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VOL. 129 | NO. 76 | Friday, April 18, 2014

Empire Express Grows to Trucking Powerhouse

By Amos Maki

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After graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1962, Ed Gatlin started a successful automotive chemicals business.


Gatlin sold that business, Ig-lo Products Corp., to Valvoline Oil Co. in 1985 and remained as CEO for two more years. After leaving that venture, Gatlin’s desire to succeed in business burned as strong as ever and he still had a few trucks and trailers.

“I had 12 trucks and 12 trailers and one of my drivers and I decided we’d try to start a truck line,” said Gatlin, founder of trucking company Empire Express. “We operated that company until 1988 when I asked my youngest son Tim if he wanted to build a truck line and he said yes and he really built the truck line.”

From those early days Gatlin has helped Empire Express expand to a total of 200 trucks, 550 trailers and 235 employees today.

This year Carnival Memphis is honoring Gatlin with the Chairman’s Award. As part of its 83rd anniversary celebration, Carnival Memphis will salute the Mid-South trucking industry during the annual Business & Industry Salute Luncheon on Wednesday, April 30, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Memphis.

Gatlin deflects credit for being responsible for the company’s steady growth over the years. Empire Express is most certainly a family affair. Tim Gatlin serves as president and CEO and Todd Gatlin serves as vice president of driver relations.

“I did start the business and I wrote a lot of checks in the beginning but Tim runs the company,” said Ed Gatlin. “All I did was finance it.”

Empire Express’ national footprint now serves 49 states and Canada after it filled a niche in the delivery of time or safety-sensitive items.

“We were convinced by an individual in the industry who specialized in hazmat to try it and we gave good service and built a big clientele,” Gatlin said.

Around 35 percent of the loads are packaged chemicals and related products such as agricultural chemicals and poisons, paint-related materials and styrene’s, polymers and other chemicals used by the chemical process industry.

Other products hauled are clothing and apparel, air cargo, home and office products, packaging and containers, retail, electronics and general commodities.

Time-sensitive delivery is a large component of Empire Express’ business. One of the company’s biggest clients is Memphis-based FedEx.

“You have to schedule properly and pick up and deliver on time,” Gatlin said. “Good customers pay a premium over normal freight and the same with hazmat.”

While business is good, Gatlin and Empire Express are dealing with a driver shortage that has plagued the industry for years.

“A lot of old drivers are retiring,” Gatlin said. “We’re hiring a lot of drivers out of schools, and they’re good drivers, but they realize driving isn’t for them and they want to spend more time with their family. We spend a large amount of money, like most truck lines, recruiting.”

Gatlin said he is still focused on growing the company despite the driver shortage.

“If anything I think we’re going in the direction of acquisitions,” Gatlin said.

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