Founder & Co-Owner, Pull Em Freight LLC
Selected for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center’s Business Certification Training cohort 3A/3B. After a truck fire in July 2021, Johnnelle was feeling discouraged and on the verge of quitting. However, after giving it some prayer and thought, she was able to realize the blessings in her company. Since then, revenue has nearly doubled, she has rented a new truck and trailer, and the company is out of the 90-day period to operate under its own authority as an interstate carrier. Johnnelle is also in the beginning stages of getting certified as a WOSB.
Johnnelle Terrell, founder, and co-owner of Pull Em Freight, LLC is a fierce woman who doesn’t let anything stand in the way of her dreams. She has always looked for ways to increase her knowledge and grow her businesses. Johnnelle was selected to participate in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center’s Business Certification Training cohorts 3A/3B.
Johnnelle, who identifies as African American, has extensive experience with starting and running small businesses. She believes her business acumen began at the age of 16 when she learned how to prepare taxes with her mom. She then went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Toledo. She started a career in finance, and developed her skills in networking, sales, customer service, and communication. Later, she moved on to open a branch of Gateway Mortgage Group; however, it was short-lived due to the market crash in 2008. Following her passion of wanting to help others, she started a homeschool learning center for low-income families who lived in districts with failing public schools. During this time, she also maintained the financial records for two other trucking companies, tutored children, and offered tax preparation services.
In 2016, Johnnelle started Pull Em Freight, LLC. Taken from her maiden name, Pull Em Freight is a family-owned company that transports goods from state to state and has plans to grow internationally very soon. Johnnelle credits her older brother for getting into the business. After seeing her financial struggles with providing transportation for the children in her homeschool program, he wanted to help. Johnnelle shared, “He told me his plan to get into this $800 billion industry would help fund the learning center. A few weeks later, I got a phone call to go with him to a truck auction, and the rest is history. Pull Em Freight was born.”
While the idea started from a need to obtain reliable transportation, the root of the business has a much deeper meaning. It grew from the value they place on family, as Johnnelle explained: “The main reason we decided to grow the transportation company was to build on our family legacy. Family is such an important aspect to us that you’ll see it within our company’s values, and in the way we live our everyday lives. The significance of our family’s journey to entrepreneurship is traced back to the 1800s, after slavery in America. My great grandfather, Buddy Pullum, was a blacksmith and owned farmland. He taught my grandfather how to farm, who taught my father, and together they were sharecroppers during the segregated south. I didn’t realize how deep transportation ran in our blood, until my cousin drew a picture that was meant to be a logo for the business; it was a drawing of my grandfather on a tractor that he used to work the farm. Grandad also purchased a pickup truck that he drove around town hauling things for people in the community. Now, we do it with a semi, so this connection between my lineage has come full circle.”
Pull Em Freight LLC’s values reflect Johnnelle’s outlook on life. As a natural caregiver — a unique trait in the trucking industry — she expressed that the number one value is ensuring the safety of her employees and cargo. Next is the importance of family.
“I try to keep the drivers as close to home as possible, hence mostly providing services in the Midwest area,” Johnnelle said. “Instead of being on the road for months at a time, I prefer that our drivers get home to their families as often as possible. In the women’s trucking group that I’m a part of, we discuss the concerns and everyday challenges we face; and one of the biggest is being away from home. Some truckers are single parents, so just ensuring that they make it home every night to care for their family is a high priority.”
Looking ahead to the future of Pull Em Freight, Johnnelle plans to grow her fleet, and get certified as a woman-owned small business. Additionally, she would like to include a course to teach an introduction to the trucking business. A significant change she’s seen in this male-dominated industry is the vast increase in women.
“It’s exciting to see the number of women interested in starting their own business,” Johnnelle said. “Whether I’m offering direct advice or referring them to She Trucking, the women’s group I mentioned earlier, I know they’ll benefit tremendously. In the last few years, I’ve seen more women pursuing their commercial driver’s license, and it’s such a breath of fresh air. Men in trucking often look down upon us and underestimate our skills. Often, we aren’t treated as equals. The influx and success of female truckers will prove that we’re strong and smart enough to be in this industry. We do know how to drive, and we can change tires and diapers at the same time.”
Proving herself as a woman in this industry has been Johnnelle’s biggest obstacle because it’s a constant battle she must face while remaining professional.
“When I first started, I jumped in headfirst and had some pretty hard landings along the way,” Johnnelle shared. “I’ve failed forward many times and understand that as a woman-owned business in trucking, there’s a lot of room for discomfort. However, pushing the boundaries will allow us to grow and learn from every opportunity, especially as it applies to building a company that will protect and provide for future generations. A quote that I like to repeat is. ‘Great things never came from comfort zones,’ by Ben Frazier.”
In June 2021, Johnnelle officially got Pull Em Freight, LLC authorized as a motor carrier to transport goods across state lines. Just three weeks later, Johnnelle and her driver were delivering an Amazon load when the truck caught fire on the highway. Unfortunately, the truck, equipment, tools, and personal belongings were destroyed. The business came to an abrupt halt with no income for over a month. Feeling defeated and discouraged, Johnnelle was ready to shut down the company. Instead, she decided to look at it from a different perspective.
Johnnelle reflected: “Several times I just wanted to give up and quit because I was so upset about not being better prepared. We were insured, but it wasn’t enough to cover the replacement cost of the truck. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire supply chain has been impacted and truck prices have skyrocketed. The fire wiped out everything that we had worked so hard for. The insurance company took months to settle the claim, and as the manager of the company, I was at a loss. It was a very stressful and frustrating time, but I decided to stop and give thanks for us simply being alive. I prayed and was reminded that in time, a business can be rebuilt, and items can easily be replaced. I refused to quit. Fast-forward four months, I’m grateful for sticking it out. We’ve made it through the first 90 days of operating our authority, rented a new truck and trailer, and nearly doubled our sales. Thank goodness for perseverance.”
Johnnelle applied to the MBDA EWOC’s Business Certification Training cohort 3A/3B after receiving an email from the Minority Business Development Agency. She was hesitant to apply since her business isn’t based in Hawaii. But upon receiving the acceptance news, she was ecstatic. Pull Em Freight is now in the beginning stages of getting certified. Johnnelle hopes to get contracted and provide services internationally in Canada and Mexico. And despite not having a certification, her company has already received opportunities to grow.
“In the past month, I’ve gotten numerous offers to bid on jobs, and all I did was register with SAM.gov,” Johnnelle said. “I can only imagine the opportunities we’ll have once the process is complete.”
Johnnelle is grateful for the MBDA EWOC Business Center and Villa Business Consulting for the training they provided. “Marí and José did an amazing job running the cohort. You can tell they are passionate about getting small businesses certified,” she said. “In addition to the Villa’s, Marla at the Center also made me feel very confident in receiving support throughout the process. She has sent offers for consultation, conducted follow-up interviews, and provided encouragement in general. Working with them has been such an eye-opening experience and helped me realize that these certifications aren’t just for larger companies, but they’re for us little guys and gals too.”
Johnnelle offers the following advice to aspiring women small business owners: “You must have perseverance and remain resilient no matter what. Be flexible and openminded when it comes to pushing your limits because you don’t know what you don’t know. Moving out of your comfort zone will help you learn more about yourself, and grow as a person, as well as grow your business. So, you go girl, and be great.”