For Don Christenson, growing Christenson Transportation Inc. goes far beyond adding equipment and freight capacity.
“Trucking is a relationship business,” said the president of the family business he founded in 1995. “Whether we’re interacting with our employees, working with customers, or partnering with suppliers, we let’s examine how we are interdependent for success.”
As he aims to grow his business by acquiring other trucking businesses, Christenson is quick to note that he’s willing to pass on opportunities that only look good on paper. “We learned from our first acquisition in 2018 that it’s more important to find companies that fit our culture,” he said.
A recent example is the acquisition of Sharp Transport Inc. by Christenson. Although the purchase expanded the carrier‘s freight network and added trucks, drivers and owner-operators, common goals sealed the deal.
“What really drew us to Sharp Transport, which is a family business that’s been around as long as ours, is its similar culture built around drivers,” Christenson said. “It’s easy to leave a job, but it’s hard to leave friends and family, and Sharp Transport shares the same belief.”
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From its executive offices in Nashville, Christenson operates terminals in Springfield, Missouri, and Lebanon and Ethridge, Tennessee. The company transports high-value, high-risk, time-sensitive cargo to the lower 48 states. Its operations also include a dedicated fleet in Pennsylvania and a regional fleet that primarily covers the southeast.
Christenson operates 225 tractors and 900 dry vans. Peterbilt and Kenworth provide its power units; its trailer fleet is a mix of utility, Great Dane and Hyundai units. Although the company continues to add new vehicles every year, it is looking to the future.
Earlier this year, Christenson signed an eight-year agreement with Locomation to expand its capacity with autonomous trucking technology. For Christenson, Locomation’s turnkey solution will enable the fleet to deploy autonomous trucks in the near future, and Locomation’s proprietary planning and scheduling systems made it the right choice.
“We saw Locomation as an opportunity to establish a strong presence and allow us to double our market share in the routes we chose,” explained Christenson. “Our goal is not just to add equipment, but to offer existing customers additional capacity in the same freight lanes. With Locomation, we can restructure our operating model to run self-driving trucks more than 20 hours a day.
By deploying 500 trucks equipped with Locomation’s Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) systems on five separate segments of the Autonomous Relay Convoy network, Christenson predicts a 52% increase in capacity on these lanes, as well as a 50% reduction in miles to empty. The impact of increased loaded kilometers and reduced operating costs, including lower fuel expenses on these routes, is expected to quadruple Christenson’s bottom line.
For all of its operations, Christenson uses a combination of company drivers and hired owner-operators. “We are dedicated to the importance of a strong driver culture, and we believe it has helped us meet the challenge of finding and retaining drivers,” Christenson said. “We are looking for people who have the same dedication. For example, we may hire only 10 drivers out of 500 applicants, but our annual revenue is down about 40%, which is a good number in this industry.
The same quality over quantity approach is applied at Christenson to the carrier’s relationship with its maintenance providers. As well as a company store in Ethridge, the company contracts out most of its local work to its Peterbilt dealer, The Larson Group, and MHC Kenworth. On the road, he uses TravelCenters of America and other truck stop chains.
Behind the scenes, Christenson uses McLeod Software’s Loadmaster TMS for its asset and brokerage operations. The technology helps the carrier focus on things like booking only the freight it has the capacity to handle efficiently.
McLeod IQ business intelligence software is used to develop real-time reports on certain key performance indicators. Among its most valuable uses is in making effective fuel purchasing decisions, the information it also shares with its leased owner-operators. The software provides safety data, including information from Lytx on-board cameras in Christenson tractors.
“As we move into a third generation of ownership,” Christenson said, “our continued commitment is to bring value to our customers.”