This former professional football player has a new calling: creating a more diverse and inclusive logistics industry.
Thomas Johnson, Sr., reached the pinnacle of sports — a multi-year career in the National Football League. But the former defensive tackle is looking to conquer a new challenge: small business ownership.
In addition to mentoring would-be entrepreneurs, he is passionate about spreading diversity and inclusion across the logistics landscape.
Here’s how Thomas is adjusting to life after football and why his past life is paving his path to success in business.
Longitudes: How did you transition from football to business?
Thomas: Life after professional football provided a few different options for me. However, with my father and grandfather having a career in the transportation industry, I decided to try my luck with trucks.
Working as a dispatcher, driver trainer and in accounts receivable let me see first-hand the challenges that minorities encounter in the logistics space.
So, in 2016, I figured it was time to venture out on my own, and my business partner, James Glover, and I started Unite Us Logistics Inc., focusing on creating opportunities for disadvantaged carriers.
Being turned away or disregarded by bigger carriers, brokers and other business owners, especially when critical information was needed, fueled my passion to provide minorities with the information and direction they need to succeed in this industry.
As a new company, we struggled obtaining capital from financial institutions and increasing our capacity of trucks needed to do business with certain companies.
Longitudes: What advice would you have for aspiring minority business owners?
Thomas: Educate yourself about the benefits of certifications. Acquiring the minority certification will increase accessibility and networking opportunities, which are both critical for a new business.
It is also important to understand there is never a “perfect” time to start a business. You have to move forward on faith.
“There is never a perfect time to start a business. You have to move forward on faith.”
Once you have educated yourself on the benefits and risks of that specific industry, it is time to plan and execute.
Longitudes: How do you establish your company culture?
Thomas: I really enjoy contributing to the mental and financial growth of our employees and our Unite Us Logistics family. The impact and influence we have on other business owners is invaluable.
The reward for owning a business and growing goes beyond the monetary gain, but having the ability to create income and employ others is by far the most rewarding part of owning a business. We now have a full staff and recently hired more employees to help with our expansion plans.
We take our responsibility and commitment to succeed seriously because they are depending on us.
Longitudes: What recent trends most affect your business?
Thomas: The growth of e-commerce has changed the way we do business by expanding delivery services and customer expectations. For instance, the demand for home and local deliveries has increased significantly, allowing Unite Us to grow our fleet and improve the way we do business.
“The growth of e-commerce has changed the way we do business.”
We have acquired more trucks to do shorter, same-day deliveries so online customers can receive their products faster.
Commercial and residential customers are also asking for white-glove service for installation and assembly. This industry trend actually adds value to our services and supports our plan to take items from larger trucks to smaller box trucks for home delivery.
We’re also creating a transportation consortium that will offer customers services such as UPS last-mile or expedited service. The consortium will allow us to expand our network and attract other carriers throughout the country to assist with same-day and next-day deliveries. This will let more companies and retail customers receive their products in one to three days.
Longitudes: How have your views on logistics evolved as a business owner?
Thomas: Fuel costs, driver shortages and government regulations are consistent challenges in the logistics industry. Another growing logistics challenge is the industry’s high demand for improved customer service and faster delivery without a rate increase.
The consortium minimizes some of these challenges by creating annual dedicated lanes that eliminate the concern of rate fluctuation. However, once one challenge is tackled, new challenges emerge.
I would advise other carriers to continue to educate themselves on industry trends and costs to run their business. It’s also important to build relationships.
These three tips will help you overcome most challenges that come your way. While they may not be the immediate answer to your problem, they can point you in the right direction.
Longitudes: Finish this sentence: If I had known then what I know now …
Thomas: I would have retained an accountant for bookkeeping (receipts, leases, mechanical expenses and miscellaneous spending) and established a business line of credit earlier. Doing so would have helped us look more attractive to lenders and made it easier to acquire funding.
Editor’s note: In celebration of National Small Business Week (May 5-11), we invited UPS customers and suppliers to share their entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned along the way. You can find our most recent small business stories here.
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