Brian Phillips is a flatbed owner-operator who works for RiverDog Express in its Open Deck trucking division. When he’s not on the road pulling his 53’ Reitnouer Low Pro Step Deck, he’s creating content for his YouTube channel, Driven Trucking, which has more than one million views and 16,000 subscribers. On his YouTube channel, Brian offers tips, perspective, and advice to truckers of all experience levels. Brian recently launched a new YouTube channel, Truck Driving School, that is specifically geared for new truckers.
Trucker Tools recently spoke with Brian to find out more about the videos he’s creating for his fellow truckers and about the tools that he uses in his own business, including Trucker Tools’ driver app.
Thanks for speaking with us today! To start with, can you please tell us a little bit about your background? When did you start driving and what got you into trucking?
“I’ve been a truck driver for about seven and a half years now. I became a truck driver and got my CDL back in May of 2012. At the time, I was trying to find my place in the world. I’d been in a few sales jobs and did well in them, but I didn’t care for it. I wanted to find a job that was a bit more introverted.
At the time, I was managing an authorized retail store for AT&T. I wound up having a conversation with a truck driver and I liked what I heard. That was on a Wednesday. The following Monday, I found myself sitting in truck driving school, CDL school, through a local company. I did that, worked for them for roughly five years. I was on a dedicated account. I ran blood plasma. I worked a lot. It was a team operation and it was refrigerated units. I did that and enjoyed it. I enjoyed being on the road and being able to see the U.S.
I wound up meeting my wife and we bought a home. My son was on the way. Unfortunately, my employer cut my mileage in half. My pay was restructured and cut by 33 percent overnight without warning — and here I had just taken on a house and had a baby on the way. It wasn’t going to cut it. That kind of forced my hand. I had to buy a truck and went through the crash course of buying a truck.
I took myself and my truck over to Mercer Transportation and ran flatbed for them for a little over a year and a half. It was nice, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I wanted just a little bit more freedom. Now I work for RiverDog Express and I’ve been here since July of 2019. It’s been great. I really enjoy the people. It’s family. It’s a small company. If you're a new owner-operator, I recommend that you start at a larger company and then make your way (if you don't want to have your own authority) to a smaller company in the end. I think it works best overall. That’s my opinion unless you have a nice set up like some kind of dedicated account.”
What do you like about your work as an owner-operator trucker?
“I enjoy the freedom of the road. I enjoy not having anyone looking over my shoulder. I mean, authority has never been an issue for me, but at the same time, I enjoy being in control of my destiny, which brings a lot of things. I can be in control of how much money I make, where I want to run or how much home time can get. That’s what I like about trucking and being an owner-operator at a company running the spot market.”
You have almost 16,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel and over 1 million views of your videos since June 2018. How did you get into making videos and starting your YouTube channel?
“There’s a lot of downtime being a truck driver. I used to play a lot of games on my phone. You kind of make the rounds between games, Netflix, PlayStation, and YouTube. Eventually, I found YouTube and one day I ran across a truck driver on YouTube and I was kind of blown away. It was like, what in the world is this. So I started watching and found the guys I liked to watch, the guys that I resonated with. Ultimately, my favorite YouTube trucker was MakeCents. His name is Sammy. I watched him for about a year.
I have a million subscribers, but when you’re a bit smaller and your regulars make comments, you remember those people and learn about some of the audience members. This is what happened with me and Sammy. I asked him a question one day and he asked me to email him. When I emailed him, he gave me his phone number and we got on the phone and started talking. It was like we were just old pals. That first conversation was interesting and long and deep and we talked about everything from the moon to the sun. Eventually, over time, I made the comment that I should start a YouTube channel. And when I said that, he was all for it and he encouraged me. He kind of gave me the nudge.
I just made the decision one day to turn the camera on and I made my first video. I looked at it and thought it was bad, but I enjoyed it and so I made a few more videos over the next month or so. I talked more and more to Sammy and realized that this platform (YouTube) can be very multifunctional. It can accomplish a lot of different things. There’s a lot of downtime as a truck driver. I thought you know what, I’m going to be proactive with my downtime and put it to good use.
I then made the decision to take this very seriously and just went to work.”
You just launched a new Truck Driving School channel on YouTube. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
“When I do something, I go all in. I don’t just dip my toe in the water, I jump in headfirst. I’m the kind of guy that likes to know how things work. I was the kid who took apart the remote control because I wanted to know why. Built into my nature and personality is a drive to be the best that I can be in anything that I can do. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing ping-pong, making pizza or making YouTube videos. I want to do it as well as I possibly can.
I’m really a student of YouTube. I study the algorithms and could bore you to death about it. I study everything about YouTube. One of the ways to be successful on YouTube is to niche down your channel very specifically, but more important is defining your audience. My most popular videos are actually directed at new truck drivers. So I took that knowledge of seeing how big those videos blew up and saw that the audience is there for new truck drivers. I decided to create a new channel to direct it at a very specific, refined audience of new truck drivers and pass along this knowledge.
There’s a desire to pass on knowledge. Old school truck drivers, before we had these great things called cell phones, used to have conversations at truck stops and cafes and pass on knowledge to new truck drivers. In this day and age, everybody’s face is stuck in some kind of electronic device. It’s just the way society is now. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. I just think it’s the thing now and that YouTube is a great way to pass on that knowledge.”
What do you see as the top three challenges faced by truckers in today’s market?
“The number one challenge of being a truck driver, and I think this is going to be pretty unanimous across the board no matter what is leaving your family. Period. It doesn’t matter how long you’re gone. It never gets any easier. It is the same painstaking process every single time you leave.
In 2019, the most difficult thing has been that it’s the year after a booming year. So, 2018 was incredible. Based on 2018’s boom, a lot of people went out and bought brand new trucks or upgraded their fleets. A lot of large trucking companies went out and purchased more trucks. It’s typical when you have an incredible year in trucking, being as cyclical as it is, what goes up must come down. It’s unfortunate that it works that way, but the year after a booming year is extremely difficult because you now have more trucks on the road. So that, in turn, brings down the demand for everyone. And then rates fall down as a result. Then you have the larger companies start underbidding other companies to try to stay afloat and it’s just a nasty butterfly effect. Unfortunately, what’s going to wind up happening is that a lot of companies are going to go out of business, and this isn’t anything that’s new. It happens all the time.
You can look back at the history of the industry and see that it’s a process that happens over and over again. But a lot of people are going to wind up going out of business this year and then eventually over the next couple of years. Over the next couple of years, the supply and the demand will level out and rates will level out. Rates aren’t currently terrible, it’s just that there’s just not as much demand. There are fewer loads available per truck because there are more trucks. Naturally, the overall rate is going to go down.
But you can still get good rates if you place yourself in the right markets. There are hot spots across the nation and if you do your research, if you’re diligent, you can place yourself in these hot spots and you can still do really well. I know people who are knocking it out of the park and I know people who are going out of business and everything in between. So it’s really how much research and due diligence you want to put into your profession. Do you want to be a master of your profession or do you just want to have a job? The people who just have a job, unfortunately, they may be going out of business this year, but it will balance itself out over time. This isn’t a terrible market that we’re in right now. There aren’t record lows or anything like that. It’s just tough. But the tough will survive. So that would be the number two challenge we’re currently facing.
The third challenge, and this one might rub some people the wrong way, is regulation in the wrong spots. There is so much focus being put on where an owner-operator can operate, namely California’s AB5 law and possibly with New Jersey jumping on board to do the same.
Then you’ve got the ELD mandate. Most truck drivers don’t know this, but the ELD mandate was created based on feedback from truck drivers. Back in the day, trucking companies used to just run their truck drivers like dogs. In the past, truck drivers wanted an ELD mandate to protect them. It was to keep companies from forcing truckers to keep driving.
I just think that the regulation that is being focused on is in the wrong spot. I think there are some other things that could be better regulated and other things that could be less regulated. We need to take a better look at what regulation is achieving right now because it’s becoming increasingly tougher to be an owner-operator or truck driver. At the same time, it’s never been easier to become a truck driver, which is paradox. I think regulation is something that is very difficult at the moment for truckers.”
What tools do you use in your everyday life as a trucker that make a difference?
“To find loads, there are three places that I look and I will not book a load until I’ve checked all three because I don’t want to do myself an injustice if I missed something somewhere. Of course, I check the Trucker Tools driver app. I also check the Truckstop load board and DAT load board.
One of my favorite things about the Trucker Tools’ app is the ease of use and everything that it offers. The first thing that I do when I wake up, when I open my eyes in the morning, I open Trucker Tools’ app and I immediately hit the weather button. It tells me what’s going on outside from the back from in the sleeper. I use Trucker Tools every day. Let’s say I don’t have a load on and I’m looking for a truck wash. I’m not the biggest fan of some of the big chains that are out there for truck washes, so I can hit that little truck wash button and I can see what’s close by or what’s on my route.
I use Google Maps a lot as well. When I’m looking for a load or even after I’ve booked a load, I’ll pull up Google Maps and I will zoom in on the shipper and the receiver and anything in between that I need. That way I can have an idea of what I’m driving into, if it’s going to be a tight turn or which way I need to come into the shipper or receiver or if I’m going to have to back in. I specifically use the satellite view so I can zoom in and have a look around the area.”
Is there anything else that you think is important for us to know?
“I’m excited to see what Trucker Tools is going to be offering in the future, especially with the driver app update coming. I’m excited because I can see the Trucker Tools’ app being around for a very long time and becoming a daily tool for all truck drivers.”
Brian Phillips is an owner-operator and the founder of Driven Trucking. For more information on Brian and his YouTube channels, visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC27su6HH0vXc7Ptvgf-KTQg/featured.
To download Trucker Tools’ free mobile driver app, visit https://www.truckertools.com/home/mobile-driver-app.html.