By Mary Lou Jay
When Jen and Kyle Behnke founded United Federal Logistics in 2015, they had limited experience in the trucking industry, but a great determination to succeed. After starting with three high-mileage trucks and four drivers, they now employ 36 full-time and five part-time drivers and own 20-plus late-model, well-equipped trucks. Last year, the company was recognized as a Top Woman-Owned Business by the Women in Trucking Association.
Before they started United Federal, Jen held a customer service position, while Kyle, who has an MBA from Emory, was working for UPS. When they learned about the FedEx Ground linehaul contractor model, however, they saw the opportunity to fulfill the dream of owning their own business. “We wanted to become independent, to not have to rely on someone else,” Jen Behnke explained.
FedEx Ground linehaul routes can be purchased on the market or won through bids. After Jen reached out to FedEx representatives, she found that one market auction would take place the next day.
“We stayed up that night and wrote a business plan, and after that it moved very quickly,” said Behnke, who handled the initial meetings with FedEx and became the 51 percent shareholder in the company, qualifying United Federal Logistics as a woman-owned business. After winning three routes in August 2015, they had just a month to get the company up and running. Somehow, they met that goal.
The Behnkes called their company United Federal because they wanted a name that sounded strong and that acknowledged both Kyle’s background and their new company’s relationship with FedEx. Jen is the company’s president and Kyle is its CEO.
GROWING THE BUSINESS
As a contractor with FedEx Ground, United Federal operates a 100 percent drop and hook operation, picking up package-laden trailers at the FedEx terminals in Atlanta, Marietta and Austell and transporting them to their next destination.
United Federal now has 14 dedicated linehaul routes and provides extra power for FedEx as requested. “We have five assigned runs that go to the same places every day, and typically run 16 unassigned runs that may go anywhere in the country,” Behnke explains. “Our drivers may go to California, then to Colorado or Texas; they popcorn around the country until they come back at the end of the week.”
United Federal’s drivers typically head out between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, and are on the road five or six days each week. However, since FedEx operates round-the-clock, United Federal has to be responsive 24/7 as well.
“That’s what has been so demanding, especially for Kyle, who handles most of the coordination of the runs. We did hire a nighttime dispatcher to help during the week, but that’s just been since January,” said Behnke.
“As a small business, you have a tradeoff – do I want to do it myself, or do I want to hire somebody to do it? We wait until we definitely need somebody, and we’ve been blessed to hire some really good help,” Behnke said. The company’s staff now includes Dale Moore, who joined as a driver in 2016 and became operations and safety manager in 2017, and Cindy Lawson, who serves as recruiter and office coordinator. There are also two full-time and two part-time office staff.
“We offer great benefits, and we have stable work and good equipment, but I really think the key to retaining employees comes from a good company culture,” said Behnke. “We want to be the kind of company that people like working for. We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and with respect, and we want to make sure that we keep people on staff who fit our company.”
The past five years have been very busy for the Behnkes. While they’ve been raising their six-year-old son, James, they’ve also been learning how to run a company and make decisions together. “Kyle focuses on logistics and is customer-facing with FedEx. I am very detail oriented and work mainly in back office operations,” said Behnke. They’ve gained a better understanding of the challenges their drivers face on the road every day and have become adept at dealing with them fairly.
When United Federal was new, the Behnkes had to purchase used trucks. Behnke recalled one particularly difficult period when, with one truck out of commission, another two of their five trucks blew their engines within 24 hours. They now buy only new trucks.
“We learned that you will keep better drivers with good equipment, and we learned that you actually spend less money because you’re not spending a lot of money on repairs,” said Behnke.
Their trucks include the latest technology, which helps keep their drivers safe. It includes telematics, forward and rear-facing cameras, factory-installed collision avoidance systems and automatic braking and lane departure warning. “That has been a game-changer for us, because it has helped prevent accidents,” said Behnke.
The couple has gained additional insights into the industry through their membership in GMTA, which they joined two years ago. “GMTA helps us stay up-to-date with trucking issues locally and nationally, and they do a lot to educate people in the industry. They’re doing great work, and I definitely feel that they’re helping people in Georgia trucking stay connected and keep on top of everything,” says Behnke.
Behnke says they want to keep United Federal Logistics expanding at a steady pace. If FedEx routes in Marietta, Ellenwood, Austell or Savannah become available, the couple will look at each opportunity and evaluate it. “We want to make sure that we grow in a healthy way, that we can manage it and not get overwhelmed,” she explained.
Their success as a blessing, they believe “I definitely feel that God has been leading our steps the way it has all worked out so perfectly,” Behnke added.
Caption: Dale Moore, Kyle and Jen Behnke and Cindy Lawson. United Federal Logistics has three linehaul routes with FedEx Ground.