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Want to run nice trucks? Treat your people right, the nice trucks will follow.

I visit a lot of fleets and I’ve noticed an interesting trend. The companies that run the nicest, most modern equipment are the same companies that have the longest serving drivers and the most content workforces and consequently, the lowest driver turnover.
“No S#!^, Sherlock,” you say. “Drivers are like fish, they like nice, shiny objects.” But is it really that simple? Can you buy a fleet of shiny new trucks, keep them polished and clean and expect drivers to be knocking your doors down, applications and abstracts in hand and then be eternally grateful for the opportunity to drive your shiny trucks? I hardly think so.
From what I’ve seen, it works best when approached from the opposite direction. Treat your drivers right, treat them as professionals and pay them fairly and you will reap the financial rewards that will allow you to upgrade your equipment more regularly and run a first-class operation. It may not happen overnight, but if you manage your operation prudently, it will happen.
The only way a for-hire trucking company can run modern, premium equipment is by first addressing driver turnover. By providing a good workplace and treating drivers with respect and as the professionals they are, trucking companies will see a boost to the bottom line that will afford them the luxury of replacing equipment sooner and directing financial resources towards keeping the equipment properly maintained; running and looking good.
Take for example, J.F. Kitching & Son, an aggregates hauler north of Toronto. I recently visited them because I was interested in the fact they are the first Canadian fleet to run Cat’s new CT660. That truck aside, what I learned was that the company has very little driver turnover and without that expense – which so many trucking companies just accept as a cost of doing business – they are able to turn over their trucks every five years. Every five years. This is an aggregates hauler. Some of their competitors are running 20-year-old dump trucks that spew out black smoke at every upshift. (With apologies to Stephen Large…I know not all 20-year-old dump trucks are pieces of garbage).
I asked driver Ken Robinson what J.F. Kitching was like to work for. He’s been there for 17 years, so he should know. “I came here to work part-time,” he told me. “They treat me like gold and I’ve stayed here. I don’t plan on leaving.”
Grant Kitching, patriarch of the family, told me it boils down to treating drivers well. They’re paid by the hour, which is also unusual in their sector of the industry. He said the company benefits from that arrangement as much as the drivers do. When drivers aren’t pushing hard all day to get an extra trip in, they’re easier on equipment and less likely to be involved in accidents. This translates to savings on everything from brakes and tires to insurance premiums. That’s real money that stays in the company’s bank account and can then be used to pay drivers a little better than the guy down the road or to upgrade equipment more frequently. At the same time, drivers are content and less likely to jump to another carrier or pursue another type of trucking altogether. The cost of replacing drivers has been well documented. Once again, without that expense, companies like J.F. Kitching & Son can pay a little better and invest more into their equipment.
This is not rocket science and I understand I’m oversimplifying a rather complicated issue. But for companies that think they can’t afford to upgrade their equipment regularly, run premium iron decked out with all the driver-friendly accessories or pay their drivers an above average, hourly wage, ask yourself that age-old question about the chicken and the egg. You just may find that investing in your drivers first will free up the resources to invest in other aspects of your business, including those nice shiny trucks.
– Note: For anyone who was wondering where my most recent blog on sleep apnea went to, it and all the related comments were wiped out during a recent server interruption of some sort. I’m bummed out, not because it was a journalistic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but because it has garnered some very thoughtful responses. But nothing can be done about that now, so maybe we’ll just have to address that subject again another day.

James Menzies

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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21 Comments » for Want to run nice trucks? Treat your people right, the nice trucks will follow.
  1. Stephen Large says:

    Hey James, great points! (And apologies accepted-My 30 year old KW dump truck was out working last week and my 21 year old W900 went out after supper last night with my 16 wheel lowbed and made a thousand bucks before midnight hauling 2 Cat D7R bulldozers from one oil lease to another!) I agree with your thoughts and I can tell you that if you have some generic ‘slippery’ truck that just looks like all the other stuff out on the road and you treat your drivers like you don’t need them, then you will have trouble keeping them. If you treat your drivers right and pay them what they are worth, and pay them by the hour, and have nice equipment for them to work with, even if it is not new, your drivers will look after you and your equipment!

  2. Aaron says:

    James – I’m afraid you can’t paint all the drivers with the same brush. We have high spec equipment washed weekly by hand in our own washbay yet can’t get drivers to keep their interiors even close to respectable. It get’s very discouraging when a company spends a lot of money on specing a truck out for driver comfort, pay him/her 60-80k annually, make sure the exteriors are shiney and clean…then have a driver who won’t lift a finger to do his/her part. You my – friend are living in a dream world! Yes, there are certain drivers who still have some pride in their equipment – they are the real truck drivers of today. However, it seems more and more drivers today work for a pay cheque only. In my day when we were lucky to get 4 or 6 hours sleep night sleep we still had enough time to keep our truck interiors and windows cleaned – it made us feel good about ourselves. Today, drivers use their 10 hours off talking on the cell phone to anybody who’ll listen as to how hard they have it.
    Do I have a negative attitude? You bet…it seems that we company owners need to tuck our drivers in everynight and make sure they have a soother in their mouth or else we’re to blame we can’t get drivers with pride. I disagree, the more you give the more they want.

  3. G Paul Langman says:

    As a driver let me tell you how right you are. I like nice iron under me, but it isn’t half as important as being paid right and treated like a human! Ask me nice and treat me right and I will drive anything in your yard as long as its safe.

  4. Stephen Large says:

    Hey Aaron, I hear what you are saying, however, I have friends who work at companies where the company won’t provide any Windex, paper towels, etc. or even a place where the drivers can use a shop vac! If these drivers want any of the above, they are expected to fork out their own money for it?! Most companies are so tight with any money for the driver’s little ‘extras’ that the drivers say “to heck with it!” I have not been a company driver since the early 80’s, but I have worked a few places where I would have to pay for a new tail light or a jug of 80/90 oil for the wheel bearings on a company owned trailer, and then had to fight tooth and nail to get the money reimbursed for THEIR trailer maintenance! I assume that it would be equally challenging to be paid back for buying cleaning supplies and such. It seems too common for company drivers to be sent out with a modern piece of equipment, but absolutely no means of acquiring incidental supplies that may be needed along their trip! When I had company drivers on long-haul, I gave then a cash ‘float’ before they left (usually a thousand dollars). When they returned, whatever there was no receipts for would be deducted from their wage. They would be paid in full for the trip and I would ‘top up’ the cash float for the next trip. The truck would always come home spotless inside and out.

  5. Aaron says:

    Stephen – speaking from my own experience, because I was a company driver once, I refused to live in a pig sty just because my boss was too cheap to buy a $4 jug of windex and a $2 roll of papertowl! That’s foolishness. How can anybody justify living like that for a few bucks! Regardles of what the latest articles we read, drivers make really good money considering their qualifications – can a driver not afford to look after his own little work area? Geesh!

  6. Max says:

    Please answer a question re: What is right to get good trucks
    I have just been dropped into the trucking business. My responsibility is to find 5-10 tractors to haul tandem tankers.
    The haul is 280kms on 60% paved, 40% well maintained gravel, 24hrs/day, 6 days/wk. Mostly flat, some small hills.
    The company provides a fuel card and the total is deducted from pay at the end of the month.
    The company also provides new tires when needed.
    The pay rate is $90/hr, $80/hr standby.
    Is this reasonable? I’ve been looking up fuel consumption rates for 500hp and other such tidbits off the internet but really I don’t know what I’m offering.
    Any help?

  7. ed says:

    I treat my truck like my office i spend alot of time there and when the customer see a big shining truck thats clean and the driver is clean and well organized it sayes alot about your operation

  8. Henry says:

    James I think you are way off base on this one. For the first number of years of owning my own equipment, back in the 80’s, I personally cleaned all 5 trucks inside and out, and provided each cab with a windex bottle, papertowel, flashlight, CB radio, basic tool set, wisk broom, 12v vacum. I gave this up because, the trucks looked like a pig sty anyway. The windex bottles & paper towels, were no where to be found, the flashlights were under the drivers air seat smashed to pieces, the CB’s could not be kept working longer than a week at a time. Tools were missing, wisk broom couldn’t be found and the vacum was broken. I learned the hard way that good prefessional drivers who care about the cleanleness of their enviroment, are few and far between. Most drivers are only there for a pay check, and could care less about the equipment or the companies need to get things done. It used to be that you could give a driver credit for going beyond the call of duty, with a bonus or pat on the back assuring him of his value and job security. Nowadays, more and more drivers won’t do anything extra without being asked nicely, and exspecting big dollars up.

  9. Bill says:

    Treating your people right, to put it bluntly, does absolutely nothing towards attracting the right people and equipment. On paper, this would seem to be a mis-statement, but in the real world, I stand by my statement.
    Our small, family run company has been completely unable to hire anyone, for over two years. Our guys are home 51 weekends per year. My wife runs this operation on the premise of “give them every thing they need, and then a little more”
    Drivers are asked to send their customs docs to our office, so they may drive, while she stays up til an ungodly hour chasing a customs broker.
    Cash advances are not really our policy, except in emergencies, but they have been handed out like candy at a parade. She knows the name and age of all of their kids names;even their pets names. Although she has been lied to repeatedly, she continues to assume the best of everyone, and treats them all as friends. If they have a terrible week, she will routinely top up their pay to where she thinks it should be. Combine this with percentage pay that is $1.60 mile or higher, pulling a company trailer, with freight that loads and unloads in one hour or less,and I’m not sure what else could be done to “treat people right”
    Excuse my frustration, but attitudes in this industry are quite screwed up. There is a driver shortage that I think no-one realizes the full scope of, and most of those who are still driving seem to suffer from amnesia, lack of math skills, or both.

  10. Stephen Large says:

    Geez, Bill, if you are routinely paying company drivers $1.60/mile or higher, you should get REALLY GOOD drivers! And for that money, they should look after your company trucks for you like they were their own equipment!

  11. Aaron says:

    For the record – all drivers shouldn’t be painted with the same brush. Out of our 50 drivers, we have about 10 that really do take pride in their workmanship, equipment, there own hygiene and their truck interiors. These also tend to be the drivers that bug you the most about little ditty details on their truck they think needs attention. They’re the ones putting towels over foot pedals so mechanics don’t dirty them taking the truck in and out of shop. I don’t mind, I am happy to provide those drivers with whatever they need to keep them happy about the company they work for and pride in their equipment. We don’t want to lose them – they are to far and few between!

  12. Marc says:

    I work for a small (8 truck) fleet of triaxle dump trucks. I see on a daily basis how other drivers are constantly asking myself or my other drivers if there is an opening with our company. You see, our trucks are the shiny, polished and have all the chrome switches and gauges. Our drivers are reminded, on a daily basis, that the floors, floor mats and windows are to be kept clean and spotless. When a driver is waiting for loader at the quarry, you’ll find him wiping his windows, sweeping his floor or wiping the dash down. If you see him 3-4 hours later at the quarry, you’ll notice that he’s doing the same thing again. We take extreme pride in our equipment because clean rides, inside and out, is what keeps our drivers happy. they are responsible for the interior and we’ll take care of the exterior. Our drivers earn a decent pay for their 50 hour weeks with the odd weekend work. We are supplied with the windex and paper towels, if there is a shortage of supplies, all it takes is a call to replace them. Our drivers are not pushed to the ‘limit’ while working. When management tells you to follow all road rules (stops, speed limits, etc.)and to notify them that you are being pushed or to state that the job is not safe and they will deal with it for you, well that tells others that we are ‘professional’ drivers and have management to back us. Yes, it is about the dollar in the companies pocket but if we break a truck, we both loose that money so easy as she goes.

  13. Wayne says:

    I have been a company driver for over 15 yrs and don’t remember being supplied cleaning supplies. But my truck is show room condition if not better. I take pride in my ride and have even spent thousands on additional chrome for a company truck. To some that seems foolish, but to me that’s my home. If a company supplies a descent piece of equipment that is washed and maintained on a regular basis, they should be able to find a driver to take care of it. If the company owner don’t care about the equipment how can anyone expect a driver to take care of it? After all the truck has your name on the doors. We are out there representing your company. Help your drivers to create the best impression in anyway possible.

  14. Jake says:

    Southwest Airlines had great success with an employee first business model. If you treat your employees right they will work beyond their pay grade and aspire to be successful. The trucking industry is no exception. The work is hard an tiring and employees want to feel appreciated beyond their monetary compensation. Great article!

  15. Brian says:

    I drove (8 years) for a small grain-hauling outfit located in Central Ontario that dealt tractors in every two-three years. We had assigned tractors as well as dump trailers & all the equipment was well maintained constantly. I would guess that about 98% of the drivers (their choice) made sure that their units were always about as spotless as grain-hauling equipment can be, and why not!! The company treated every driver fantastically. The “perks” were unbelievable!!
    The first winter I drove there, the Office Manager called and asked if I’d be back in time to get my cheque, bonus, and turkey. I told her that it wasn’t too likely with the way it was snowing. She told me that she’d drive to my home (about 20 miles each way)and give them to my wife. WOW!!! A couple of years later, my Mother was quite ill & I called the Office Manager at home on a Sunday night, asked for a couple of days off and if I could borrow a pick-up truck. She told me which pick-up to take, and then she said to me, “You know where we keep the credit cards, use them and you’ll be paid for every day you’re gone.” I almost had heart failure to say the least!! A couple of years later, my Mother passed away and again, the same response from the Company!!
    I was proud to drive for them and proud to keep the equipment as clean as possible. As I said, “With “perks” like this, why wouldn’t a driver try to look after the units they basically ‘live’ in??

  16. Thanks for sharing, Brian. It’s nice to hear stories like that.

  17. Catherine says:

    Not all drivers care what they drive. I like nice equipment, the really expensive stuff. I always liked the comments and ‘ooo’s’ and ‘awe’s’, and the reputation my company had for running top-notch equipment. But it was pretty disheartening when there wasn’t a week go by that a truck or trailer rolled in with a dent in the bumper, or a reefer motor door broken off or something else.
    Not every driver was so careless. Some guys drove with slippers on and constantly polished everything in the truck, because fingerprints drove them crazy! Others smoked and had a dog in the truck which caused plenty of damage.
    Nice trucks are for guys who WANT and appreciate the nice trucks and trailers and will care for them accordingly. Give the guys the ‘beaters’ as I call them, to the guys who don’t care what they drive and just want the weekly pay cheque. A well-maintained Freightliner for $100,000 works perfectly fine for these drivers. Save your $175,000 Pete’s and KW’s for the drivers that know how to treat nice equipment!

  18. Brian says:

    Are Drivers Pigs? You betcha! To prove it, drive down any highway in N.A. and count the urine bottles lining the road. Check out any parking area or any ramp where tuckers stop and then, try to tell me they aren’t. And yes, I am a trucker.
    Not only are truckers pigs, they’re lazy pigs to boot! For instance, don’t take a deep breath in any truck-stop parking lot – the urine fumes might burn your lungs. That’s because truckers are too damn lazy to walk the 100 yards to the bathroom.
    It’s just like any other group of people: there are those with a pride of person and place and those who don’t know the meaning of the word. And no, you can’t blame it on the young versus the old or immigrants versus native born or experience versus in-experience. And no, nice does not necessarily beget nice. A famous quote from the Democratic primaries a while back is soooo appropriate: you can put lipstick on a pig…

  19. jimh says:

    There are some drivers who take great care of the equipment they drive and some who are absolute pigs. No different than what you would find in the general public. Personally, I don’t need a fancy truck to drive, but I do like to keep it clean. While we are on the topic, it’s not just drivers who can be pigs. I have seen many filthy dispatch offices and shipping offices over the years.
    I do have a comment directed at the post by Aaron though. You say that your drivers spend THEIR 10 hours off talking on the cell phone and not cleaning YOUR trucks. Why should they? It’s their TIME OFF. The law requires them to book any time cleaning a truck as ON DUTY time. (look it up sir) And do you PAY them to clean your truck for you? Does your secretary wash the floor in her office on her “time off”? Do your dispatchers do windows? And who cleans YOUR office? Why should your drivers be treated any different than the rest of your employees? These guys are putting in 60, 70 or more hours a week. They should not be expected to maintain your equipment for you, for free, on their time off. With an attitude like that, its no wonder 80% of your drivers (your figures) do not look after the equipment they drive.

  20. Here in the UK, with the cheaper foreign lorry fleets UK truckers are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet and this is resulting in working conditions for drivers slipping as well.

  21. What a great news to boost moral of not only truck owners but drivers as well. It will open minds that in order for your business to succeed, you should also consider the people who works for you. If you take care of your employees, your employees will also take care of your business.

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