Greg Carman’s work to keep 45 trucks profitably engaged in a regional trucking company includes remaining positive, staying focused on priorities and not allowing technology to harm good personal relationships with employees and customers.
Carman’s parents, John and Diana, founded Fort Smith-based Carman Inc. in the early 1980s and grew a company that now employs about 65 people and operates with 45 trucks. Greg runs the sales side of the business, and his younger brother, Eric, manages the maintenance side of the business.
“When we were growing up, Eric was always the fixer. I was good on the sales side, and Eric was good on the maintenance side,” Greg explained, adding that he and Eric are proud to keep a business going that their parents worked hard to create. “We are really able to cover each other. He’s got my back and I’ve got his.”
But Greg admitted that in recent years it’s been tough to remain the “positive influence” a small business needs. Greg, who is active on the Board of Directors of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the state and federal politics impacting trucking and the years of a tough freight environment caused him to have a cynical outlook. There was a point during which he noticed his negative aura was not good for the company.
“An organization can get bogged down, really bogged down with that (negativity). … I had to step back and recognize that good things are happening and that you can’t lose sight of the positive things that are happening,” Greg said. “If the head of an organization carries that (negative attitude), then the danger is that it perpetuates.”
The other danger to a small company is when the boss is spread thin with non-business activities. In addition to the ATA Board, Greg is an active board member of Girls Inc. of Fort Smith, serves on the leadership team and Woodlands United Methodist Church, and is an active parent with his daughters who are part of a volleyball program that travels to tournaments in several states.
“I truly have to fight against being spread to thin. I truly have to keep tabs on the priorities. … I consistently have to do that with myself, because I can get off track so easily,” Greg said.
One of those priorities, Greg said, is in monitoring employees and those important internal relationships within all small companies. Greg said part of that effort involves “hiring and keeping good people who know what they are doing” and let them do it.
“When you find those rare people who work hard and do the right thing, that’s a big help to any business. … Yes, it allows me to concentrate on that (big picture) and what I need to be doing with that.”
Carman and Eric know the business from the office and the road. Prior to directly managing the business, the brothers worked as drivers. Greg drove for about 2.5 years.
“I thought I would just come in and get a desk and be an executive,” Greg said with a laugh. “But he (Dad) put me in a truck. At the time, I thought my dad was so horribly unfair.”
Greg said it didn’t take him long to realize the driving experience was the best thing his father did for him and his brother.
“We know what it’s like out there. … We’ve seen just about every problem you can see,” Greg said.
Greg and Eric have worked to modernize operations, but are careful to use technology that allows them to “keep the values of the company” created by their parents. Greg said he’s seen many companies rush to adopt new technology, only to see it backfire when it diminished personal interaction between employees and customers.
“Our niche is with those personal relationships. Our customers know they can call me in the middle of the night. … Try that with some large outfit,” Greg explained. “The large corporations don’t care about anything other than the price. Where true service is still a concern for them (customer), that’s the niche that I’ve carved out.”
That niche is working well, according to Greg, who said the first of the year began with “lackluster” business, but began to improve near the end of the first quarter.
“When we came out of February, all hell broke loose – in a good way,” Greg explained. “Right now, I’m out of trailers. I’m searching and begging to unload one of our trailers today so that I can load it.”
Another positive is that orders historically slowed in July as many Carman Inc. customers would scale back for plant maintenance or inventory shifts.
“That didn’t happen this year. It’s still going strong out there,” he said.