Riding the Road of Success

Jablonski, Onnie and Labarge

From left, Jablonski,
Onnie and Labarge.

Three Western Michigan University graduates decided it was time to improve the way trucking schools found student leads and ultimately change the way trucking companies nationwide find drivers, and they used their education from the Haworth College of Business to make it happen.

From high school in Rochester Hills to college in Kalamazoo, friends Craig Jablonski, B.B.A.’09, Benjamin Onnie, B.B.A.’08, and Tyler Labarge, B.B.A.’07, embarked on a journey to master the skills of business. As their relationships with each other grew during college, the discussion of working together after graduation was tossed around. “We were kind of a team already at Western in terms of classes and social activities. Although none of us originally planned to become an entrepreneur, we discussed potential ideas of working together, but they fizzled out after college,” says Onnie.

With the fundamentals of business learned from the college of business, Jablonski used his marketing major to land a job in the health care industry managing sales for a prostate cancer screening lab while Onnie and Labarge developed careers in the trucking school industry.

As head of marketing for a truck driving school in the metro Detroit area Onnie implemented programs to help increase student enrollment. “While using our now competitors lead generation services, I found that they just did not have the magic to deliver what the school needed. I used this learning experience to put my own secret formula together to help not only my employer but also trucking schools nationwide.”

From there, Onnie went to fellow Business Bronco Jablonski and explained his idea of starting a lead generation service for trucking schools. “For the next 90 days, we thought of every angle and option for how to start and grow this business,” says Onnie. After a business plan was created, Jablonski made the initial capital investment while Onnie quit his job to focus solely on the business. “We faced a lot of adversity at first and made plenty of mistakes. The key was to learn from them and move on.”

Labarge, with his trucking expertise and sales and marketing background, joined the group to help sell the program once it was in place. With all three friends on board, CDL Marketing Group, LLC, was born and schools nationwide began using it as their main marketing source.

The company, which already has contracts with more than 40 schools in the country, had revenue of $500,000 in 2012. With the addition of over 30 trucking companies, the company expects to hit the $1 million mark this year. Jablonski and CDL Marketing Group were also featured in Crain’s “Twenty in their 20s: Class of 2013” earlier this year, a program dedicated to highlighting young achievers carving out their place in the business world. And although all are under 30, the trio does not let age get in the way of their entrepreneurial success. “The fact that we are all under 30 has no bearing on our thought process or goals. One thing we have learned is that you don’t need 20 years of experience to be successful.” With focus, drive and a lot of hard work, these friends had a dream and turned it into reality. 

So what advice does CDL Marketing Group have for students as they start to build their professional network? “Get out of your comfort zone. Meet everyone possible. Be a cowboy!” You heard them, Broncos. Saddle up.