The story of Niece Trucking is a classic American tale of building a small family business from the ground up.
It all began in November 1994, when Ken Niece started his company in Earlham with a single pickup truck. The cargo consisted of copies of the Wall Street Journal.
“We started with a single route,” Ken recalled. “We continued to grow for a while, but eventually the growth flattened out. Now that my oldest son, Daniel, has come back to join us, the business has really grown again.”
Today, the company is headquartered in Des Moines and has more than 170 drivers and nearly 200 employees, with terminals and fleets that stretch across the Midwest and beyond. Dry goods make up about 95% of Niece Trucking’s business, but they also transport refrigerated items, like pharmaceuticals.
As Daniel prepares to succeed his father at the helm of the family business, more growth appears to be in the future for Niece Trucking.
A Trucker By Trade
Ken began his career as a truck driver right out of high school. He went to work for a man named Roger Griffin at a company called RGT. Roger became Ken’s role model and somewhat of a father figure to him.
Griffin is also the one who helped put Ken on the path to business ownership.
“He’s the one who gave me my start by giving me the opportunity to buy my first truck and start my own business,” Ken said.
Ken also jokes that he drove Griffin crazy and that’s why Roger wanted him to have his own truck and start his own business.
Two Prodigal Sons Return
Both of Ken’s sons, Daniel and Jonathan, worked for the family business growing up and each went their separate ways at some point before returning to the nest.
During college, Daniel worked as an intern for ADM, a global food processing and commodities trading corporation that was located in Decatur, Illinois at the time. After he graduated from college he took a full-time position there and worked his way up from entry-level employee to a leadership position.
In 2014, however, Daniel decided to leave that behind and return to the family business. Since he’s come back, Daniel is proud of the work they have done.
“It’s been fun to be here and to have done well and exceeded even our own expectations,” Daniel said. “We had an idea of how it was going to go and we have been very fortunate and, sometimes, even lucky with our timing and execution.
“It’s been very good for us as a company and as a competitive person, it’s fun for us to succeed.”
Jonathan also went his own way after high school, but after a few years of college he also decided to return to the family business. He spent time learning the ropes as a driver in each segment of their business and currently works in dispatch operations. Jonathan continues to be a vital part of Niece Trucking’s management team.
Having his kids working alongside him is one of the things Ken is most proud of with Niece Trucking.
“The boys are doing more and more as I continue to step out,” Ken said. “It’s fun to watch them grow the company, and with very little support from myself these days.”
A Constant Financial Relationship
Through all of the changes that have taken place over the years at Niece Trucking, there has been one constant from the very beginning: their financial relationship with Jill Thielen and Don Nickerson.
When Ken bought his first semi-truck, he called Jill and Don for the financing. At that time, they were working for a different bank, but when they moved over to Northwest Bank, Ken moved his business there as well to continue his relationship with Jill and Don.
“Jill and Don have been very big influences on our company from a financial standpoint,” Ken said. “They’ve always believed in me and they’ve always been able to come through for me whenever I needed money for the business.”
Ken is not a big fan of doing business online. His personal relationship with Jill and Don allows him to get what he needs over the phone without having to fill out forms online.
In addition to providing loans, Northwest Bank executes payroll via electronic transfer, so Ken’s employees get paid fast and easily.
A Steady Future
Along with taking care of his family and his employees, Ken has built a business on the foundation of supporting his community. They are heavily involved in supporting Special Olympics Iowa, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF) and many youth sports programs in the Des Moines area.
With Daniel at the helm, Niece Trucking expects to have more growth in their future.
“We continue to strive for sustainable growth,” Daniel said. “That has always been the goal. The biggest thing is creating jobs and finding freight that our drivers want to haul. That is something we have really succeeded in.”
Ken believes that Daniel’s ambition will make it all possible.
“Daniel will constantly challenge you,” Ken said. “Whether it’s me, the dispatchers, the CFO or the mechanics, he will drive them to continue to be better and better.”
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