In years past, we’ve published a number of driver interviews on this blog. As the community keeps growing, we’re looking to make this a more regular feature. We’d like each transporter to be able to share their first-hand experience, good or bad, with everyone involved.
This month, we spoke with Kristy Kokolakis of Open Road Hauling, LLC.
Kristy signed up to CitizenShipper last February and built quite a reputation for herself in just a few short months. She has completed 48 shipments so far, with a perfect five-star rating based on 25 reviews. She employs only one driver, Josh Lopez; both of them are USDA-registered and certified in pet first aid.
We contacted Kristy to get her thoughts on starting out in pet transportation and making a living as a driver.
Tell us a little about how you got into the business. What made you want to become a pet transporter, and how did you come across CitizenShipper in the first place?
A few years ago, I went on my first cross-country road trip and I absolutely loved it. This past October my brother – who owned an RV and always wanted to travel – passed away unexpectedly. I bought a used SUV and started searching the internet for cargo to haul on the weekends, which is how I discovered CitizenShipper. I hadn’t thought of hauling pets before, and never even realized there was such a market for it.
On February 28th, my brother’s birthday, I delivered three cats for a woman moving from Connecticut to New Jersey. I was hooked. I said to myself, this is it! This is what I am going to do with the rest of my life, my way to give back to the community! The following week, I opened my LLC.
You’ve also worked as a paralegal, a courier, and an Uber driver. How did the experience from those jobs contribute to your success in pet transportation?
As a paralegal, I understand the business and legal aspects, as well as contracts. My uncle Lou owns a courier company, and since I was a little girl, I’ve traveled around America with him. He has taught me the courier and trucking business, as he always wanted me to follow in his footsteps. Uber has also given me lots of airport experience, which is important since we pick up many pets from airports.
Before getting into this line of work, how much experience did you have with animals? Did you own pets earlier in life, do you own any today?
I have always owned pets: a Persian cat, frogs, fish, dogs… Currently, I have two 13-year-old Shih-Tzus! My roommate who cares for my fur-babies while I’m away. When I am home, I spend every minute I can giving them extra love!
Your quick success with CitizenShipper isn’t exactly commonplace. Many beginners struggle to win their first few bids before they can complete a couple of shipments and build a reputation. Has that been a challenge for you early on?
I found my first delivery quickly, it was from a woman in the same state, a short 3-hour drive. She left me a great review, which I think is what contributed to me finding the next one rather quickly as well.
All the animals in your care are transported separately – you don’t stack them up? That means your bids can’t go as low as some of the other drivers’. How often do people outbid you, and how much of a problem does that present when trying to win customers’ business?
My bids will never be as low as the majority of the other drivers. I get outbid all of the time, and for good reason. From day one, I have stuck to private transportation, which means I only take one family’s (or one breeder’s) pets at a time. I do not want the potential liability for sickness or injury, and the pets are already nervous enough going into a car with someone they don’t know.
I charge by the mile because with the car care, pet care, gas, pet-friendly motels, etc, the costs do add up. I get some hate mail from customers who take personal offense to my prices, but I’m staying true to my beliefs. I offer discounts to victims of hardship, military moves, pets being adopted from shelters, and disaster relief victims.
You’re based in the Northeast so most of your shipments are in that area, but we also see some 1,000-mile deliveries on your profile. What’s your experience been like on those long-distance drives? Is there a difference in dealing with animals over an extended period of time?
I love long-distance drives. As a matter of fact, I usually do long-distance and Josh hangs back in the Northeast to conduct the shorter ones. We never drive together. The only difference is, I make my stops a little longer to give the pets more exercise, and I make sure I have some toys around to help with their boredom. They sleep a lot of the way.
You’ve mentioned that your business is incorporated – sounds like you’re in this for the long haul. How easy was that to do, and why was that an important step for you to make?
Opening the LLC was very easy. I just had to go to Connecticut’s business website and set it up. I am definitely in it for the long haul, and hope to begin flying with pets domestically and internationally!
We understand that both you and Josh have taken pet first aid courses online? What was that experience like? Did you ever need to put those skills to use?
Josh and I have taken the online pet first aid class through the Red Cross, but I would like to take a couple in person too. It was a short, 35-minute class but quite informative! Luckily, we have not had to use our skills yet! Any other driver I may hire will also be required to take the course.
We love that you’re taking the initiative to raise animal safety standards while boosting your credentials as a transporter. How are your cars set up?
Like every other driver, I make sure I have all the essentials I need to care for the pets. From blankets and single-use toys (they go home with the pet), plastic bowls for food and water (thrown out after), bleach solution spray bottles, pet wipes, pee-pee pads, shampoo (in case they really make a mess), flea and tick spray for the car (I spray once a week to make sure), first aid kits, emergency and survival kits… I don’t really reuse anything except the crate and the car, which cuts down on the risk of illness. Puppies’ immune systems are not strong yet, and I do not let them outside in the grass at rest stops/gas stations.
Josh has his car set up the same way, as will any other driver I hire. It is a requirement, a standard that I have set for all of us to follow.
We’ve been sending out notifications on pet safety during warm weather transport, don’t know if you got those? What has your experience been like, driving pets in the summer?
I did receive and read your notification. Luckily, I have a great car with a great air conditioning system so no overheating problems. I generally stop every 2-3 hours, when I get to a quarter tank of gas – unless I spot a mess in the crate, in which case I pull over right away. I go for the shadiest parking spot I can find, give the babes the attention and fresh water they need, open all the windows and fill the gas. I always eat in the car with them so I can keep the A/C on while we’re resting. My stops are only 20 minutes or less because I only drive sun-up to sun-down. Josh enjoys night driving more than I do.
Finally, we’re always looking for driver input – any suggestions for the site, the service, the platform as a whole? Any features you’d like to see added or removed?
Honestly, I love your platform! It’s easy to use and bid… it does get a bit pricey for my long-distance customers since I charge by the mile and your fee on top can get quite hefty, but I understand that CitizenShipper has to make a cut as well.
I think that’s all the info we need. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Kristy, and thanks for being a driver. Keep on doing what you’re doing.
Thank you so much for interviewing me! Have a great day!
How does Kristy’s experience in pet transportation compare to your own? Let us know in the comments, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe you have an alternate take on things? You might have driven different routes, or faced a whole different set of issues? To get your own story out there, contact us and we’ll schedule an interview as soon as possible.