Hank and Kathy Partner Up and Build a Business by Jeanne Brei
How did KB Lines Trucking get their start? Well, it all began at classmates.com. Well, maybe that wasn’t the beginning but it certainly was a turning point for Kathy Bryant and Hank Duran, who had gone on one date back in the Seventies during high school and then found each other again through the classmates website in 2012.
In the meantime, Bryant had gone from being a waitress at a truck stop (one of her first jobs as a teenager) to selling wigs, to working in banking and collateral protection insurance with a three state territory and 11 employees. She was driving 1,500 miles a week for that job. Next she worked for Cingular and left it to do home care for her father-in-law which led to studying reflexology and Frequency Specific Microcurrent for reducing inflammation and pain. During that time, Duran had a 25-year career at PG&E, beginning as a lineman, hauling equipment with his Class 1 license, equipment engineer, and ending as a trainer. After retiring, he took up trucking for the entertainment industry until the 2008 economic downturn and he closed his doors in 2010. In 2012, he produced an event in his childhood hometown of Los Banos, Calif. and reconnected with his high school friend Bryant, who did reflexology at the event. They began dating long-distance for six months and then he moved to Modesto, Calif. so they could be together.
Duran’s phone kept ringing, asking if he was still trucking, so the two of them decided to open up a trucking company and KB Lines was born. Duran had specialized in driving show tours and one of his most memorable runs was during a Nickelback tour in January 2002. “We had started in Vancouver and went all the way across Canada in the winter,” says Duran. “One night a lumber truck came out of nowhere and hooked my left mirror and ripped my door off in 40 degree below temperatures. I had cuts in my eye from broken glass, it was 3 a.m. and there was four more hours of driving to go. With ice everywhere, I wrapped my face and body with blankets and kept on driving at 40 below. Nickelback was so grateful, they put me on a pedestal and made a really big deal out of it.”
A happier memory was a tour with Eric Clapton and Drew Carey in 2002. “Both of them rode in my truck from Dallas to Denver and I realized that Drew was using a flashlight and the drapes to make himself look like a ghost and scare other drivers,” says Duran. But it was the Elton John and Billy Joel Face-to-Face tour in the ‘90s where Duran got his nickname, “The Rocketman,” and he’s saving that story for another day.
But as Bryant explains, it’s quite difficult to start a trucking company, even when one partner has 40 years of experience. “He was getting calls by people who wanted to hire him, so he said, ‘let’s start a trucking company.’ But it took 90 days to get at truck because I didn’t have a CDL. The biggest hurdle was getting our first truck when I had no experience running a trucking company,” says Bryant. “But if you’re in trucking, you have a family that will all help you. They wrote letters on our behalf and we were able to lease a truck to start. And before you get the truck, you need to have clients because you have all this money going out–operating cash for down payments, fuel, drivers’ pay, insurance, repairs, replacement rental trucks–and nothing coming in until your first load.”
Bryant adds, “Fortunately, KB Lines had dedicated contracts when we opened. We moved to Las Vegas two years ago because 90 percent of our business is hauling for 4Wall Entertainment, hauling stage lighting, truss, sound gear, background sets, and trade show booths.” Duran explains, “4Wall has warehouses in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco and that’s my loop. They’ve recently bought a lighting company in Pittsburgh, and Wagner Entertainment in Houston, along with warehouses in New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Nashville. Coming up soon, I’ll have a second loop with Nashville, Houston and Las Vegas,” 27adding, “We leased our trucks when we first started but we’ve gotten rid of the leased trucks and we have three trucks right now and we’re in the process of getting two more by the end of January. We have five drivers working for us and 4Wall wants us to be at ten trucks by this time next year. We’ll be at our first million worth of gross business in the next couple of months and by the end of next year, we should be grossing at $2 million/year or more according to our business plan.”
As Bryant describes, “Customer service is what sets us apart–our trucks are on time and in entertainment trucking, you get charged by the hour for all the labor that’s waiting on the dock waiting for the truck to arrive. If you miss a show entirely, it’s even worse, you have to pay for the show and it can run millions of dollars and put you out of business.”
And that isn’t the only challenge to owning a trucking company. Duran says, “A lack of experienced drivers is a real issue right now. I had a truck driving school before and I’m going to open it again. All the insurance policies say drivers must have two years of experience so the people who go to trucking school for a few weeks can’t get a job. In my school, they’ll have on-the-job training to help them get to those two years of experience for the insurance.”
And then there’s the issue of the new Electronic Log Devices which both agree is bad for the trucking industry. As Duran explains, “the ELD takes the time that I’m waiting at the dock as part of my 10 hours of driving time, which could mean that I could be 20 minutes from my destination and it could just shut you down.” Plus, drivers still have to do the paper log, so it’s doubling the workload for the driver. As Duran asks, “The plug-in meter checks how long the engine’s been running—but who’s watching this? Is it a state or federal level? You don’t want so many rules involved that you can’t do business—you can’t count loading hours against my driving time.”
But despite the challenges, KB Lines is a true partnership that both enjoy. As Duran says, “Kathy runs the office and I run operations. We talk ten times a day—we’re on the same page and she can ride shotgun on weekend trips.” And as for their mascot, Blue, Duran says, “Not a wheel turns without him being a part of it. He checks for flat tires, drips, he’s our safety and drug inspector and he does security for us too.” As Bryant says, “We had an interest in building our lives together–and KB Lines is the result.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Exhibit City News magazine, pp. 26-27. For more pictures and original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/jan-feb_ecn2018.