When towboaters are in the middle of a 28-day shift on the Ohio River, they can’t exactly stop at the next Kroger they see when they get hungry.
They can, however, call Rampstop in Owensboro.
Rampstop, which recently moved to a new location on Second Street, supplies inland waterway towboaters with groceries, cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous items, such as engine room supplies like rags and wrenches.
“We’re open to doing anything for our customers,” owner Tim Shocklee said. “We’re a service-oriented business.”
Rampstop’s main service area includes the Ohio River, generally from Louisville to Paducah, with the heart of their operations spanning from Hawesville to Henderson. They also serve the Green River and recently made their first trip to the Mississippi River.
Shocklee said their operation includes two boats, a couple of trucks and a van. If an order comes in for an area from Lewisport to Newburgh, they will launch their boat from here in Owensboro. Their new location, just a couple of blocks from the boat ramp at English Park, makes launching a snap.
If the order is for a location farther away, employees will load the boat on a truck and drive to a launching point closer to the towboat’s location.
“The best run for us is a trip to Henderson,” Shocklee said. “Thirty minutes later, we’ll be in the water.”
They also launch near Lewisport, Cloverport and other locations.
“We’re river rats that know every little dirt road to get to the river,” he said.
Rampstop is made up of five full-time employees and a few part-timers. They serve an industry that operates seven days a week, so they work every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, averaging about three deliveries a day.
Their inventory includes about 1,500 different items, plus they can easily run to the store to pick up anything they don’t have in stock.
They do business with 25-30 companies, which have anywhere from 10 to hundreds of towboats that push barges to various destinations on inland waterways. (The barges in a load are collectively called the “tow,” thus the name of the boat.)
The boats are in continuous operation, changing crews whenever their shift is finished, so they don’t always end up in the same port. Their routes also sometimes change while they are on the water, all of which means the boats need supplies in various places.
Shocklee said 95 percent of their orders come in through email, although they do receive a few phone and fax orders. Customers can also now order on the Rampstop website.
His uncle started the company 15 years ago. Shocklee joined a few months later, took ownership after a couple of years, and never looked back.
“I didn’t know anything about the boat business or the grocery business,” Shocklee said. “But one thing I found out I have been pretty good at is being a servant. These guys need stuff. They need help, and we can do that. We are servants – if you have that sort of heart for it, the whole thing works itself out. Once you can define your purpose, it really goes a lot better.”
Their new spot is the sixth location for Rampstop as they have grown and changed over the years.
Shocklee said they used to be on call 24/7 until they realized boat operators didn’t want to take on supplies at 1 a.m. any more than he wanted to deliver them. Driving to a location closer to the boats saves time for both parties and is more efficient.
While he doesn’t get a lot of face time with customers, he knows them nonetheless.
“We know their voice, know what kind of Cokes they drink, potato chips they eat, cigarettes they smoke,” he said. “It’s a pretty tight-knit community. It’s a good bunch of folks we’ve met doing this.”