When Kojo Sapon, 41, started the Charlotte-based small business Express Logistic Services in 2002, he had one box truck for carrying freight and sporadic gigs delivering mail, furniture and home appliances.
Eleven years later, he has a new business model (dump trucks), a number of high-profile road projects under his belt and the 2012 Small Businessman of the Year award from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce.
“We went from barely making enough money to survive ... to a turning point,” Sapon says. “I realized I could do it better.”
More stable, more lucrative: Sapon owned one box truck and leased three. The average box truck is 24 to 26 feet long – about half the size of a typical 18-wheeler truck – but it operates in the same manner.
Sapon said freight deliveries for companies such as Ashley Furniture or Sears required heavy lifting, a minimum of two people per truck and a relatively open schedule.
A business could call as early as 5 a.m. or as late as 6 p.m. for a rush delivery (known as a “hot shot”) to destinations up and down the East Coast.
“You’re on call at all times, not on a set schedule,” Sapon says.
In 2007, Sapon, itching for more stability, bought a dump truck for $35,000. He’d heard that leg of the trucking business was consistent and lucrative, and didn’t require as much manual labor.
So while still running hot shots with his box truck, Sapon enrolled in N.C. Department of Transportation’s Project Legacy program, which offers assistance with some of the business fundamentals: how to develop contract opportunities, connect with mentors, organize finances and establish a two-year sustainability plan for the business.
The plan includes how to secure bank financing and create employee development and retention programs.
Leaps and bounds: Sapon didn’t change his business name. But new focus on dump trucks helped bolster his finances. Express Logistic Services has grown considerably.
In the first year, the revamped business grossed less than $100,000. Now Sapon has five full-time employees and owns seven dump trucks that make dozens of runs a day. Revenue topped more than $3 million in 2012, according to Sapon.
And thanks to his certification from NCDOT, Sapon’s trucks have been used for work on the I-485 extension, for airport expansion projects, and for a number of road-resurfacing projects throughout the city.
Keeping the door open: Sapon’s office off Southern Pine Boulevard in Pineville is far from where he keeps the trucks, off South Boulevard. The next step, he says, is finding a space that’s big enough for the both of them.
And though he works predominantly with dump trucks now, Sapon intentionally never sold his box truck. So if the need for freight delivery were great or if the dump-truck business slowed down, he’d still have options.
“If the opportunity comes up to put the (box) truck to work,” says Sapon, “I’ll do it.”