As the world’s demand for goods increases, so too do the logistical and transportation networks that bring products and commodities to the consumer. Trucking plays an integral but often overlooked role in our economy, and many companies are struggling to retain their drivers. But in the border city of El Paso, Texas, Muñoz Trucking, Inc. has withstood the test of time and expanded to become one of the Southwest’s major flagship carriers.
We first spoke with the staff at Muñoz Trucking last year and learned of the company’s success through its disruptive business model. Now, it is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary as it continues growing, weathering the ups and downs of the transportation sector to build a powerhouse in West Texas.
Like many trucking companies, this began as a simple mom-and-pop operation. The company’s namesake, Angel Muñoz, worked as a truck driver for thirty years but dreamed of owning his own business. In 1995, his son Juan Pablo founded the company in his father’s memory with a single truck.
Today, Muñoz Trucking operates over 170 tractors and over 300 trailers, including five refrigerated ‘reefers’ designed to transport perishable goods. Over the course of 2020, the company intends to increase these numbers, bringing its fleet total to an expected 200 tractors and 320 trailers. Its trucks travel across North America, spanning the continental United States and into Mexico and Canada. Despite its size, it has never lost the small business feel that appeals to its customers and neighbors.
Soledad Smith (née Muñoz), Angel’s granddaughter, manages the company as Operations Manager, having risen from answering phones and filing documents to executive management. As Muñoz Trucking was founded when she was a child, she has grown up alongside her family’s business. “Seeing it grow before my eyes is pretty awesome,” she remarks.
One of Muñoz Trucking’s enduring values – and one of the central reasons behind its growth and success – is its emphasis on driver retention. Truck driving suffered an estimated ninety-six percent turnover rate in 2019, according to the American Trucking Associations, and the difficulty in attracting and keeping drivers continues to hound most companies.
But Muñoz, since its inception, has cultivated a family-centric working environment that allows drivers more time at home with their families. Smith and her colleagues hope the company’s success demonstrates this is feasible on a large scale. “It’s a good thing,” she says, naming the strong emphasis on work-life balance as the main source for the company’s achievements. “It creates more of a family mentality.”
As part of this approach, Muñoz takes great care of each driver, holding all orientation and training sessions on-site to build a stronger sense of community and reduce the isolation drivers may feel on the road. A strong benefits package including higher pay-per-mile, bonuses for clean driving records and—above all—regular time at home have greatly boosted its retention record.
Within the past year, Muñoz’s leadership team has been employing what Smith refers to as ‘triangle routes,’ intended to provide a steadier, more reliable supply route. Consistent runs from its El Paso headquarters to regular customers in New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana are designed to ease scheduling for drivers by providing consistent route patterns, fostering driver retention and increasing company efficiency simultaneously.
As part of this emphasis on driver comfort, the company takes care to equip its drivers with the latest technology. It has long operated an in-house, cutting-edge, fully-staffed repair shop, ensuring that breakdowns and technical problems keep drivers off the road for as little time as possible, and Muñoz is also one of the 3,500 business involved in SmartWay, a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase driving efficiency, lower fuel costs, and reduce environmental impact. It also uses Samsara, a GPS system that lets the company monitor drivers’ fuel efficiency, driving speed, and many other vital statistics.
In addition to these tools is dispatching and scheduling software designed and implemented by fellow Texan company PCS Software, based in the Houston satellite city of Shenandoah. PCS’s software gives trucking companies the ability to monitor dispatching in real-time via a clean, easily manageable user interface. A similarly recent addition to Muñoz’s technological arsenal is Mobile Dispatch, a phone app that allows drivers to upload information to the company’s computers remotely. “It’s making things much more streamlined,” Smith comments, adding that these new technologies create an effortlessly integrated system.
Finally, it is also about to become a member of the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT), a partnership between the U.S. Customs & Border Protection and the international trade community. Although more than 11,000 businesses have joined since the program’s 2001 inception, Muñoz’s location on the U.S.-Mexican border has made the program a necessity for conducting cross-border business. The company’s certification ensures fewer border crossing inspections and faster processing times, reducing transport times and speeding business growth.
The company is also further integrating its operations with Orion Transportation Services, Inc., the El Paso-based logistics firm it acquired in 2014. Orion is incorporating its logistical expertise and its own trucking fleet into Muñoz’s business model, so the two companies can reach for previously unfeasible contracts. “We’re not talking about just covering this freight with our assets. We now have a back-up plan,” Smith explains. “If we don’t have a truck in the area, we can broker it through Orion Transportation with the customer’s approval, of course.”
This acquisition is permitting Muñoz to grow into new sectors such as snack foods and medical supplies. With Orion’s scheduling and logistical abilities, the company can work through smaller partners to deliver more freight than ever before. “It doesn’t limit you to just our 170 tractors and 300 trailers,” Smith states proudly. “We’re able to use essentially any trucking company out on the road that has their correct documents and insurance.”
Yet Muñoz’s growth has not come without challenges. The coronavirus situation, still ongoing at the time of this writing, has already disrupted global markets, and the slowdown of the trade from Asia is affecting the company’s Mexican clients, many of which purchase raw materials from China before shipping their finished product to the United States. But Smith and her colleagues are confident the situation will be better soon. “Hopefully, once that gets better, that’ll make things better here,” she says.
In the meantime, the company benefits from its Southwestern location close to the heavy growing districts in California and Mexico. The company’s versatility means it is prepared to weather any storm, and it is already shifting its trucks to prepare to ship food and fresh produce from the West Coast all across North America.
But an internal factor also threatens to hamper growth. As trucking systems evolve, so too do the expectations of perfect safety records. Because of this, insurance premiums for trucking companies have increased by twenty-five to thirty percent in recent years, according to Smith.
“These insurance companies charge millions of dollars for coverage,” she laments. “We’re paying a lot more money in insurance coverage compared to previous years.”
Many smaller trucking companies have been forced to downsize or even collapse under the financial strain. Despite this added financial burden, Muñoz is moving into new routes and sectors to bring products to more customers than ever before.
The company’s expansion brings with it new integration challenges. With blockchain tracking and real-time supply chain monitoring becoming more common practices, more of its clients want the company’s systems integrated into their own, and the process is not always seamless. Smith estimates that many more customers have demanded real-time tracking over the past five years, and Muñoz is working tirelessly to keep up with the latest technological trends. “We stay on top of that,” she says. “Every customer requires something different.”
As Muñoz’s staff looks back on the past twenty-five years, they are already looking forward to the future. “We want to keep on growing and making sure we have the newest technology,” Smith affirms, noting that the company is already equipping its tractor fleet with 2020 models.
Through the company’s continued embrace of the latest technology, the resulting low downtime allows Muñoz to hold true of its commitment to driver care. Smith and her colleagues are watching the market, but content in the knowledge the company has stood the test of time in a volatile industry. She looks forward to the company’s big anniversary party in April, which will include customers as well as staff. “It’s a good time to reflect on the growth, and the time,” she says, “and hopefully we’ll be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary in twenty-five years.”