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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 3 years ago

Iron man

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The heavy construction equipment industry is light on technology. A trucking entrepreneur aims to change that.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Jeffrey Cox Jr. grew up in the heavy construction equipment business — he got to play with real bulldozers when he was a kid, not just toys.

“I come from a yellow-iron family,” quips Cox, whose grandfather, James Cox, co-founded Plant City-based Linder Industrial Machinery Co. That company, under the leadership of Jeffrey Cox's grandfather and father, grew into one of the largest Komatsu construction and mining equipment dealerships in the country, with 20 branches across the Southeast.

The youngest Cox left the industry for nearly a decade after college, when he ran IT departments for Lockheed Martin in Orlando. But in 2004, Cox sought a way to get back into heavy equipment. He founded a company, Mulberry-based Rounders, that transported heavy construction equipment, from bulldozers and crushers to loaders and excavators. “All forms of big iron,” says Cox.

Rounders, while profitable, brought to light a bigger issue: Shipping ginormous and multimillion-dollar pieces of machinery that construction firms need to build everything from condos to schools suffers from a lack of technology. There's no Uber or Airbnb for shipping a bulldozer — yet.

“The industry has a lot of unsolved problems,” says Cox, 40. “It's very inefficient.”

Cox aims to fill that void with Lakeland-based VeriTread. Going into its fourth year, VeriTread is poised to double annual sales in 2016 to $2 million, Cox projects. The business is also on the cusp of turning a profit, in addition to turning some heads in an industry not known for technological innovation.

VeriTread's niche is an online marketplace it created and runs that connects people who buy heavy equipment with a transport company to shuttle the equipment from the purchase site to wherever it's going. This allows equipment buyers to get cost and time estimates from shippers. It's also a way for shippers to bid on work. A mobile version and app of the marketplace is scheduled to debut by the second quarter.

VeriTread, through that website and its proprietary software, has two revenue streams. One is pay-per-load, where VeriTread earns a fee from each shipping company, in return for connecting that business to a customer. The other is for high-volume shippers, who pay $1,500 a month for the access and connections.

That makes VeriTread more eBay than Uber, which is OK with Cox, and the company's customers. Mike Stone, publisher of Rock & Dirt, a heavy equipment industry website and magazine, says Cox is an industry thought leader. “It's a tremendous asset for a purchaser of heavy equipment to now have a reasonable idea of the cost of shipping,” says Stone. “I don't know of anyone doing anything else like this.”

The next big step for Cox is to raise capital. Cox says he's invested his life savings “three times over” into the business, a number well into six figures, not counting sweat equity. Cox also raised $1.8 million in 2012 when he launched VeriTread, mostly from entities within the shipping and freight industry. Now he seeks $5 million, mostly to fund the app, in addition to marketing.

Beyond raising money, Cox says his biggest challenge is finding not only employees, but seasoned executives who combine sales and marketing expertise with technology. Being in Lakeland, he adds, not a high-tech hotbed, exacerbates the challenge. Says Cox: “There are just not a lot of people around here who can do that.”

— Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon

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