Want to run nice trucks? Treat your people right, the nice trucks will follow.
July 14, 2011
July 14, 2011
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies