Entrepreneurial solutions and flexibility enable growth during the downturn
When all of her high school friends were heading off to college in 1987, Jenyce Houg stayed in Denver to help her Dad, Doug, with the family trucking business. She immersed herself in learning all aspects of the business. Jenyce fell in love with the business and the fast pace and the supply of new problems to tackle and solve. She later attended Regis University and is now the CEO of Houg Special Services, Inc., working alongside her Dad and Brother, Wade. The business revenue has more than tripled since 2003 (from $10 million to $32 million) during a period that has been exceptionally trying for the trucking industry.
Jenyce, why are you involved with the trucking business? My Dad is an inspiring entrepreneur. I wanted to help him make his ideas a reality. Also I love problem-solving and it was a challenge to work in a male-dominated industry that was still much of the "good old boy" network. I have worked hard to earn the respect of people in the industry.
How is Houg different from its competitors? Houg offers a complete logistics solution - a one-stop shop for our customers which is unique in the industry. Our business model is different. We are not ‘asset-heavy.' We do not have significant fixed costs, so we are able to flex our resources to meet customer needs. We constantly look to find ways to NOT be like our competitors. We strive to develop very close, collaborative, long-term relationship with our customers. It is common for us to brainstorm with customers to develop ‘out of the box' approaches that are most cost effective for their business needs.
The last decade was already pretty tough for the trucking business and then the recession hit. How did it affect your business? We saw the recession as an opportunity and hit the accelerator. There were several factors that helped us: we have a great relationship with our bank who provides us the necessary line of credit needed to operate in this tough industry; we stayed tightly focused on the food and beverage transportation niche; with our business model, we have a flexible labor force so we were not stuck with higher fixed costs; and we embrace that our number one customer is our carriers and drivers and treat them with the respect they deserve.
What are your biggest challenges? The biggest challenge has been to learn to work in conjunction with family everyday and successfully stay focused on the same vision. We had to learn how to trust and respect each other in business as well as family, and to focus on the strengths of family members. My brother, Wade, who is president, is absolutely exceptional at customer service and recruiting the best drivers which is crucial to our success. My Dad challenges us every day with an endless supply of ideas, possibilities and boundless optimism that anything can be done if you just have passion.
Managing a $30 million or a $50 million company is different than a $10 million business. We need to continue to develop the systems and processes as well as the capabilities of the team. This past year we invested heavily to upgrade our systems. It is a balancing act to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit, while building the team capable of managing the growth.
I spend a lot of my time on the culture of the company, working with the team to find ways to institutionalize the culture: hiring for attitude, building accountability, adding recognition, and valuing people's differences. We will continue to train and empower the Houg team to make decisions, to develop a culture where people are positive and willing to exceed customer expectations every day, which starts with servicing each other as customers within the walls of Houg first.
So what's ahead for Houg over the next five years? We must continue to enhance our relationships with our internal and external customers and suppliers. We need to hear their issues and problems so that we can collaborate with them to find solutions. Over time we need to learn how to use new technology (social media, etc.), but nothing replaces the power of face-to-face interaction.
The trucking industry has and continues to face capacity constraints so we continually look for innovative ways to increase capacity. Geographical expansion is a potential strategy. We are looking at a hub and spoke plan which would potentially include regional expansion to locations where we are already sending freight. We will also entertain future acquisitions of small trucking companies to increase capacity and market share. It is important for our future success that we are well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities over the next few years.