Malvern businessman known for big chances, good choices

Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 11:06 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Rodney Allen owns Diamond State Trucking in Malvern. Allen started at the company repairing and driving trucks.

— Last year was a good one for Diamond State Trucking in Malvern, owner Rodney Allen said. It must be true; the Malvern Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce presented Allen the Business of the Year Award during the chamber’s annual awards banquet, and his company purchased a lot of new equipment during the year.

Allen’s business success has also allowed him to support the local community. He is involved in local and national charities and takes special interest in the young people of Hot Spring County, according to the citation that was read before Allen was presented with the business award by Malvern National Bank and the chamber.

The story of Allen’s career in business has always been one of making good decisions, but those decisions have made it possible for him to take some big chances.

The Malvern native purchased his first business, a dry-cleaners, when he was 19 years old. Six years later, Allen sold that business and took a job in the shop of a trucking company, working on the trucks and fixing tires. In 2001, he purchased that company and turned it around.

Allen makes light of his ability to take unusual chances and have them turn out right.

“Maybe it’s a genetic defect; maybe it just comes naturally,” he said. “I just watched my father. You remember how crazy your parents could seem when you are young? Then the years go by, and then you are doing the same things they did.”

When he was growing up, Allen’s family moved around a lot as his father went from job to job looking for the right opportunities.

“My father always wanted to get ahead,” Allen said.

His father, a trucker, moved from Malvern to Little Rock, and for jobs in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee before returning to Little Rock, then moving back to Malvern about the time Allen graduated from high school.

“He got out of trucking and bought a dry-cleaning business in 1977 in Malvern,” Allen said. “The next year, I bought one.”

While the dry-cleaning business was what his father turned to as an opportunity to settle down — and it was successful — it was not Allen’s dream job.

“In the summer, it could be 140 degrees in the back of the laundry, and I did a lot of the labor myself,” he said.

When he was in high school, Allen had also taken classes at Metropolitan Vocational Technical Center in Little Rock. There, he studied paint and body work for vehicles, along with truck mechanics.

“I was always fixing things and working on motorcycles,” Allen said.

Having those skills, Allen decided to sell the dry-cleaner business and get a job with Hoskins Truck Service in Malvern.

Allen was working in the shop of a business that started in 1929, one that is believed to be among the oldest trucking businesses in the state.

A lot of the company’s business was with the aluminum industry in the region. While that industry was downsizing, it was much bigger than it is today. Within a year after going to work for the trucking company, Allen bought his own big rig.

“I bought a truck and hired a man to drive it for me,” he said.

The business changed hands several times, and business declined, Allen said. During those years, he moved from the garage to the office and into management, handling almost every job in the company along the way.

In 2001, he purchased the company and changed the name to Diamond State Trucking. He said the name change was part of changing the company’s image and direction.

“Things needed to change,” he said. “I bought the assets of the company, not the liabilities.”

For the first several years, Allen said he focused on keeping the company’s debt low while building back relationships with customers and finding new customers.

While Diamond State carries cargo to all 48 contiguous United States, the core of Allen’s business centers on local industries that serve national markets.

“A lot of our business is with the construction business,” Allen said. “We have carried building panels from Sheridan to Yankee Stadium and the new dome in Dallas. We still carry a lot of aluminum from the plants to Ohio and Pennsylvania. We have dedicated trucks for some local industries. We bring their raw materials in and their finished products out.”

Business was very good from 2005 into 2008. However, the hard economic times and the building slump hurt the company in 2009.

“We would be busy for three weeks and then dead for a week, and it was that way every month, so we could never have a good month,” he said. “But we kept the debt low, and we actually made some money that year.”

During that time, Allen said, the economy “weeded out” some of the trucking companies that were not as thrifty with their finances as Diamond State. Their problems have brought him new business.

Things were better in 2010 and even better the next year. While he said 2012 might have been the best year the company has ever had when it comes to income, Allen said much of the profits went to buying new trucks, replacing many of the older rigs they had used for a few years longer than usual to get through the hard times.

Diamond State now has 40 trucks, and he said the new ones need less maintenance and get better gas mileage. That is a major concern for a company that buys a lot of fuel.

“I buy a quarter-of-a-million dollars in fuel in a month,” Allen said. “I keep a close eye on the prices.”

The idea, Allen said, is to not be affected by the ups and downs of the fuel prices, like the latest changes that added 18 cents per gallon to the price of diesel fuel in a week. His company has long-term arrangements to purchase fuel at a steady price.

As a boy, Allen said, his dream was to be a big league pitcher. However, he said moving around as his family did never let him get established with a high school team or focus on building his pitching skills.

Yet, he still loves sports and wants to make sure that love is passed along not only to his grandchildren, but to their classmates. Allen is a supporter of athletics in Malvern.

“I am friends with some of the coaches at the high school, and at times they come to me about things they need,” he said. “I have gotten them hats and other things when the need comes along.”

Allen and his company have also sponsored baseball and basketball teams for the Boys & Girls Club of Malvern and Hot Spring County. He is also a sponsor for the annual Santa Train that stops in Malvern during the holiday season.

“I like giving back to the community,” Allen said. “There are some causes I have helped with where it would be fine with me if nobody knows.”

While they are busy in the community, Allen and the company have a low profile with many residents, and that is fine with him.

“I know some people don’t know who we are,” he said. “They just pass by this big lot with a few trucks in it.”

If that is what they notice, it’s a good thing.

“If there are not trucks in the yard,” he said, “that means they are out on the road making money.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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