his truck brokerage, Cool Runnings.

How would you like to meet the new owner of Cool Runnings?  He’s really a great guy,” Gary asked me.  In a moment, Gary had Fred dialed up on his car phone.  I met up with Fred later that day and the rest is history.  We have been friends ever since.

Fred and I immediately found a few things in common.  We both had an interest in produce trucking for starters.  Both of us loved to fish. Fred goes after northern pike, especially on fishing expeditions to Canada, while this southern boy prefers the warmer climates and large mouth (you might find Fred reporting to work at the Cool Runnings offices in Kenosha, WI, wearing shorts in January). 

Fred also has love for listening to radio, and only a few months earlier in 1986 I had launched the Produce Truckers Network and had two radio stations airing it — WRVA in Richmond, VA with Big John Trimble and WMAQ in Chicago with Fred Sanders.

Both of us are sports fans with Fred a great follower of the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers.  He is forgiving of my support of St. Louis Cardinals.

Over the years I’ve learned to respect Fred as a loving husband, great father, little league baseball coach — and a fair and honest businessman.

It has sort of become a tradition with Fred and I to occasionally have lunch together — usually involving chicken wings and root beer.  It was during such a recent visit, Fred shared some thoughts on Cool Runnings, which he has owned since July 1986, as well as what is happening with the trucking industry, and what he views as the major concerns and issues with the professionals driving the big rigs. — By Bill Martin