Danny Crawford and his siblings have been in the trucking business all their lives.
Spring break, summer break, whenever there was a break in the school year, the Crawford kids were in the cab of a tractor-trailer.
“Lots of memories in the truck,” said Crawford, whose father founded Wild West Express Inc. in 1992 and had been driving for decades before.
The company, which began by hauling feed grains and peppers from New Mexico, has long grown to meet customer needs, Crawford said. It now has 180 trailers and 120 tractors. It has outgrown the 5-acre lot where the company is headquartered in Las Cruces and plans to move to a 12-acre parcel in a nearby industrial park.
But these days, the traditional method of expanding the business — buying more tractors and trailers — is being tested by equipment shortages.
Wild West Express typically trades in their trucks after three or four years of use and purchases new ones. But right now he’s waiting for trucks that should have been delivered in December, Crawford said.
“It kind of limits the amount of growth you can do at any given time,” he said.
Since new equipment is not readily available, Wild West Express strives to maintain and extend the life of the trucks currently in its fleet. It also uses owner-operators to increase its capacity without making additional purchases.
Most of the company’s 120 drivers drive trucks owned by Wild West Express. Owner-operators, however, drive trucks that they personally own. Similar to a contractor, owner-operators lease their trucks from Wild West Express and then pull Wild West Express trailers, Crawford said.
The company is now working with two owner-operators and hopes to increase that number to 10, possibly 20, owner-operators before the end of the year.
In 1998, the Crawfords purchased their first refrigerated trailer and the business began to transition from hauling grain, a seasonal business, to hauling prepared foods. Transporting farm produce meant that Wild West Express was busy during harvest, but rushed to find work at other times. This was not the case once they could work with food producers.
“People eat all year round, so the food is always on the move,” Crawford said.
Even during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, when everything else seemingly stopped, the food continued.
Crawford started working for Wild West Express shortly after his father, Woody Crawford Sr., started it. Danny Crawford’s brother and sister, Woody Crawford Jr. and Lisa Crawford, eventually joined the company.
Danny Crawford said the family is driven by the idea that they have to “do the right thing” in business. He attributed the company’s growth over the past three decades to hard work and persistence.
“You just have to focus on long-term plans, where you’re going, and just dealing with the ups and downs throughout the tenure and working through the issues,” he said. “You just have to keep figuring it out, move on.”
What impact are rising fuel prices having on Wild West Express?
“Most of our customers are on what we call a fuel surcharge. Thus, as the price of fuel increases, the price of transporting the product also increases. We have to pass that on, there just isn’t enough headroom to absorb that. … To be as efficient as possible, we have APUs on our trucks that use much less fuel. When the driver is not driving, during his break, he operates this smaller APU – auxiliary power unit. It therefore operates the auxiliary power unit which consumes much less fuel, but it can remain in a temperature-controlled environment. He could stay cool. This way we don’t run the big engine which consumes quite a bit of fuel in comparison. So it’s a way to save fuel.
“Another way is to regulate our speed. So our trucks only go so fast that they don’t consume too much fuel. We spec our trucks with aerodynamics, fairings and fuel-saving features. This way we try to maximize our (miles per gallon), minimize our footprint. … We use these fuel saving methods to minimize our impact on the environment.
So, what is the maximum allowed speed?
“Sixty-nine miles an hour. … We were a little slower than that, but we increased that during COVID because store shelves were empty. Food was quite scarce. We have therefore increased our speed in order to increase productivity.
You mention the purchase of the company’s first refrigerated truck in 1998. What are the other key moments in the company’s history?
“We weren’t always the size we are. (When) we had 25 trucks, a customer came up to us and said, “Hey, we need you to cover about 25 or 30 loads a week from one location. Can you do it?’ You have to, when these opportunities come your way, you have to get out sometimes. Make it happen. We have done this many times throughout our history. We had to add equipment and expand in order to take care of customers and take care of contracts, that sort of thing. We must therefore always be open to new challenges, to expansion.
Has it ever turned around?
“Well, there were times when you thought it was. But when one door closes, another opens. It’s happened to us many times. You know, I was telling you about a client who wanted to expand, do the 25 loads a week from one location. We expanded to handle this business with multiple trucks. I think we grew from 25 to 60, and then they ended up selling that location It ends up closing. At the same time that door closed, another customer had to use those trucks. So, yeah, we’re very well taken care of on that front. When one door closes, another s always open.
Why do you think it works this way?
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t blessed. We believe there is a higher power, and it takes care of us.
Does your faith impact the business in other ways?
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, we tried to do the right thing and treat people with respect and fairness. It seems to work.”
About the company
Company Name : Wild West Express Inc.
Leadership: Woody Crawford Sr., President; Danny Crawford, Vice President; Woody Crawford Jr., vice president; Lisa Crawford, Chief Financial Officer
Physical address of the head office: 850 Squirrel Road, Las Cruces
Year of creation: 1992
Number of employees in the year of creation: 1
Number of employees today: 150
Business Outlook’s in-depth article features interviews with well-established New Mexico business executives about the practices that got them through the ups and downs. Send suggestions of local businesses that have been around for at least a decade and employ at least 20 people to [email protected] for consideration.