TUPELO – What started as a freight brokerage business in 1990 has become bigger than its owners ever dreamed.
Joe and Kim Estess, both Tupelo natives, formed Vector Transportation in 1994 with four employees. It’s now grown to 29 employees, and the couple plan to add several more by early next year.
Recently, the company moved to a new multimillion-dollar corporate headquarters on McCullough Boulevard that doubled the size of its former facility.
Along with Vector, four other Estess-run business moved into the Magnolia Business Center, which was extensively redesigned and renovated by McCarty Construction of Tupelo.
“Vector was the startup company for us,” said Joe Estess, who spent several years in the transportation industry. “We saw an opportunity to focus on building a transportation logistics company and we just grew from there.”
And the businesses are family-run. The Estesses’ three children – Brian, April and Valerie – are involved with the companies’ operations, as are their sons-in-law and daughter-in-law.
The company that got everything started was Vector, which matches truckers, or carriers, with available loads.
For example, a company might have a load of freight that needs to be sent across the country and requests bids from companies to get the freight moved.
That’s where brokers like Vector come in. Carriers are found that can do the job and matched with the company.
“If you need something moved fast, that’s when you need a broker the most,” Estess said.
Vector expands its service to customers by offering service agreements in writing and by tracking the loads for its clients.
“We don’t see it as a one-time deal; we’re trying to establish a relationship,” Estess said.
Vector plans to add nine employees by January because the company handles more than 12,000 truck loads of freight each year. Vector also has 11,000 carriers whom it certifies.
Providing cash flow
The success of Vector led to the development of Eagle Capital in 1997. Eagle is a factoring company, which means it buys accounts receivables of clients, most of whom are in the trucking industry.
After Eagle’s clients finish work for their customers, the clients send Eagle a copy of the invoice. Eagle advances the client a percentage of the payment, and Eagles collects the remaining payment from the customer.
Once Eagle has the customer payment, it sends the rest of the client’s money, minus a fee.
“For many people, having to wait 30 days or more isn’t uncommon,” Estess said. “But for a lot of companies, they need the cash flow to keep operating, and Eagle helps with that.
“We saw a definite need for that in the transportation business. We also take the risk out of the clients’ hands, so it’s one less thing to worry about.
Factoring is an alternative to traditional bank financing, which isn’t always available to Eagle’s clients, which now number some 15,000 nationwide.
“We sell cash flow,” Estess said.
Eagle, which started with one employee, now has 33 workers, and Estess plans to add another seven by January.
The company also provides factoring services for construction, medical and other service-based businesses.
As if Vector Transportation and Eagle Capital weren’t enough, the Estesses have three other companies under their umbrella: Timberlake Foods, Southern Belle Refrigerated and Heritage Memorial Funding.
Timberlake, which started in 1995, is a commodity trading business that deals with the meat and poultry industry. The company trades in more than 75 million pounds of meat and poultry products each year. And conveniently, sister company Vector Transportation helps move much of that.
Estess plans to add nine employees to Timberlake, bringing the total to 24.
Southern Belle was started in 2001 after Joe Estess bought the Sara Lee facility on Commerce Street. After a $1 million renovation, the building can hold 10 million pounds of refrigerated goods. Four years ago, 2 million cubic feet of storage was added. Ten employees work at Southern Belle.
The Estesses’ latest venture is Heritage Memorial Funding, which was started in January. The company helps families pay for funerals and other related expenses in exchange for verified life insurance policies.
Heritage handles the paperwork and negotiations with the insurance companies, and the families and funeral homes have their money typically in one or two days, rather than weeks or months.
“It’s one less thing that families have to worry about during a really difficult time,” Joe Estess said.
With five businesses comfortably under one roof – and with additional space available if needed – the Estesses said now was the best time to invest in their companies and the community. While the country is climbing back from the recession, the couple wanted to show that not everything was doom and gloom.
“We wanted to show some positive things happening in Tupelo, that businesses are surviving and growing,” Kim Estess said.
Added Joe: “Our business could have been run from any location in the country, but Tupelo is where we wanted to call home.”
Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal