Prepare your fleet for a pandemic pivot

Mike McCarron

While coaching my kids in minor hockey I was introduced to the concept of pivoting.

On the ice, it’s a very effective skating tactic to elude the competition where a player carries their speed into a tight turn only to emerge skating faster in another direction.

In business, pivoting isn’t much different. It’s when a company changes its strategic direction because factors (like a pandemic) have made the business model unsustainable.

Think of the improbable pivot the NHL made by playing 87 games in 64 days to award the Stanley Cup in October—in a bubble, in front of no fans.

hockey puck
(Illustration: istock)

The Conference Board of Canada predicts the economy won’t return to normal until next summer at the earliest. Unfortunately, many industries don’t have that kind of time, including big trucking users like retail, automotive, oil, etc.

With most government subsidies ending soon, many carriers are fearing for their future. For those working on or thinking about changing their strategic direction, here are some of the things I’ve learned about pivoting.

You’ve already pivoted

The good news is that most truck fleets have already pivoted.

Who would have thought in January that you’d relocate your head office five feet from your bedroom? Many truckers have done an amazing job redeploying people and other assets to offer outside-the-box services.

The key now is to accept this pandemic “thing” as our new reality and carry the momentum from a successful reactionary pivot to one that’s strategic and sustainable in the long term.

SWOT analysis

Few things invented in the 1960s are still relevant. A SWOT analysis is one of them.

This simple planning exercise has stood the test of time because it’s an easy way to outline your company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

But a SWOT depends on understanding how you do things and not merely what you do. For instance, how can you build on your brand equity that historically has made you successful while finding new opportunities to grow?

When the Great Recession forced MSM to pivot in 2008, we leveraged our reputation for exceptional customer service by opening an ocean and air division to capitalize on the sector’s notoriously putrid service.

Pivot-a-plenty

Truckers aren’t the only ones forced to pivot. The distillery down the road now makes hand sanitizer. The automotive supplier in the next town makes parts for ventilators. The sporting goods manufacturer you used to haul for is running its assembly line 24/7 to keep up with demand.

Your customers’ business models have changed dramatically. Some for the good, some for the bad. Their supply chains are unrecognizable from a year ago.

Coordinate your pivot with your customers. They need your expertise as much as ever. Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try offer services that were unimaginable before Covid-19.

There are many great examples of carriers making vertical pivots by providing new services like pick and pack, final mile, and freight brokering. Other truckers have made geographical pivots and are running new lanes to help change the direction of their fleet.

Internal pivots

A pivot can take place inside your company.

In 2008, our commission structure at MSM was way too lucrative. No business is sustainable when the sales force is making more money than the company.

Our internal pivot entailed reducing the number of sales reps, starting new verticals with our high performers, and taking a more collaborative team approach to securing and keeping customers. It worked like a charm!

Pivoting is not a magic pill that’s suddenly going to fix the bottom line. But it’s a much better strategy than clinging on to the status quo in the hope that one day soon things will return to normal. Stay safe, my friends!

Mike McCarron

Mike McCarron is the president of Left Lane Associates, a firm that creates total enterprise value for supply chain companies and their shareholders. He can be reached at mike@leftlaneassociates.ca, 416-551-6651, or @AceMcC on Twitter.

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