Tribe Transportation’s partnership with Coca-Cola has allowed the business, owned by Native American descendant Joy Cain-Handte and her husband, Matt, to take a big leap forward in a small amount of time.

“We have absolutely hit the ground running,” says Matt Handte, noting that Tribe Transportation had already hauled nearly 900 loads for Coca-Cola in less than three months since their contract began in December 2016. The Gainesville, Georgia-based company operates 355 temperature-controlled trucks in the lower 48 U.S. states and Canada.

Cain-Handte’s great grandmother was Cherokee, and her family survived the forced removal from land east of the Mississippi River known as the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

“My family has been adamant about trying to find out the lineage of where we came from,” says Cain-Handte, whose birth certificate bears the roll number her ancestors were assigned by the government back then. “We are proud of the heritage that we have and try to give back.” She says the company makes donations or otherwise volunteers support to underprivileged children and especially to the cause of girls’ education.

"We’re really competing against the largest trucking companies in our business... Coke took a little leap of faith.”

She and Matt, high school sweethearts who have been married more than 20 years, started the company about seven years ago. “She is the president, and so I do answer to her,” says Matt, who is executive vice president. Joy chimes in, laughing: “And at home.”

Matt had transported products for Coke through his previous company. The pair deliberately waited until the company was ready before making a bid for Coke’s business.

“I knew how high that bar was,” he says. “I wanted to make sure the timing was right.”

Since then, Tribe has delivered Coke products to 236 cities in 42 states. In central Florida, its work hauling products from Minute Maid, Simply Orange, Powerade and vitaminwater has helped the company attract more drivers in the region, which is one of its largest hiring bases.

“We’re really competing against the largest trucking companies in our business,” Matt says. “Coke took a little leap of faith” bringing Tribe on at a time when it was not adding many carriers. And for Tribe, the impact was huge: Coke jumped into their top 10 customers overnight, and is on track to be in the top five. The new business has spurred them to order another 200 trucks, Matt says—a more than 50 percent increase over their current number.

The pair praises Coke for its hands-on approach, noting the engaged and inclusive atmosphere, which comes through in weekly service calls where they talk about what’s working and what needs fine-tuning. It’s helped Tribe get up to speed on the many details involved in serving such a large customer.

“They set us up for success,” Joy says. “They really engage early so you know the expectations, and then they follow through.” The open management approach from Coke and involvement from its executives allowed Tribe “to jump in a big pond without feeling like a small fish,” Matt says.

“The commitment that they make to their carriers allowed us to grow,” he says, “so we can grow with them.”