Before Michael Scherkenbach worked with Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and other megastar entertainers, he spent many long days on the road.
While Scherkenbach maintains his CDL, his time these days isn’t spent behind the wheel of a truck. Instead, the founder and CEO of Shomotion focuses on managing his Denver-based specialty logistics and transportation business and exploring ways to grow the operation.
“I eventually couldn’t be out for months at a time, which I really enjoyed. I miss that element,” Scherkenbach told Trucking Dive in an interview, adding the contacts he met helped grow the business as they turned into career-long clients.
Since Shomotion’s founding in 2001, Scherkenbach has devoted significant time to building relationships with clients and scouting for prospective customers. A commitment to service — and the rise of Swift, Beyoncé and other touring Shomotion clients — propelled the carrier into the top tier of its sector over the past 20 years.
In addition to Swift, who has contracted Shomotion for three U.S. stadium tours including this year’s highly successful Eras Tour, Scherkenbach also has hauled equipment for a slew of other mainstream recording artists, including Coldplay and Metallica.
Securing business with big-name acts is no easy feat, Scherkenbach said. Building a reputation of reliable delivery and developing relationships in the entertainment niche of the trucking industry takes time.
“You’re very dependent on repeat business, and that’s why you want to make sure you do a good job,” he said.
Carving a trucking niche
Scherkenbach grew up in the trucking business. His family operated an intermodal company in Chicago, and he later spent time driving forklifts, transferring air cargo for LTL carriers.
Scherkenbach’s father, Glenn, piqued his interest in working in entertainment in high school, telling him about a driver who had worked for Upstaging Inc. The driver hauled equipment to the Northwest Territories in Canada for the Molson Ice Polar Beach Party in September 1995, which featured Metallica, Hole, Veruca Salt and Moist. Scherkenbach eventually met the driver, who shared his event experience.
“From that point on, I was hooked and determined to be a part of it,” Scherkenbach said.
Scherkenbach followed his dream after earning a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University. When he launched his business, he initially worked with NASCAR, assembling specialty trailers for major banks including Bank of America and Capital One, which sponsored drivers and needed elaborate displays at races.
These jobs led to more specialized services. For Swift’s Eras Tour, Shomotion transported stages, deck and set structures that hold stage lights and speakers.
Scherkenbach’s drivers did not load, unload or help set up. Another company, Upstaging, handled the Swift Eras Tour lighting, sound and video gear, he said.
Shomotion generally provides transport services for the top-10 grossing U.S. tours each year, Scherkenbach said. His company keeps tabs on rising musical talent to ensure a pipeline of future clients.
“The last thing you want to do is ignore up-and-coming artists because you’re too busy with the big artists,” Scherkenbach said. “It’s important to have a balance.”
A similar diversification strategy helped Shomotion survive the pandemic.
Scherkenbach said his company had met insurance requirements and other stipulations that allowed it to haul critical freight for FedEx. When there were no concerts or corporate events happening, Shomotion carried baby formula and medical supplies and equipment during the crisis.
“We delivered a lot of baby formula and assorted cargo to very remote mountain towns and areas of the southwest U.S.,” Scherkenbach said. No one from his company of 35, which can swell to 150 during concert touring season, was laid off during the pandemic.
Creating bonds on the road
Getting a major national concert tour from city to city is a monumental task, Scherkenbach said.
He would not disclose how many tractors were used during Swift’s Eras Tour, but he said major acts’ tours can require teams of about 25 drivers or more from his company.
Chart-topping musicians, bands and their crews can spend entire summers touring the country, so drivers often interact with behind-the-scenes staff and the artists themselves, Scherkenbach said.
It’s not uncommon for Swift’s parents to interact with drivers and other tour personnel, he said. Swift and other Shomotion clients such as Kenny Chesney bring a family atmosphere to their tours, Scherkenbach said.
“You’re spending 20 to 25 weeks on the road with these people and you just get to know these people,” he said.
Swift enclosed $100,000 bonuses in hand-written thank-you notes to Eras Tour truck drivers at the end of the tour’s U.S. leg this summer, Scherkenbach told USA Today in August. He declined to elaborate on the bonuses, but he said performers he has worked with appreciate the contributions of the people who work behind the scenes.
“They’re good people and recognize the efforts the staff is putting on to keep their tours going,” he said.
Scherkenbach is grateful for his trucking background. He can tap his knowledge and connections in critical moments.
“I know the principals of traditional trucking,” he said. “If I’m in a bind, I know I can go to the traditional truckload market or traditional LTL market, because I know the mechanics of those industries.”
Correction: This story has been updated to remove a mention of an artist Shomotion did not work with directly.