Estes Express Lines, Inc.
Estes Express Lines, Inc.
3901 West Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23230
Telephone: (804) 353-1900
Fax: (804) 353-8001
Web site: http://www.estes-express.com
Sales: $1.35 billion (2006)
NAIC: 484121 General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance, Truckload
Estes Express Lines, Inc., is a Richmond, Virginia-based less-than-truckload freight hauler, doing business in 46 states, the Caribbean Islands, and Mexico’s major markets. Through its Express LINK network, the company also serves the rest of the United States and Canada. All told, Estes maintains a fleet of 11,400 tractors, 21,600 trailers, and more than 180 terminal facilities.
In addition to less-than-truckload shipping, which is generally slow because the freight may be loaded and unloaded several times before reaching its final destination, the company offers expedited shipping services, including domestic and international airfreight forwarding services. Supply chain management and warehousing services are also offered. Estes is a private company, owned and operated by the third generation of the Estes family, with the fourth generation becoming involved as well.
COMPANY ORIGINS: 1931
Estes Express was founded in rural Virginia in 1931 by Webb Wallace (“W. W.”) Estes. Born on a farm in 1897, he would have likely remained a farmer all of his life, but the Great Depression of the 1930s made it extremely difficult for small farmers to make a living from the earth. Seizing an opportunity to haul cattle for area ranchers, he scraped together enough money to buy a used Chevrolet truck. It was not much of a foundation for a major truck fleet, lacking a windshield and a driver’s seat, but with necessity providing inspiration, Estes made do. A window sash fended off the headwind while a banana crate served as his seat. Regardless of his makeshift rig, Estes had a start and soon he was hauling livestock, produce, and supplies throughout southern and southwest Virginia. After two years he had enough business to warrant the opening of a home office in Chase City, Virginia. Because of Virginia laws that were passed in 1937 to regulate intrastate trucking, Estes formed Estes Express Lines in order to comply with state requirements as well as the Motor Carrier act of 1935, federal legislation that regulated interstate trucking.
Estes was not yet operating outside the state of Virginia, but it was only a matter of time before the company broadened its reach to include neighboring states as it evolved into a less-than-truckload freight hauler. For awhile, however, the company’s ambitions remained local. In 1938 Estes opened terminals in Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia. With the business growing he moved into a new headquarters in Chase City in 1941, but the business would soon prove too large for such a small, remote town, especially after Estes acquired Bristow lines in 1944. Two years later, with the economy beginning to roar following the end of World War II, Estes moved its headquarters to Richmond, a better location for a thriving trucking company. Not only did Estes move into a larger home office, it also opened a break-bulk terminal in Richmond, where shipments could be brought, broken down, and routed to their final destination.
The end of the war also saw the son of W. W. Estes, Robey W. Estes, Sr., joining the company on a full-time basis. Born in 1921, the younger Estes was well familiar with the business, having worked for his father as a teenager during summer vacations. His plans to attend college were interrupted by World War II. Having enlisted in the Virginia National Guard while in high school, his unit was among the first to be called up, and he spent four and a half years in active service, involved in both the D-day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy as well as the Battle of the Bulge in the final months of the European war. Along the way he was wounded three times, meriting two Purple Heart citations. After being discharged from the service, he enrolled at the University of Richmond, but lasted little more than a year, quitting school to help his father. Over the next few years he was a jack of all trades, willing to drive a truck as well as manage a terminal, so that in 1953 he was more than ready to take over as the general manager of Estes Express. His father had the luxury to return to Chase City and pursue the farming life he cherished without the financial perils that had pushed him into the trucking business 20 years earlier. During the 1950s W. W. Estes even toyed with the idea of selling the company, and there was no lack of offers, but by this time his son was committed to the company and convinced him to keep the business in the family.
By the time Robey Estes, Sr., became general manager, the company moved into a new home office in Richmond. Because of steady growth, the facility would be expand another three times by the mid-1960s. In 1957 Estes posted it first $1 million year. To spur further growth, in that same year the company opened four more Virginia terminals in Springfield, Newport News, South Boston, and Winchester. With its operations spread across the state, the company installed a teletype system to coordinate the activities of the terminals with the home office.
MOVE INTO NORTH CAROLINA: 1965
In 1965 Estes expanded beyond the borders of Virginia to engage in interstate trucking for the first time by acquiring Coastal Freight Lines. As a result, the company was able to service North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Two years later Estes expanded its presence in the state by acquiring Carolina-Norfolk Truck Lines, adding terminals in Charlotte, Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Wilmington. To manage its expanding operation, Estes installed its first computer by the end of the 1960s to process payroll and accounting matters.
W. W. Estes remained president but his health began to fail in 1970. A year later he passed away, and his son assumed the presidency. In truth, Robey Estes, Sr., had long been the driving force in the growth of Estes Express, which continued its expansion in the 1970s. In 1972 Estes added A.C. Express and Johnson Express, acquisitions that not only took the company into western North Carolina but also into South Carolina. Estes then began doing business in Maryland and Washington, D.C., through the 1975 purchase of Pollard Delivery Service. The following year Estes filled out its South Carolina business by acquiring Bestway Express. Another state was added to Estes’ area of operation in 1978 when the company moved into the Savannah, Georgia, area with the addition of Palmer Motor Express.
What started as one man with a used Chevy truck in rural Southwestern Virginia has turned into a nationwide comprehensive and technologically advanced transportation company. Continuous improvement in performance, service and equipment has created a legacy of customer loyalty that has driven seven and a half decades of success and intelligent expansion.
A pivotal juncture in the history of Estes Express was reached in 1980 when interstate trucking was partially deregulated through the passage of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980. Most restrictions on commodities that could be carried were lifted, as were limitations on the routes that truckers could use and their overall geographical region. Estes looked to take advantage of the changes and immediately applied to operate in all states east of the Mississippi. It was a challenge for the company, as Robey Estes, Sr., explained to Logistics Today: “We had to learn to take our experience with short-haul to work with interline carriers to deliver their freight and pick up their freight, and to work more with customers to handle a larger geographic area.” The transition was far from easy. For the first time in its history, Estes Express experienced a month in which it lost money, prompting Robey Estes, Sr., to call a meeting with his employees where, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he did not mince words, telling his people, “I’ve never been a part of something that was a failure, and I don’t plan to start now. There’s going to be some hard work here. Anyone who doesn’t want to work hard, there’s the door.”
As Estes Express learned to compete in a deregulated world and operate in a wider swath of territory, Robey Estes, Sr., was being assisted by his son, Robey Estes, Jr., who had been working his way up through the organization ever since graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1974. After stints in South Carolina and North Carolina, he joined his father in Richmond in 1980. He became general manager of the company in 1987. Other third generation family members also began to play key roles, including William T. Hupp, Stephen E. Hupp, Patricia A. Garland, Robert W. Speight, Jr., and Thomas H. Donahue, Jr., and fourth generation family members were waiting in the wings.
ROBEY ESTES, JR., NAMED PRESIDENT: 1990
In 1990 Robey Estes, Sr., turned over the presidency to his son, although he stayed on as chairman and remained very much involved in the company. During his tenure, Estes Express had increased revenues tenfold. His son would continue that strong growth in a new era, one that saw technology play an ever-increasing role in the shipping industry, which would also undergo a period of rapid consolidation. Estes operated in four states—Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia—but was poised to reach out to all parts of the country and beyond. A major step in this direction was the 1990 opening of an office in Jacksonville, Florida, allowing the company to do business in Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. A year later a terminal was acquired in Jacksonville to solidify its hold in the region.
The increased business allowed Estes to post its first $100 million year in 1991. Just three years later, the company doubled that amount, topping $200 million in annual revenues in 1994. A year later the company, now operating in 15 states, was ranked number 15 among less-than-truckload freight haulers, a significant improvement over the 68th ranking it held in 1980. The company expanded its geographical reach in 1996 by forging an alliance with three other regional carriers: G.I. Trucking, Lakeville Motor Express, and TST Overland Express. The result was ExpressLINK, an informal alliance that allowed the partners to combine their capabilities to provide coast-to-coast service in North America.
The U.S. economy soared in the second half of the 1990s spurring even greater growth for Estes. Other contributing factors were a greater reliance of retailers and manufacturers on “just-in-time” deliveries, which called on an increasing number of less-than-truckload shipments, and the collapse of some Northeastern carriers, opening up new opportunities for Estes in some major markets. To this point, the Mississippi River formed a natural boundary for the company’s area of operation, but that changed in 1999 when Estes opened a terminal in St. Louis, Missouri, its first facility located west of the Mississippi.
As the new century dawned, Estes expanded in any number of directions. To accommodate the increasing number of just-in-time deliveries, a Truckload Division was formed to coordinate high volume, single destination shipping. The company also entered new markets in 2000. A Dallas terminal was established as a hub to serve the Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri markets. A Caribbean division, operating out of the Jacksonville Terminal, was launched to provide cargo shipment to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Croix.
- W. W. Estes founds company in Chase City, Virginia.
- Business incorporated as Estes Express Lines.
- Robey Estes, Sr., is named general manager.
- Company expands beyond Virginia.
- Founder dies.
- Deregulation leads to regional expansion.
- Robey Estes, Sr., assumes presidency.
- First terminal west of Mississippi River opens.
- Sales reach $1 billion.
- Robey Estes, Sr., dies.
In 2001 Estes became involved in the warehouse and expedited less-than-truckload business, a fast-growing segment of the market, through the acquisition of Augusta, Maine-based Allen Expedited. Also in that year, Estes furthered its ties to G.I. Trucking when it helped G.I. Trucking’s management team to buy the company from ABC Corporation. While a separate management team remained in place, G.I. Trucking relied on Estes’ infrastructure, essentially creating a single operating unit. Estes was also able to leverage G.I. Trucking’s area of operation to open several new terminals to bolster its new Southwest Division.
In addition to adding new markets, Estes expanded services early in the new century. Estes Integrated Transportation Services was established in 2002 to build on the consulting work the company had been offering, which included transportation system analysis, design, and management. In 2003 the company launched three new initiatives: Estes Air, to help with expedited shipments in both the United States and abroad; Estes Warehousing, to provide logistics services; and Estes Innovative, a unit that worked with Estes Warehousing to coordinate special partial truckload shipments and other custom-expedited jobs.
Estes reach the $1 billion mark in annual sales in 2004, a year that also saw the company overcome Tropical Storm Gaston, which in a matter of hours in late August dumped 14 inches of rain on Richmond, causing severe flooding to Estes’ home office and crippling the company’s computer, communications, and technology center. Estes made the best of a difficult situation by taking the opportunity to upgrade it telephones and computers, installing new state-of-the art equipment.
In 2005 Estes brought G.I. Trucking completely into the fold, formally acquiring the company, adding about $250 million to the balance sheet. A year later the company celebrated its 75th anniversary, but it proved to be a bittersweet moment: in September 2006, Robey Estes, Sr., died at the age of 85. The company that he inherited from his father and passed onto his son was in good shape, however. His family members were not interested in selling, nor did they express any interest in taking it public. In all likelihood they would continue to nurture the business, emulating the hardworking spirit of the company’s founder and his namesake.
Estes Air; Estes Caribbean; Estes LTL; Estes Warehousing; Estes Innovative.
Con-way Freight Inc.; Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc.; UPS Ground Freight, Inc.
Blanchard, Dave, “It Runs in the Family,” Logistics Today, July 2006, p. 30.
Freeze, Michael, “Estes Express Unites with GI Trucking,” Transportation & Distribution, September 2001, p. 16.
Jones, Chip, “Estes Express Owners Stay Committed to Independence in Merger-Driven Industry,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 10, 2006.
Slack, Charles, “Family Still Steers Estes Express Company,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 18, 1995, p. C1.
——, “Virginia-Based Estes Express Works to Maintain Family Feel,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 9, 1998.