Growing Pains

Happy Spring! Welcome to warmer weather and mud! It was a long winter, but I hesitate to call it brutal. It was just a typical Michigan winter….never the same thing twice.

I’m very happy it’s finally Spring. Spring never comes too early but sometimes it’s too late. It feels like this year it’s right on time. I could always argue with the groundhog, but 44 degrees on the first day of Spring seems about right to me.

Amerivet Services had a great winter though we had plenty of winter-like challenges. Gratefully nobody got hurt and we’re all still smiling! As most of you know, in the past I’ve typically weathered the winters on my own, with little to no help from employees. I’ve had opportunities to change that the last couple of winters, and so it’s a semi-new experience for me.

There have been some setbacks here and there though, and I would like to share a little about one of them with you, in the interest of you not having to endure what I’ve endured the last couple of months.

Way back in 2012 I became aware that Michigan law required commercial vehicles over 10,001 lbs to register with US Department of Transportation and display DOT numbers, as well as have drivers with medical examination cards, etc. So, I jumped in and started down that path. I had a lot of “family” things going on in those days, but I did my best to get the company somewhere close to compliant in relation to the little bit that I had learned about the law.

Then in early 2013, I received advice (from a presumably reliable source) that turned out to be mostly right, but also incredibly wrong: “There was no need to comply with DOT because Michigan had changed the law. Any vehicle under 26,000 lbs was exempt.” Well that was quite a relief to hear, and very easy to go along with!

Fast forward to 2019. I was working hard to make Amerivet Services grow, being relatively successful at it, and gradually starting to do OK. I had mostly forgotten about that misguided conversation in 2013, though DOT was still moving forward too. Lots of things were changing in their world.

One Friday night a couple of months ago, “The Team” had just finished a day-long project in Royal Oak. We had really kicked butt and made a great project happen. I was driving home with leftover materials and equipment on the trailer and was stuck in traffic. Next thing you know, red and blue lights are behind me and I’m getting pulled over by a State Police DOT officer who turned out to be as gracious as he was allowed to be. He gave me a 45 minute education beside I-96, along with a pile of paperwork that could amount to a “diploma” from the School of Hard Knocks!

Long story short, the truck, trailer, and I were all taken out of service until we got our acts together, which was a long, difficult, stressful, and very expensive THREE WEEKS! Beyond that, I’m still in the process of putting together a proper, compliant, and legal DOT program for the company.

After five weeks of having issues even figuring out what’s required, I finally connected with the Michigan Center for Truck Safety. I spent four hours with a retired state cop. Though she laughed at me a few times, she really did give me a wealth of information that cuts through the legal language, and helped to get Amerivet Services on a path that will hopefully keep us out of trouble in the future.

How does this relate to you? Well, let me give you some good advice from a guy with a very sore butt: IF you’re operating your business with a vehicle, that vehicle should have the name of the business on both sides. IF that vehicle, or vehicle and trailer, have a combined gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 lbs, then you ABSOLUTELY fall under FMCSA/DOT rules. I don’t care if you have an F-150….if it pulls a trailer (empty or not) with a GVWR that, when added to the GVWR of the F-150 comes to more than 10,000 lbs, then you suddenly are within DOT oversight, and have to follow all the rules a semi truck has to, including lane usage and reduced speed limits.

I know….this isn’t good news. BUT, it’s much better to learn it now than while you’re sitting beside I-96 with red and blue lights behind you.

So that’s my story. It’s not a rosy one, but I hope it wakes a few people up before they end up in my situation. Life is tough. Business is tougher. DOT can put you out of business with no notice at all.

In the middle of all of this, Amerivet Services had a hard time keeping up with customer demand, but we were able to rely on suppliers a bit and use other sources for transportation. In the long run The Team has learned a lot and we’re aiming for a very productive Spring!

For our parting shot, check out our stair project at the new Truck & Trailer building in Howell!