Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Eric Ray, the CEO, and Founder of Easy Auto Ship LLC, a nationwide vehicle shipping brokerage located in Youngstown, Ohio. About 80% of our business is shipping POV (privately owned vehicles) for the end consumer, and the rest is for dealerships and relocation companies.
Our job is to find out the requirements and details of why and when someone needs to ship a vehicle and then locate a qualified carrier to do that job. For these services, we charge a broker fee of generally around 200 dollars. Most of the time, the carrier is paid COD (cash on delivery) by the customer when the vehicle is delivered and the inspection report is signed off on by both parties.
We average around $250,000 a month in brokerage fees with a net profit of $100,000 a month. We are ranked as the Best Overall Car Shipping Company of 2020 on Move.org, as well as Movebuddha.com, with over 1,500 reviews on Google and a 4.6 rating! We will do about $18 million this year in sales, but it was not an easy road getting here.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I had always been an athlete with a competitive attitude. I played golf in college as I studied for my Bachelor’s in Business Administration. After college, I had aspirations of becoming a professional golfer, but soon found out how hard that was, so I became a teaching professional at a local golf club in Columbus Ohio.
The job didn’t pay much, so I gambled on the side for extra money for a while. One day, the person I beat lost their cool and broke my back on the golf course, and took me out of that career. Little did I know, it was the best thing that happened to me, as it forced me to get to work starting my own construction company. I was able to build that company up until it was doing about $4 million a year but did not like that industry so I sold half of it to a good friend and took some time off to think about what I wanted to do in life.
It was in 2012, after taking a few years off, that I was starting to run low on money and knew I would have to get back to working for someone or start my own company again. I was moving and needed to ship a personal car so I went online to get a quote and got a wide range of prices from different companies. I soon found out that they were all brokers and not the actual carrier.
Naturally, I went with a middle of the road price quote and my experience was so-so, to say the least. The original price I was quoted got bumped up due to the delivery address being outside of the metro area. I asked why I wasn’t quoted properly, and I was told that the instant pricing program they used didn’t do well with situations like mine, only metro to metro. I knew this was going to be an issue with the industry moving forward because at that time high-speed internet was becoming available to people living outside of the big city, which meant those people would now have access to better internet and start buying cars online from long distances. I knew this was going to create new demand for car shipping and also a better pricing system, so I got to work doing my research on how to start a car shipping brokerage. I had always been interested in middlemen type of business as well as technology so I thought this was a perfect fit for my new adventure.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
After 3 long weeks of researching things, I was ready to get going. I knew I needed a Motor Carrier #, insurance, a website, a merchant account, and a CRM to run my business.
Buying and processing lead from lead generators was the easiest and quickest way to get sales. I found a company called Superflo Systems out of Cincinnati, Ohio and they owned a CRM for car shipping as well as an auto quoting technology called TAQ (Transport Auto Quoter). This TAQ system was a solid program, but just like most, it didn’t price correctly for areas outside the metro cities. I have always been very good with math, so I partnered up with the team at Superflo Systems to rework the way TAQ figured out the pricing for an auto transport move.
After working as a broker selling auto shipping services for several months I realized that the carriers were extremely important. To attract a good carrier, they needed to be paid appropriately so that every move they did, made economical sense. This was another huge reason that I was working in the background and after hours to figure out the math behind this giant equation so that TAQ would instant price all jobs properly with the carrier getting paid correctly no matter the location in the country. After working 20 plus hours a day running my new business and working on the TAQ program when I had free time, I finally figured it out.
I created a recipe on TAQ that worked extremely well and would instantly price all my jobs correctly. This was a big deal, as I knew that if I wanted to grow my business online at my website and also buy more leads for the salespeople that I would hire, I needed a way to price things correctly instantly.
I wanted to build my auto transport company with loyal employees who were in it for the long haul.
At this time, most other brokers would hire a full-time person to take a look at each quote and manually price that job, but that was so time-consuming, and the reality is that people wanted a price now, not several hours from now or tomorrow. This gave me a real edge over my competitors moving forward. I now did not have to spend time pricing out each job manually and didn’t need to train any new salespeople on how to price jobs either. Salespeople could jump right in and start selling the quotes that were instantly priced for the leads that came through in real-time. Since that day, I have been able to partner up with big websites and instant price shipping jobs for companies like Hemmings, as well as drive more traffic to my website to get solid and reliable instant pricing for their shipping needs.
Starting a business is like having a child. It has to be loved, nurtured, fed properly, and watched after until it grows up, and then you can breathe a little bit once it can live on its own.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I spent about $15,000 getting my business all set up. This included a website, insurance, licenses, a bond, and a merchant account. Launching the business was a lot of work as any one-man show is. I was the sales agent, the customer service agent, the dispatcher, and the business manager. I had to wear all these hats while working on my bigger plan with instant pricing technology and TAQ.
I was very excited, as I was making good money fairly quickly, but also worked about 20 hours a day. I worked out of my one-bedroom apartment in Miami, Florida, which was fine until I needed room to grow. I thought about getting an office but was nervous about the overhead so I decided to turn my living room into a 4 personal call center, as I was 110% committed to this business, and I didn’t have time to use a living room for relaxing or entertaining anyway.
This worked decently for almost a year, but after realizing that hiring and managing salespeople in a big city was quite cumbersome, I decided to move myself and the business back to the small town in Ohio where I grew up. I knew that finding quality sale agents who were dependable and just wanted a solid job was going to be easier than in the big city, where there are so many job-jumping salespeople. I didn’t want to be in the hiring and firing game. I wanted to build my auto transport company with loyal employees who were in it for the long haul.
Most companies in this industry also hire sales agents as 1099 subcontractors. I decided to build my team with actual salaried employees, offering a good base pay plus commissions, benefits, retirement, etc. I knew this would allow me to attract a more long-term hard-working salesperson. With TAQ doing all the pricing, I was able to hire more sales agents without having to teach them how to price, which was the hard part. Just making a friend on the phone and selling service was the easy part.
At this point, I knew I had a good business recipe and just had to work hard. I was able to hire 6 people my second year in business, as well as bring on a general manager to run things so I could concentrate on building our long term strategy and relationships. The biggest lesson I learned my first year when working out of my apartment in Miami was that hiring the right people was key. The longer you can hold onto an employee, the more stable the business is, and the more likely it is to attract other good employees.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
One thing is for sure, things change and always will. For the first few years, buying leads and phone calls from people who wanted to ship a vehicle worked great. We operated on a rule of thumb where if you can make 5 times your marketing money on those leads then all is well. As time went on, lead providers started getting more expensive, the competition got more fierce and technology stack.
For a few years, we were the only ones sending out instant texts and emails to the leads we bought, giving the potential customer a reliable price and booking link to create an order right then and there. One thing you have to understand is that, in our business, unless they already have a car shipping company they work with, people just go to google and type in the phrases ‘car shipping’, ‘car transport’ and ‘auto transport’. Those 3 key phrases account for over 50% of all car shipping searches online.
Google eventually started getting smart, and many of the organic lead generation companies that used to show up for those phrases were now falling out of the ranks as Google figured out whether they are actual car shipping companies or just lead providers. Google’s algorithm wants to provide its searching audience with the actual thing that they’re searching for, not a lead gen website that sells their information to many brokers like me, and we all fought for the business.
I had always known about SEO and organic position but never tried to compete with the big lead providers that spent a lot of money in my industry getting those good organic spots. However, knowing that Google was changing the game, I saw this as a big opportunity to start investing in our own organic position. A lot of people don’t even try to do this, as it is very expensive and a very long-term play with no guaranteed results, but I was willing to take the risk and bet on my ability to learn the game and commit to the investment.
It’s been 2 years and over $100k since I started this journey, but it is finally starting to pay off. Our website is now generating over 8,000 organic industry-specific hits a month, which results in close to $75,000 a month in sales. The key has been steady White Hat SEO tactics and a lot of patience.
Someone that ships a car once is twice as likely to ship another car vs. someone that has never shipped a car, so retaining that relationship is crucial. We do this through automated drip emails throughout the year to stay in contact with our clients in case they need our services again. We also work extremely hard to keep up our online reputation with good ratings with Google, BBB, and Transport Reviews. They say one bad rating can cost you 10 sales, but it takes 10 good ratings to equal one solid sale. We use a service called Birdeye to help us collect and monitor ratings and reviews online, and it works very well. I would suggest anyone that has an online business or presence try out Birdeye for collecting reviews.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, after 8 years of hard work, we are now a company with 28 full-time employees. We will earn about $18 million in total sales with about a 10% profit margin. We have also expanded with 2 more divisions. Full Load Logistics is our general freight transport provider and Canadian Car Shipping is our division that specializes in vehicle transport to and from Canada.
We also are named the best overall Car Shipping Company on Move.org and Movebuddha.com. Both of these sites get a good deal of traffic, resulting in more sales for us as well. We just hired an in-house digital marketing strategist to manage our social media and learn the pay-per-click world so we can expand even more now that we have three brands.
We are also now looking to expand into the B2B car transport world a bit more. Now that our reputation is solid, it is opening up doors and avenues that just weren't there when we first started. We are continuing to work on our SEO strategies, and we plan on increasing our organic traffic by another 20% over the next 12 months. Currently, we operate out of a 3000 square foot office but we are planning to move into a 6000 square foot office by mid-2021. This will allow us to hire more agents and expand our freight division and b2b auto transport as well. We are also designing a more spacious and fun workplace, as we are very firm believers in hiring people that want to stay long-term and build their careers. A happy employee is a loyal and hard-working employee!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I believe that starting a business is like having a child. It has to be loved, nurtured, fed properly, and watched after until it grows up, and then you can breathe a little bit once it can live on its own. Just like when a baby is born, that first year in business will definitely have a lot of sleepless nights, worrying, and learning.
I think that a lot of people who start a business have a hard time getting over the hurdle of letting go of control and trusting the people they hire to run the business while they focus on growing it. It’s very hard to get out of your own way and I think that is a big reason that many business owners end up failing or getting burnt out before the business can live on its own. I watched my father struggle with control and trust issues when hiring people for his business, and he ended up getting burnt out. I learned a lot from that and really understood that, for your business to grow, you have to let go as well. I think that is one of the hardest things most small business owners really struggle with.
Having the real dedication of time and focus is another thing that I have learned is extremely important when starting a new business. I always get frustrated when people say “family first, then work”. I disagree. If you are planning on starting a business, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes and basically put everything to the side. The business, which is your baby, comes first.
Like I mentioned above, when I started I worked 20 hours a day 7 days a week, and sometimes I didn’t sleep at all. I started my business in my home where I slept, ate, and worked so I could be available to the business 24/7. When I got my first office, I had a shower built in it and a futon so that I could sleep there half the time, as I just didn’t have time to spend 45 minutes a day driving to and from home and work. If you’re committed to making the sacrifices necessary to build your business, then you can guarantee your own success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When starting an auto transport brokerage, you will need a good CRM to manage and maintain prospecting, leads, and the order lifecycle. We use ProABD, which is a CRM/TMS created by Superflo Systems. Since we are a nationwide online business, our reviews and ratings are very important and we use Birdeye to help collect and manage those. My favorite tool for my business is Semrush, which is an SEO tool that gives me real-time insight on how our website is doing, as well as all of my competitors. It’s been extremely valuable when learning about SEO and the organic position online world.
No matter what type of business you’re in, you need a solid plan for getting sales. Everyone starts a business to make a profit, but, without sales, there is no profit to be made.
Another big thing that has helped us get our name out there for more sales and credibility is our affiliation with Hemmings and being able to provide instant quoting for all of their car shipping quotes right on their website. The TAQ software has allowed us to do that and get our name in front of millions of online visitors a year looking to buy a car.
Building relationships with other online resources within our industry has really helped as well. Being ranked on Move.org and Movebuddha has been a tremendous boost to our sales and online reputation as well. My suggestion to anyone starting a business in today’s online world is to look for other resources that pop up in search results for what you’re selling and align yourselves with them if you can.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have always been a big believer in keeping your head right! What I mean by that is doing things that keep you motivated, dreaming big, and giving you that extra drive from within. My top 2 books of all time are The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz.
I truly believe that we live in the residuals of our thoughts, and it’s crucial to always think positive, keep a clear head, and focus on what you want to attract into your life. The law of attraction is a very powerful concept that can pay huge dividends if you fully understand and practice it. I was always taught growing up that the early bird gets the worm. As a kid, of course, I hated hearing my father say that, but now I know that it’s so true. When you start your day sooner than the rest of the world, you are already one step ahead.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give anyone starting, no matter what type of business you’re in is to have a solid plan for getting sales. Too many people get the business going from a functional standpoint but don’t have a solid plan on how to bring in sales, which is the gas for the vehicle they built. Without sales, I would say you have nothing. Everyone starts a business to make a profit, but, without sales, there is no profit to be made. When I first started, I did my homework on where I was going to buy leads to call, how much that would cost me, and how many I needed to close a week to get a return on the investment that I was putting out.
The second best piece of advice I can give is don’t plan on living on and paying your bills from the money the business starts to make. Just like a baby, if you don’t feed it properly it won’t grow. The same thing goes for a business. It needs to eat to grow and the food for the business is the profit that it is making. Your business will have a much better chance of succeeding if you have enough money saved up for an entire year worth of your personal bills so that all the money the business makes can go right back into it. Too many people start a business with no ability to live without taking from the business and it can be crippling to a brand new business not to have its own cash flow for food to stay healthy and grow.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking to hire! I believe that a business with a solid core and feet on the ground already can always benefit from adding good employees to help it grow. My theory is that, if I come across the right person, I will find a spot in my company for them.
That being said, a good salesperson is always welcome to come work with Easy Auto Ship. We offer good base pay plus an aggressive commission structure and a full benefits package. This position would involve making outgoing calls to prospects and create your own book of business and relationships. We are also looking for an experienced B2B Auto transport manager to get this division of our company off the ground and build a sales team under them.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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