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Gypsy or Fly By Night Towers?

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Topic Originally Created by Brian991219 in June of 2011:
Hi. I do not usually post much as I have been working in the background for the last few years but not actively towing anymore. I have seen a lot of talk about gypsy towers stealing away work with low prices, cutting corners and so on.

My question is, what makes a small service a fly by night service? I understand the guys running out of their house, who lied to their insurance company about their truck, pretending it is a pickup not a commercial vehicle and such. How about a trained professional who is a one man show, running an older, well maintained and paid for truck? He can run for much less, so should he charge higher prices just to keep from infringing on someone elses business model, or should he charge what his operational costs plus a reasonable margin dictate?

The reason I ask this is simple. I have one older truck left from when I had my fleet, nothing special at all it is a 94 Super Duty with a 19 foot WeldBilt bed on it. The truck has been kept very well, fully equipped and ready to work, I held on to it as a toy hauler but have been kicking around moonlighting or taking only the calls I feel like doing. My phone still rings weekly with calls for towing, I don't even have my business line anymore but enough people have my cell they still call. I would be operating out of a piece of commercial property that happens to also have my house on it, no real overhead, just insurance, my wages, and other minor costs associated with running the truck professionally. One of the local law enforcement agencies has asked if I would run non-preference calls after 8 pm since non of the other companies in my area like to answer phones after dark and the officers usually end up waiting 45 to 60 minutes for a truck from a neighboring town to respond.

I just want to feel out public opinion on this, don't want to step on anybody's toes or set the world on fire, I just miss running a truck and none of the local guys want to hire me to run for them, they're afraid I will try and take their customers. Also, I do not want to be seen as a scab or fly by night operation just because I have a older truck and run out of a paid for piece of property that doubles as my home.

Let me have your thoughts, and be honesty, I am a big boy and if I am on the wrong track I would appreciate it if everyone spoke up before I go ahead an do this.

Thanks and Cya in the Ditch!
Miracle1 said:
It really depends on what fits your plan,Meaning if you plan to stay a one man with a old truck show or if you plan to grow and add a newer truck...as far as being able to run for much less?I doubt it possible.Your older truck will eventually die and will need to be replaced..Therefore I'd charge what my market will bare...If you are planning to cut others throat just cause you can then, I'd have to classify you as a gypsy or lowballer...However, from some of your post I believe you to be a smart business man who will do whats best for himself and the industry and low price tows is not it!!!! You'll do the right thing Good luck!!!! Kenny
Wrecker44 said:
As far as i'm concerned, If your running in compliance with laws and regulations regarding a commercial towing business in your area, i'm not gonna throw mud at you. What you charge for your services is nobody's business but your customers and yourself. All company owners and independent contractors have different operating costs, which effect the cost of the services provided. With that said, I would recommend keeping your prices at least somewhat comparable to your local standard, mainly to avoid lowering the public's image of the VALUE (not cost) of the services you can provide. By VALUE i mean the ability of your customer to pick a phone 24hrs a day and you bring an arsenal of knowlege and tools to their rescue.
What I define as a "Gypsy" or "Fly-By-Night" outfit has NOTHING to do with the cost of their services. Those who fall into that catagory are easy to spot. They are either unable or unwilling to adhere to regulations and acceptable standards in the industry that are in place for the protection of the public and ourselves. Things like insurance, licensing, zoneing, equipment safety requirements, working load limits, hazmat awareness, proper securement/rigging, pathologens.......the list goes on for pages.

Don't be that guy Brian. Good luck and stay safe.
TOMJR said:
Having one truck and your own customer base doesnt make you a gypsy. I think patro;ing the hiway for people to take advantage of does. You have a truck, and customer base set up. You dont need to lower your price because you dont have alot of overhead.
Brian991219 said:
Thanks for the honest answers.  You are thinking along the same lines as I am as to what is bad for our industry and what the public perceives.  Market rate is a very acceptable way of pricing, someone is going to be the highest and someone is going to be the lowest and if in the middle you can make a reasonable rate of return then you are most likely correct in your pricing structure.  I have never been one to compete on rate alone, I firmly believe you get what you pay for.

I will keep everyone posted as to my decision and thought process along the way.
Stay Safe!
RodVT said:
I'd just add that you really need to base your charges on being able to afford your next truck, not solely on your current expenses. Also, if you are towing as a sideline, why not be on the high side of local pricing? Work less, make more, don't step on any toes, and avoid the customers who solely care about price.
Brian991219 said:
I agree with you Rod.  I don't intend to be on the low side of things, just wanted to put that out there to get a feel for how others in the industry feel about competing on price.  I plan on charging enough to make it worth my time, I don't have to do this, I want to, but also want to profit enough to justify doing it.  Of course I know the older truck will not last and I do not borrow so I will need to have enough reserve capital to cover replacement without taping into my emergency fund or personal savings.

Since I have been out of the business for a while I want to try this out before I take another chance on a full scale company here or anywhere else to see if I still have the love for towing I used to.  I do love the industry and have made some very dear friends over the last 20 years.  I did get out for a reason but circumstances have changed and I feel like I want to try this again.  Towing is also something my youngest daughter is very interested in, she used to ride along with me whenever she could, heck she was born on the front seat of my tow truck in 1996.  If I could build up something in the next few years she is right at the age where she can work the office to learn the business and then start driving in two or three years.  Right now this is all hypothetical, I have not decided if I want to run with it or not.  I do know I am tired of doing part time work for some of the locals here that refuse to have the proper equipment and safe environment to work in.  If that is the only way I can tow then I would rather not tow, so that is what is leading me to try my own truck again.  At least that way I can do what I believe is right and do it how I have been trained.  With my background in safety and compliance I run a very tight and legitimate ship, something a lot of people overlook.  It would look bad for me as a safety consultant to get caught running under the radar so that is out of the question.

Lastly, there is enough work to go around and I do not intend on impeding on anyone else's business however, if they can't keep their customers happy and they come my way so be it.  I do know I do not want to be a large company again, once you get more than two or three trucks it becomes hard to keep the dedication and professionalism consistent among the hired help.  Notice I said hard, not impossible.  I give a lot of credit to the owners that can do this, I had a very hard time when I had multiple trucks.  Today I manage fleet and driver safety and compliance for a construction fleet with 90+ trucks and operators and that is a very tough job.  I do not want to do that again in my own business, so yes I will be staying a small operation.
TOMJR said:
I have found that the cheapskates that priceshop are not worth the agravation. They create the most drama and have no respect for anybody and the calls take the longest and are the most complicated by the fact that they are never ready, the keys are not there, they dont show up on time, they want something done at some weird hours. They are not worth the hassle.
twinbulls said:
Fly by night means to me someone running totally illegal and will change his phone number when he forgets to pay his bill...

gypsy is someone running on the edge of legal might have had insurance once.. might have had a tow license once.. but because of there low rates they can NOT afford to run legal now...

And of course the Pirate someone who runs calls to just rip off the public... No real care for our industry ...Scamming at every call... low balling and or high price rip off....

anyway you sound like your NOT any of those......

Run your truck legal and be a pro... and charge what your worth....

I just had a conversation with a buddy (1 truck) and we where talking prices... He is amazed at what I charge.... My point was I feel I am worth more $$$ and thus charge more... he feels he is worth $$ and thats what he charges. and is about $30 less than me.... I told him to put more value on what he does.. and see how it works out.???
goodmicheal said:
First off, I believe in a free market economy. I believe that the government has no business regulating businesses to the degree that government influences business within this nation. We as a nation have regulated industries right out of the country, and regulated ourselves out of thousands of jobs. It is the right as well as the responsibility of the consumer to become educated as well as be responsible for the consequences of their actions as well as their decisions. When the consumer makes a bad choice then it is time for the government to step in and impose consequences based on the severity of the act. I do believe that government has the responsibility/right to impose tariffs on goods that are brought to this nation after being produced by eight year old where labor is not a factor in the overall price, which results in the harm to the USA, where labor is a factor. I also believe that if law enforcement observes a person towing a car with a rope made from round bale hay twine they should step in and impose consequences and not turn a blind eye to the hazard to the general public.

That being said, I believe it is your right to charge whatever rates are profitable and beneficial to you and your family. If you are in a situation where you are profitable and content, so be it. It is your business, and your business alone. It is the responsibility of the general public to make the final decision as to where they will spend their money. 

It is stunning that so many people root, root, root for the home team, yet when they go to Wal- Mart they sell out the country by buying a cheaper product that is made in China when there is a perfectly good product that is made in the USA that may cost a few dollars more that is readily available. Why is it wrong for someone to save a few bucks on a tow, but perfectly acceptable to sell out the nation by purchasing inferior crap, made by child labor in third world countries, that puts money in the coffers of an elite few?
What have you bought made in your country, the USA,  lately? 
Santiam01 said:
Our country & economic system has always been based upon "building a better mousetrap" Hopefully they both survive the current leaders. Anyway, a one truck operation that isn't heavily dependent on auto clubs & salvage pools, is usually based upon relationships & loyal customers who appreciate you & what you offer to them & in turn their customers (auto shops, body shops, etc) So generally, your survival is not based on being the cheapest, the lower overhead model just allows for you to operate at a more cost effective level. Most of the smaller operations I work with tend to work together to take care of each others customer base. As long as you are meeting the legal needs-proper insurance & D.O.T. compliance, there is nothing wrong with a one truck operation.
twinbulls said:
I just bought 5 coils(COP) for my Ford V10 all American made..... Yep I was surprised to ...LOL They did have a cheaper one.... I passed....

I agree. it should be an open market but when You have big brother looking down with laws and penalties you get upset by those who skirt the system and break the laws only to take your work at a lower substandard rate....
Stay safe

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