Think About Expansion- And GROW!

You’ve probably heard it about 100,000 times before: pick a lane and stay in it. But the old driving platitude doesn’t just apply to life on the road—it’s also great advice for growing your fleet.

The myriad strategies companies of all sizes are developing to find and keep drivers in an industry afflicted by extraordinarily high rates of turnover.

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Since February, one theme I’ve continually returned to conversations with fleet owners is specialization. It was a key takeaway from a workshop entitled “How to Grow Your Fleet and Not Just Fill the Trucks You Have Today.”

The workshop tackled a pervasive issue in the trucking industry: If you have 100 trucks on a given day, you’re probably going to have 10 of them empty, so how do you get beyond that cycle and actually grow your fleet?

Here’s the answer Rob Hatchet, Vice President of Communications and Recruiting for Covenant Transportation Group, gave to the room:

“There’s only one Walmart. Kmart tried to be Walmart and actually went out of business. Big Lots is a low-end Walmart. Target was not doing well and then they re-branded themselves to be a high-end Walmart. … But what you see more of is niche retail stores. You see Bed Bath & Beyond and Babies”R”Us saying, ‘We sell the same stuff as Walmart—we’re just the specialist. It’s our niche. This is our area.’”

That analogy applies to transportation [as well]. There are several different carriers that can really be the Walmart—all things to all [people]. We said, ‘Hey, we’re the Bed Bath & Beyond. We do 2 or 3 things and we do them well and we’re going to focus on that and stop just taking freight.’ … We basically did away with all [our over-the-road trucks] and we just went down to dedicated car parts and we’re up about 25% in the last 15 months in terms of truck count. And it’s because we said, ‘We do one thing. We do one thing well and that’s what we’re going to specialize in.’ …

Retain Your Drivers

While the trucking industry itself is growing, the trucking workforce is not. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry is over 25,000 drivers short. The Bureau of Labor’s statistics points to an even higher number of nearly 50,000. Either way, the number is high, and it is growing. What this means is that drivers are precious commodities. Driver turnover directly affects your bottom line. The key to driver retention: building employee loyalty by keeping your drivers happy and engaged. Experts advise not only paying more but paying smarter and offering incentive-based compensation. Honesty, communication, driver health, better training, and increased home time are other proven ways to boost loyalty and lower turnover.

Have a Clear Plan

Having a clear plan for the future of your business seems simple enough, but it often gets lost in the day-to-day slog of keeping a company running. While daily tasks are certainly necessary and important, it is key not to lose sight of the long-term vision that you have for your company. Sure, understand day-to-day revenues and expenses, but also keep in mind the bigger picture. How do I want my company to run? What types of customers do I want to haul for? Where should the company be next year? In five years? In ten? Once you have your goals set, you can plot your course of how to get there.

Build Strong Relationships

Customer relationships are the key to any business. Oddly enough, customer relationships are often the first thing that gets forgotten when times get hard. Don’t make that mistake. Once you find a quality shipper or broker, do everything you can to make him or her a customer for life. When you forge strong relationships with customers and industry affiliates, you are also opening the door to expanding your business through quality referrals. Never risk a customer relationship, especially when it is with a quality customer.

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