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By the early 1980s, Hunt had already developed his company into the largest irregular route truckload carrier in the United States. He seized upon the government's deregulation of the trucking industry to boost profits through innovative cost-cutting strategies, including buying his own trucks instead of leasing from owner-operators and paying drivers with just three years experience as much as 28 cents per mile—four cents more than competitors.
As he expanded into new markets, Hunt was also able to offer more competitive pricing for businesses such as Wal-Mart. In addition, he launched intermodal services in the 1990s, which unified trucks, railroads, and even cargo ships into one transportation system so that customers didn’t have to pack and unpack their freight at each stop along a traditional route.
He also diversified his fleet by investing in flatbed trucks, which allowed him to haul materials too large for closed vans and expand his customer base to include companies like Reynolds Metals that needed to ship their products by rail. By the end of the decade, J.B. Hunt was deploying onboard computers in its fleet, which helped drivers avoid unnecessary stops and cut down on their long-distance phone bills. In 1994, the company began distributing IBM's "RoadRider" technology in its trucking terminals, which enabled truckers to communicate directly with their dispatchers and reduced the number of miles they drove empty.