Ep81: Pricing Insights from the LTL (Less Than Load) Industry with Curtis Garrett

 

Curtis Garrett is the VP of Pricing at Recon Logistics, a world class LTL Freight Management Company. Curtis is on a mission to simplify LTL Freight. His career-long goal is to bring transparency, automation, and the tools needed to do this into the LTL industry.  

In this episode, Curtis talks about the pricing design in a Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) industry, sharing the complex variables that go into the LTL price mix. He also shares some personal backstory of how he was able to advance and uplevel his pricing career, proving that you don’t need a college degree to have a great career. Take inspiration from Curtis’ success journey in pricing. 

 

Why you have to check out today’s podcast: 

  • Learn why the Less-Than-Truckload industry is different from other logistics services 
  • Discover the pricing complexity in the Less-Than-Truckload industry 
  • Find out the different struggles within the Less-Than-Truckload industry when it comes to pricing their services

 

“As long as you are well aware of what your costs are, that gives you the freedom to build your actual profit and your margin in different ways. And make it a little more flexible for who you’re trying to engage with.”

– Curtis Garrett

 

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Topics Covered:

01:27 – What started Curtis’ journey into Pricing 

02:14 – The pricing complexity of a less-than-truckload freight business 

05:44 – How Curtis’ mentors influenced his pricing career 

08:16 – Does Curtis work with a team? 

09:40 – Characteristics that are prerequisites for promotion in the kind of workplace that he has 

13:00 – Making sure that what you’re doing in the day-to-day basis net out to the overall strategy of the company 

19:03 – How hard it is to be pushing more than one wall at one time 

19:37 – How not having a degree affected his career 

23:02 – How he landed a VP position without having to be asked which school he graduated from 

25:28 – It’s not the degree, it’s your skills that matter 

 

Key Takeaways:

“Industry-wise, LTL is somewhat comparable to airline and hotel pricing. But it’s even more complex, in my opinion, because a seat on an airplane or room in a hotel, you pretty much know there’s no space variable there. But with LTL freight, you really don’t know the size of the freight you’re going to get and how much room it’s going to take up in your trailer.” – Curtis Garrett 

“The balance of keeping that larger macro strategy in your mind, but in the day in, day out, or even minute by minute, making sure that what you’re doing is the best possible work at that time.” – Curtis Garrett 

“I don’t think any wall that can be pushed over is the right wall you should be pushing against anyways. If it is something of value and the right problem to be solved, I think by default, it’s gonna take a while and it’s gonna be hard.” – Curtis Garrett 

“I think anybody can be successful and if there are large companies out there that hold back candidates just because of that one disqualifier, then, I think they’re probably missing out on a lot of good people.” – Curtis Garrett 

 

Resources Mentioned:

 

Connect with Curtis Garrett:

 

Connect with Mark Stiving:    

  • Email: mark@impactpricing.com    
  • LinkedIn 

 

Full Interview Transcript  

(Note: This transcript was created an AI transcription service.  Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors.  We probably sounded better in real life.)  

 

Curtis Garrett 

As long as you are well aware of what your costs are, I think that gives you the freedom to build your actual profit and your margin in different ways and kind of make it a little more flexible for who you’re trying to engage with. 

 

[Intro] 

 

Mark Stiving 

Welcome to Impact Pricing, the podcast where we discuss, pricing, value, and the managerial relationship between them. I’m Mark Stiving. Today is the first episode of our season of Pricing Executives. I’m looking forward to this season. We’re going to do five to ten episodes in a row just to learn how pricing executives think. Today, our guest is Curtis Garrett. Here are three things you want to know about Curtis before we start. He started out in Forestry in Dublin, Ohio. And I lived in Dublin, Ohio for four years when I was a professor at Ohio State. So that’s awesome. He’s been in logistics since 2007. And he is currently the VP of Pricing and Logistics at Recon Logistics. Welcome, Curtis. 

 

Curtis Garrett 

Thanks, Mark. Thanks for having me, and I may have pruned your tree back then, who knows?  

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah. Who knows? How did you get into pricing? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

I more so got into the industry itself and then kind of evolved into the pricing and yield side of things. So originally, you know, started working for one of the very best less-than-truckload freight companies in the industry, Old Dominion Freight Line, and worked in more operations roles, and really just evolved into you know, what I found interesting and what challenged me and now, almost a decade later, I’ve been pretty firmly on the pricing side of things. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, this whole concept of less-than-truckload, sounds like it’s really complicated to figure out –  how to price it, how to even build products around that. 

 

Curtis Garrett 

It can be for sure. Obviously the 32nd version of what less-than-truckload is. It’s typically any shipments in the freight world that fall between one and eight pallets, I would say on average. And so it’s definitely a combination of, you know, your small parcel providers, and then your truckload carriers; basically you’re utilizing the economies of scale, similar to a small parcel provider with having multiple shipments on the same trailer. But it is big heavy freight that requires loading docks and forklifts to move, and so you’re really, you’re under the same physical constraints as what a full truckload carrier would be. So it’s very interesting, the longer I’m in it, you know – I’m never leaving. It keeps, keeps pulling me in deeper and deeper. Industry-wise, it’s somewhat comparable to airline and hotel pricing. But it’s even more complex, in my opinion, because a seat on an airplane or room in a hotel, you pretty much know there’s no space variable there. But with LTL freight, you really don’t know the size of the freight you’re going to get, and how much room it’s going to take up in your trailer. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, and not only is it not variable in terms of size, but a truck can go anywhere. Where a hotel room is always in the same spot or a plane flight is always from point A to point B. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Right. That is where less-than-truckload is a little more similar to an airline, because they do have their terminals and hubs, and they kind of have a set line-haul network, so their trucks only run on the same routes every day. And that’s why, you know, they’re kind of a mix between the truckload and parcel load because during the day they have their PMD, or pickup and delivery drivers, and they’re going around every city in America in a 53-foot full-size semi-truck, and they’re delivering and picking up freight, and then they bring it back to the terminal in the evening, and it gets consolidated and loaded up on line haul trailers, with similarly destined shipments. And that’s where kind of the longer haul network comes into play. They run typically overnight, they’ll run – typically doubles in the…world as to smaller trailers hooked together, because it totals more than 53 feet in trailer length, so it’s a little more efficient. So yeah, their networks are defined and their trailer space is defined, but not similar to somebody’s renting a hotel room or sitting in an airplane seat, you can have a single sheet of paper taking up half of your trailer some nights. And the next night, you know, it’s not that way. So there’s a big unknown to it. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Got it. So you’re playing the same yield-management game that hotels and airlines do. And then you’ve got the hub and spoke system. Sounds totally fascinating. And I can see why you love it so much. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Let’s talk about your career. And let’s talk about pricing and things that a pricing professional should be doing, and how they do that. First off, did you have mentors during your career? And if so, what were they like? What did they do for you? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, I definitely had, I would say, some accidental mentors. Because I started in the industry kind of on the ground level, in the field, doing operations. I mean, one that’s given me a huge benefit, so that now when I’m dealing you know, with the numbers, it’s connected to some sort of a real-world activity for me. So it’s not just like a number on a spreadsheet. But the other thing with taking that route is, you know, I didn’t enter my career on a fast track or any sort of management training program or anything. I kind of just came across people that had a lot to offer. And I felt like I was pretty discerning in who I kind of hitched my wagon to and took advice from. But definitely, you know, one of the key people is a guy named Todd Poland. He’s a VP of pricing at Old Dominion. And he’s a big reason for their profitability and success. And since leaving there in 2016, I’ve stayed in touch with him and probably have gotten, you know, closer from a mentor-type relationship since I left than when I was there, actually. Yeah, it’s such a nuanced business that if you do look out and you find somebody who has a lot of common sense and logic, and realizes that everything doesn’t really happen in a vacuum, as Todd used to say, “nothing in LTL is really black and white, there’s a lot of grays”. So if you can find someone that looks at things that way, but also has the hard skills and technical knowledge, obviously, that’s a win-win. So that’s what I found from him. And, you know, the past companies I’ve been at for the last four or five years, I’ve definitely taken a lot away from the ownership, I’ve found that I’ve worked for people that have finance backgrounds, and very quantitative- driven or data-driven skillsets. So that’s been really good learning from people like that. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Nice. Yeah, I remember, probably my favorite mentor, a guy named Jeff Kanye. He didn’t teach me about pricing or statistics or anything, he taught me about people and that was just incredible. When you find someone that can teach you such a valuable skill. It’s like “Oh, please just keep teaching. Keep an open mind and go learn”. I love that. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, that’s exactly right.  

 

Mark Stiving  

Do you have a team of pricing people working for you now? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yep, I’ve got a small team at the company I’m at now, Recon Logistics, you know, but in the day to day, I find myself still engaging with, you know, annual increases from the carriers from a procurement side, and also trying to assist with recons, just to value add and what we do for our customers and, you know, helping establish fee structures and pricing models for our clients as well. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, so you’re still getting your fingers dirty, but you’ve got people that are probably getting their hands dirtier than yours, doing more of the work.  

 

Curtis Garrett  

I’m definitely very dirty still but I’m a player-coach, I would say, you know, I’ve definitely got help. But you know, at the same time I have to manage a team and interact with management from other departments and definitely have a good grasp on the inputs and outputs of the entire business and how that all works and interacts together. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah. So as we talked about your team, imagine for a second, what are the characteristics – and if you could take pieces from each of the people who work for you, or just think outside the box, but what are the characteristics of the people who work for you that you would want before you promoted them? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

I think, overall, one of the most important things is just having a sense of ownership and pride in the work that you’re producing. And having a viewpoint that it’s not just something to check off, a to-do list or a task or a widget to process or whatever, that maybe, you know, see it as something you’re creating, producing, and ultimately responsible for before it goes on to somebody else. So whether that’s doing some sort of analysis on my behalf, or maybe for one of our clients, you know, just double and triple checking things making sure it’s up to your current knowledge base and experience level. You know, it’s as perfect as it can be before it leaves your desk, so to speak. So, I think that is a value, you know, before you can really get promoted and be responsible for other people in addition to yourself, you just have to expect a lot out of yourself and the quality of work you do. And you know what goes kind of hand in hand with that, but it is worth being called out as well, is just executing and taking action. You know, a lot of ideas are out there floating around. But if you can truly nail that idea down, and whether it’s reverse engineering, you know, a result that you want, or just figuring out what the first few steps that kind of gets you on the path and doing them to the best of your ability, you know, being able to quantify what needs to be done and actually execute it is very important too. 

 

Mark Stiving 

I should like both of those answers. I want to jump back to the one where, in my mind, I was thinking, Oh, so they have to care. Right? Yes, they have to care. And in my mind, I’m thinking, you know, that if you’re putting together a report or a study or an analysis, somebody’s about to go make a decision based on this stuff that you just put together. So do you really care about the outcome of that decision? Right, and I think that’s huge. So let me give you one more big thought that I always struggle with. When I teach this to companies, when I teach pricing or value or anything to companies, oftentimes, we’re limited based on some type of constraint that’s going on in the company. So it could be that finance does finance this way. And yet, it would be awesome if we could do pricing this other way. And we’d have to change the way we do finance. Or maybe the IT systems don’t allow us to go do something that would be really profitable if we could go do this. And I think about these as really big projects, and the idea of looking around and saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, if I could change this, we would be so much more profitable.’ But now this needs, whatever this is, needs to be a really conscious decision. Right? Am I going to spend time and energy pushing against this wall trying to move it? Or am I just going to do my job? So how do you think about your people when you’re thinking about, do you want them to go push on walls? Do you want them to do their job, what’s the trade-off there? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Well, I think two things kind of come to mind immediately, you know, things like that are always going to come up in any organization. You’re going to have, you know, a single person or maybe an entire department that believes in the way that something should be done, maybe that’s changed or adjusted from the way it’s currently being done. And you’re right, it’s gonna be like, you know, bumping into a wall, there are walls everywhere in business, unfortunately, because that’s the byproduct of all the different processes and SOPs we have to have in place in order to kind of keep things standardized and keep it organized. So that’s going to be a never-ending problem. I think breaking things down, you know, to a smaller, more achievable level, and maybe don’t rush the hill right now, but you know, put yourself in the little bit better of a place strategically for more of a bigger change down the road. So, I kind of mentioned reverse engineering earlier. And that’s, I guess what I’m referring to here too is figure out what is the absolute best way that you think a processor or something should be ran for the company, and work backward until you get to the size of the change or just a task or what have you that is achievable, and start with that and then once you’re doing that, see what size the next item you can bite off. And then balance, too, is always important. There’s always more than one way to do things. You know, I kind of think of a Rubik’s Cube, it is what it is to solve a Rubik’s Cube. There’s no disputing,  the colors all having to be the same on each side. But there’s more than one way to get there and you can make many little twists and adjustments, you know, along the way. So it’s the balance of keeping that larger macro strategy in your mind, but in the day in, day out, or even minute by minute, you know, making sure that what you’re doing is the best possible work at that time. And there’s a lot of pick on the way and probably a lot of little losses too. But you know, it all has to net out to the overall strategy, I guess. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, absolutely. 

 

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Mark Stiving  

I think that’s one of the hardest decisions is, “should I go push against a wall or not?”. And I love the answer that you gave was, well, let’s take small steps. Let’s see if we can move the needle a little bit and see if we can prove that it’s worth pushing against the wall.  

 

Curtis Garrett  

I don’t think any wall that can be pushed over is the right wall you should be pushing against anyways. Right? So if it is something of value and the right problem to be solving I think by default, it’s gonna take a while and it’s gonna be hard. 

 

Mark Stiving  

That always takes a while and it’s always hard. I agree completely. Do you think that the people who get promoted are the people who find a really good wall that needs to be pushed on and they strategically work on it and get there? Or do you think it’s people who don’t push against walls and do their job, the job that’s expected of them relatively well? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Honestly, I think there’s, I think the answer is both. I think people that don’t push against walls and just carry out instructions are likely to be promoted but it’s maybe in a different path than somebody who’s just running and trying to knock over every wall on their way. So I think a lot of it depends on your company culture, and the structure of the constraints you’re working within, what’s coming down from senior leadership, probably those who are more apt to push against walls are those that might work in smaller companies where they have to wear more hats, you know, but decisions can be made a lot quicker since there’s less bureaucracy to push through, or maybe even entrepreneurs who go into business on their own. So I’m not trying to take the easy out, but I think the answer to your question is both. It’s just, the outcome just looks different. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, no worries. No worries. Yeah, in my mind I can’t imagine somebody pushing against more than one wall at a time. Right, because I pushed a wall over when I was a practitioner. And it was a lot of work. Oh my gosh. I just can’t imagine doing more than one of those at once. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, I agree. I mean, you can try to but the amount of your force, it’s gonna be obviously diluted a little bit. So Math says that you can’t effectively push more than one at one time. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, exactly. Okay, so Curtis, I got to ask, just so the listeners know, I asked Curtis, if I could ask him about this before we started, but you didn’t graduate from college. Has that affected your career? How has that affected your career? What do you think is going on there? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t. I probably have in total maybe three of the four-year degree that I’ve completed over the past 10? Well, I haven’t been actively working on it for at least five years. I’m 35 now. So, you know, over a decade, I’ve probably worked on it here and there. But, honestly, in my specific experience, I think it’s better than if I had because when I started in this industry, it was always a placeholder and it was just while I was in school it wasn’t where I saw myself long term. I didn’t know anybody or have any family in the freight industry. So for me personally, it’s what kept me in the industry, and then I just kept growing my skill set and getting more experience and really, I mean, my eight years at Old Dominion Freight Line was kind of like my bachelor’s in AB, even my Masters in LTL because I did enough there operationally. I actually got my CDL and drove for a little bit, then went into pricing, costing, that sort of thing. So yeah, for me, it’s worked out and I just at some point decided that practically, you know, looking at my life, finishing that up and getting a piece of paper, I don’t think would have made my career any more successful, you know, I’m happy with the way things are right now. And if anything, this stuff I’m starting to branch out into, little creative side projects and websites and different things that are, you know, connected to my industry also, that can be done by anybody without any sort of credentialing or degree or not. So it’s, if you have a good idea that way, you know, the way the economy is going, the way businesses are going to operate in the future, and you spend some focused time on one field or one industry, I think anybody can be successful. And if there are large companies out there that hold back candidates just because of that one disqualifier, then, I think they’re probably missing out on a lot of good people. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah. So the first question I want to ask about this, then is, early in your career, what was going through your mind, were you thinking, ‘Oh, I really need to get my degree.’ 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, I definitely was earlier on. And part of that is just the upbringing I had. I had an uncle that went very far and ended up going to Yale. And he’s a professor now. And so I was exposed to, you finish high school, you get a degree, and then you find your real job or your real career, and it all just kind of seamlessly flows that way. So that was just my young lack of experience on how the real world works. But over time, as I had more capital, you know, and I invested more time and had more skills in not only the industry I’m in, but also, you know, a lot of stuff that is transferable to other industries. It just became less of a focus, I guess. Yeah. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Cool. And I have to, I was hoping you would just say these words, but I have to ask it. What did you tell me about the interview when you first interviewed to be a VP. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, so that’s kind of looking back now. That’s where I truly decided that, at least at this stage in my life, I didn’t need to finish that degree in order to advance my career. So, you know, about four years ago, I was interviewing for a Vice President position at a smaller company and the entire interview was just based on my abilities and experience, and I never was asked, you know, where I went to school or what it was for. So that was what truly showed me, at least in that scenario, that you know, it didn’t need to be a security layer for me, I guess I could do okay. And basically do the work I like to do with, you know, a team of people I like to work with and make a decent living and that wasn’t dependent on having a degree finished. 

 

Mark Stiving  

So I just thank you so much for being so honest about that. It’s hard for me to talk about it because I have a million degrees. But as I look at them, and I think of how I use them and how I would interview and how I see interviews, I think people rarely look at that degree. So, you know, I think too many people overemphasize getting the degree, not that I’m against college, don’t get me wrong, but I think too many people overemphasize it. So I’m thrilled that you’re willing to share that. Thanks. 

 

Curtis Garrett

Yeah, no problem. And I think, you know, there’s obviously so many nuances and certain careers definitely that require it. And that’s very understandable. But I think it’s more the credentials that carry more weight than the degree itself. So if someone does go on to a doctorate, as you did, or, you know, even a Master’s of some sort, or some sort of professional degree or certification, you know, the MBA. Of course, that’s what carries the weight, that’s what they want to have after their name. But at the same time, you know, I try to take the econ approach to it and just boil things down to some costs and ROI, and now for me, it just made sense to kind of stop that journey on the academic side. 

 

Mark Stiving  

And I guess the other thing I’ll toss out and it was pretty obvious from what you said, and definitely, from the way my life has gone: I think degrees give people confidence early on in their careers. And not having a degree kind of takes confidence away until you realize it’s not the degree, it’s your skills, it’s what you know, and can do. And that just takes a little while to get there. 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, I agree with that. And that can go back and be positive or negative. I think on both sides, having that early confidence can really give you a push and help you go a lot further. And then on the flip side, you know, if you really just have kind of the thought that I should equate it to this, but you know, what you hear from successful immigrants that came, you know, maybe in the United States when they’re younger, they didn’t really have any sort of confidence-building a network or security level. They just fell on them and their hard work and determination. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yeah. I agree. So Curtis I know, we haven’t really talked about pricing much at all. And it’s time to wrap up. But I have to ask this last question. What’s one piece of pricing advice that you would give our listeners that you think could have a big impact on their business? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Kind of going back to what I learned, you know, during my time in Old Dominion, working under Todd there, you got to start with the numbers and the data, but to truly get to a successful long-term customer relationship and fair agreement to where you’re giving them value and they’re, you know, you’re making money off of it, and they’re happy with what they’re receiving and they’re paying a fair price. I mean, you just have to add a few layers of nuance and common sense and, obviously, I’m talking more business to business type pricing. I know it’s different when you’re pricing widgets and dealing with consumers and whatnot, but from a service, pricing services, you have to be open to different pricing models. And as long as you are well aware of what your costs are, I think that gives you the freedom to build your actual profit and your margin in different ways and kind of make it a little more flexible for who you’re trying to engage with, I guess. 

 

Mark Stiving  

Yep, absolutely. Absolutely. Very wise answer. So, Curtis, thank you so much for your time today. If anybody wants to contact you, how can they do that? 

 

Curtis Garrett  

Yeah, so I’m currently working for Recon Logistics, reconlogistics.com is our website. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I’ve got a few side projects that are, you know, they’re LTL specific, although I’m about to launch curtisgarrett.co which kind of be my personal headquarters online, where I’m going to write and kind of share my thoughts. And I really enjoy talking about things like this, even though we didn’t get, you know, very technical on the pricing side, that’s the way my brain works, too. And so I can foresee myself, you know, some articles I write might be more technical and others might be more on the softer side. So yeah, check it out if you’re interested and very happy talking to you, Mark, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on. 

 

Mark Stiving 

Curtis, it was great having you and I would recommend to our listeners, go link in with him on LinkedIn, follow him, and then when he releases his webpage, he’ll let you know. And we’ll all be able to see what he’s writing. So excellent. This is the time of the podcast where I always plead for you to leave me a review. So if you wouldn’t mind please, and I’m going to start reading reviews that people leave for me just as a way to say thank you. And to give you an example of what you could do, a listener called Xcel Pappy wrote on iTunes for us. ‘Absolutely wonderful pricing podcast. I’ve been an avid listener for the past six months or so and can’t recommend this podcast highly enough. Mark has a great selection of guests in and outside of pricing, but all who share perspectives on understanding value. He has a great format for the show and asked interesting questions throughout. If you’re curious about pricing and want a great education on it then go check this out.’ Thank you Xcel Pappy. I appreciate it. Also, don’t forget to join our community at champions of value. It’s completely free. There, you can get access to everything that I publish, it’s free. That includes our blogs, videos, podcasts, memes that we put out. If you have any questions or comments about the podcast or about pricing in general, feel free to email me mark@impact pricing.com. Now, go make an impact!

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