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Straight Shooter: Jimmy Davis focuses on honesty and integrity to lead regional grocery hauler

By: Brad Bentley

Brad Bentley

A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.

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Jimmy Davis’s love for all things mechanical started at an early age. As a child on the school bus, Jimmy would sit in the front seat and watch the gauges on the dashboard instead of cutting up with his classmates in the back.

That may sound atypical, but to use a phrase from my some Southern colloquial arsenal:  he got it honest.

Jimmy’s grandfather pulled logs out of swamps, and his dad had a small pulpwood truck operation. “They taught me the value of hard work, and I guess you could say trucking is in my blood,” Jimmy said.

School of hard knocks

After getting what he described as “a high school education with a major in diesel mechanics,” Jimmy decided to follow in his father’s footsteps – but the pulp he was hauling came from Florida oranges instead of trees.

He began a ‘wildcatting’ operation with one truck and a reefer trailer, and soon expanded from carrying citrus intrastate to hauling eggs up the Eastern seaboard to New Jersey.  “What I discovered is the harder I worked, the luckier I got,” Jimmy said.  “I loved trucks. It’s all I knew, and I remember thinking back then that all I wanted was to build the business to 25 trucks.”

A family affair

Davis Express was started as – and has remained – a family business. Once the company was established, Jimmy’s dad worked in the shop for a few years, and over time two sons and a daughter have been employed. “I didn’t want my kids flipping burgers to make a living, so I gave them some options here,” Jimmy said. “They already understood what was going on with the business by hearing about it at the supper table and when those phones rang at midnight.”

Josh, the oldest son, now run operations and the shop, while daughter Kayla manages the safety department. Joel, the youngest son, handles all of the company’s financials. Jimmy says all of his children have to work for what they get. For example, Josh may be a ‘numbers guy’, but as a teenager he learned how to mount and dismount truck tires.

Jimmy has tried to instill his personal mantra of ‘Do The Right Thing’ in his children. “I often try to reach back to old ways, but know it’s hard to manage like you did when we had 50 trucks,” Jimmy stated. “One thing I can say for sure is our employees know if it came from a family member, they will get an honest answer.”

Words for the wise

Jimmy says he has often been misled by people giving him business advice, so he seeks a higher power. His favorite book is The Bible, and he especially enjoys reading Proverbs because it teaches wisdom. “I know none of us are in control and that you take what the Lord gives you and run with it each day,” Jimmy stated. “I remember when we got to 89 trucks and I thought I was king of the hill, but I realized at an older age you’re not as smart as you think you are.” One business lesson Jimmy has learned is not to try and copy what works for other fleets.

“I knew we weren’t big enough to make a huge footprint in the industry, so I decided to focus on our niche and find something others cannot do,” Jimmy said. Davis Express is a grocery hauler, and that market is changing to feature more fresh and perishable items on store shelves.  The grocery business has also shifted to a more automated environment, with more shopping on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, Davis Express has transformed itself from a five day a week carrier to a 24/7 operation. “The busiest time is the weekend, so we have changed our support team to add more nighttime and weekend employees,” Jimmy said.

Davis also has a geographic niche, as they focus only on the Southeast. “We want to be the #1 carrier in our region,” Jimmy stated. The best benefit for drivers is they are always close to their house. Davis traditionally works a 7 days out, 2 days home schedule, and drivers are usually no more than 350-400 miles from home.

Stopping Southern fried stereotypes

Just as many Southern cooks have cut down on the grease, shaken off the excess flour, and added freshness to their plates, Davis Express is working hard to cut down on obesity and other health risks within their fleet. They recently implemented a HealthCheck360 wellness program to better monitor and manage their driver’s health by identifying risk factors and improve in areas that may demonstrate future hazards.

HealthCheck360 combines self-collected information with biometric measurements to give Davis Express an objective view of their drivers’ health risks and link those factors to their lifestyle choices. The biometric screening consists of height, weight, body measurements, blood pressure, and a blood draw that reveals levels of cholesterol, glucose, triglycerides, nicotine and other health indicators.

Participation in the HealthCheck360 program is free and completely voluntary.  In addition to offering the program at no charge, Davis Express also provides incentives for participation and improving their health over time.  “Our drivers in the program are happier with themselves,” Jimmy stated. “We’ve had some great success stories not only with weight loss, but with driver lowering sugar levels, blood pressure and taking less medication.”

Despite those successes, Jimmy’s favorite driver story is a humorous one involving Ted Welcome, an ‘old hand’ who was pulling a load across North Carolina several years ago when his accelerator spring broke. “Ted said those electric poles came faster and faster and with the pedal to the floor, there was no way for him to slow down,” Jimmy recalled. “Going up hills and off ramps didn’t work, so he eventually shut the truck off and coasted into a truck stop and rolled past the fuel island to the shop.” Ted then asked the mechanic to look at his truck and tell him what was wrong with it. The mechanic put his ear to the engine and said, “That’s easy. The truck isn’t running.” Then Ted replied, “Well, it’s damn sure BEEN running!”

When Jimmy‘s not running Davis Express, he enjoys being around the water – whether a river, ocean or swimming pool – and says he needs more downtime. However, Jimmy has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I do not want to lose my self-worth,” he said.

Focused on the future

Davis Express currently runs 320 trucks, and Jimmy says his fleet is well-positioned to remain competitive. The company converted to electronic logs in 2009, and boasts excellent CSA scores. When asked where he wants to take the company, Jimmy doesn’t have a number of trucks or trailers in mind. “I just want to finish the journey well,” he stated.

For now, that journey is fueled with optimism and focused on the future. The company just opened a new terminal near Dacula, Georgia. This facility is more centrally located in the Southeast than Davis’ corporate office in Starke, Florida – so the Dacula location will become the major maintenance hub.

Davis’ entire fleet is comprised of company drivers, who can expect to be treated fair if they come to work for this fledgling fleet. Jimmy says his recruiters are busy telling the truth, and they are looking for a few good men or women to join the company. “We will shoot you straight and let you know you will be held to a high standard,” Jimmy added.

For your opportunity with Davis Express, call 800-874-4270 or log onto www.davis-express.com today.

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