PE-backed truckload carrier files bankruptcy. 339 trucks impacted.

Cold Carriers filed for Chapter 11 on Friday, which will allow it to continue to operate

In a November 2018 article, private equity firm KJM was described as being “unlike the others” and “having daily involvement in the support functions of the business, allowing the company to implement growth initiatives and improve the customer experience.”

Unfortunately, for the 450 employees and stakeholders of Cold Carriers, a truckload roll-up assembled from four of KJMs acquisitions, the PE firm was not successful in running an asset-based truckload portfolio and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday.

Cold Carriers was formed when KJM consolidated it’s acquisitions of Gantt Trucking, Sunco Trucking, Blue Sky Trucking, and Interide Transport, into a single operating parent. The company had 339 trucks, according to FMCSA data.

KJM is a private equity firm based in Orlando, Florida, that was launched in 2014 and made six acquisitions, five of which were in the transportation and logistics space. The firm says it is focused on acquiring private companies with EBITDA between $3 million to $10 million and revenues between $20 million to $100 million. 

KJM’s first transaction was Gantt Trucking, an asset-based carrier out of Lexington, South Carolina. The 102-truck carrier is a temp-controlled carrier with operations east of the Rockies. KJM bought the company in April 2015.

Image: Sunco

The oldest carrier in the portfolio, Sunco, was previously owned by one of the most successful and powerful trucking families in the industry. The refrigerated carrier has 159 trucks and 282 trailers operating out of Lakeland, Florida. Sunco started operations in 1974 and was acquired by Watkins Associated Industries in 1997.

Watkins Associated Industries was the post-deregulation truckload spin-off of Watkins Motor Lines that included Land Span and Highway Transport. When Watkins acquired Sunco, it was combined with the temp-controlled truckload operations of Land Span. Later, in 2002, Sunco went onto acquire the Southeastern division of Rocor.

When Watkins Motor Lines was sold to FedEx in 2006 for $780 million dollars, the truckload assets remained part of the Watkins family for a few years. In 2012, Land Span was sold to Celadon and Sunco was renamed Watkins Refrigerated until KJM purchased it in September 2016, where it reverted back to operating under the Sunco brand. Watkins Industries is still around, but it is no longer involved in trucking or logistics. 

Interide, a Salt Lake City, Utah-based truckload carrier has 135 trucks. Interide was acquired by KJM on December 22, 2016. The carrier has been operating since 1984 and stayed primarily in the Western half of the U.S. When KJM acquired Interide, they also purchased 30-truck operator Blue Sky Logistics, and consolidated the operations into Interide.

KJM is a buyout shop, using a leveraged buyout model of acquisitions. Leveraged buyout is a term that describes a firm using debt borrowed from banks and investors to acquire companies in the hopes of buying assets at a significant discount to the market. 

In many of these models, the operating companies will be loaded up with debt and required to service it on behalf of the private equity group. It works in businesses that throw off significant amounts of cash flow, but rarely works in trucking due to the cash-flow cycles of the business. Private equity firms have a spotty track record in buying asset-based truckload carriers and making a profit.

Image: Gantt

Equipment depreciates quickly and must be replaced as the older equipment wears out and asset-based trucking is one of the most cyclical industries on the planet.

Earlier this year, HVH Transportation of Colorado and Falcon Transport of Ohio shuttered their doors, after their private equity groups cut off funding.

Often times, private equity take over a truckload carrier in one of two situations: when a family that operated the carrier decides to exit or when there is a forced liquidation (bankruptcy or recapitalization).

When founders leave the company, they are often replaced by management appointed by a PE firm that are not familiar with how to run an asset-based trucking company. These deals usually end poorly.

In 2019, at least 3,085 drivers have lost their jobs when the trucking company they were working for shut-down.

In an earlier version on the article, Holman of Caldwell, Idaho was mentioned as portfolio company, according to data from Pitchbook and a reference to a closed transaction on an advisory firm’s website. Since this article was originally published, we were informed that the Holman/KJM deal did not close and Holman was never apart of KJM.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1) and Highway Transport (No. 219).


  1. Will someone advise me as to if this company, Sunco, of Lakeland, FL……… going to be able to pay me? I just got asked to work for them 10/15/19….. Yikes.
    After reading about the Bankruptcy now I am not sure if I want to attend the Orientation session Tues…

  2. So many fundamentals of freight sales and service and have been tossed away since the introduction of load boards, TMS services, apps and other software. Top level managers study graphs, scales and tachometers that show load densities, estimated rates, etc.

    These things have some value but they don’t compare to the old school owners who can smell a storm coming and prepare in advance, the same guy who puts a higher value on how many customers they can take out to lunch for a simple sandwich and soup at a diner.

    The “new breed” laugh at this method and claim trucking has reached a different level and it doesn’t apply anymore. I know many small fleet owners who have had less difficult of a time now, because of that simple lunch at the diner and have a higher level of loyalty from customers during tough times.

    There is so much more to talk about here relating to customer relationships. loyalty and the human factor that are so overlooked.

  3. Problem with these type of companies.. Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. I would bet if you went and looked at what the top of this scab private equity firm was taking for their own pockets you would find the problem. 339 trucks. That would leave you at best with around $1,000 a week to pay a manager or non driver owner. ,That’s if you didn’t need to replace a curb damaged steer tire at the Loves, But take a group of modern douche bags to act and live like king Farouk off of trucking . Ain’t going to happen.

  4. I wonder if through Chap 11 they will sell everything off or the court will make them bring inexperienced management. Their biggest issue is going to be driver retention. A qualified driver can have a job tomorrow and has no need to risk fuel cards getting shutoff.

  5. As a terminal manager for Ryder Truck Lines watched IU International merge several of its trucking companies including Ryder Truck Lines & P.I.E. in 1983 which produced a disaster – Have never seen many mergers work or function as projected on paper — Ryder was a great company until greed set in —-

    1. My father drove for Ryder for almost 33 years. Toward the end of his career it changed names several times I think the last name ended up being pie Nationwide I’m glad he’s able to retire before it completely shut down.

Craig Fuller, CEO at FreightWaves

Craig Fuller is CEO and Founder of FreightWaves, the only freight-focused organization that delivers a complete and comprehensive view of the freight and logistics market. FreightWaves’ news, content, market data, insights, analytics, innovative engagement and risk management tools are unprecedented and unmatched in the industry. Prior to founding FreightWaves, Fuller was the founder and CEO of TransCard, a fleet payment processor that was sold to US Bank. He also is a trucking industry veteran, having founded and managed the Xpress Direct division of US Xpress Enterprises, the largest provider of on-demand trucking services in North America.