Last month, I wrote about the value of investing in industry association membership as a strategy for dealing with difficult economic times.
This month I’d like to continue the discussion with a little different focus.
That involves taking a look at the private fleet manager’s role in helping the company survive, and one of the available partnerships that can assist that effort.
One of the many challenges that private fleet managers face is that of maintaining the importance of the fleet’s contribution in the eyes of the company’s ultimate decision-makers, particularly during economic downturns.
Those who haven’t made the effort to highlight the fleet’s contribution to the company’s goals and objectives during good times may find themselves scrambling to do so when a financial crunch arrives.
We’ve often heard that even though they are often the first to be affected, it is a fallacy to downsize departments such as sales or marketing during an economic slowdown.
Losing contact with your customers in the short-term simply leads to losing them forever. Curtailing marketing and sales efforts is tantamount to hiding in the shadows and hoping nothing bad happens.
According to Hendry Lee, writing in Marketing Strategies, the biggest mistake made during a recession is to cut the budget and the time spent on marketing. Marketing is what brings in the cash and every business depends on a good cash flow, according to Lee.
But marketing is not the only department in a company that is at risk of being downsized or eliminated when the primary short-term focus is directed at cost cutting.
The cash flow dilemma is real for any company’s brain trust and the difficult decisions shouldn’t be minimized.
Private fleets are not generally the company’s principal area of business, so if senior managers are unaware of the contribution and the importance of their fleet, it can become a target for downsizing. Making sure that they are aware of that contribution is, of course, the responsibility of fleet managers, a subject I’ve addressed previously in this space.
Apart from providing a high level of service, private fleets can and should be doing the obvious things such as controlling costs and positioning the fleet as the viable long-term alternative to other transportation options.
Offloading a company’s truck transportation requirements is a common knee-jerk reaction that is less likely to be made if the existing fleet has a business approach to its operations.
Cost control is one of the most important aspects of running any business, and private trucking is no different.
The headings on the expense ledger for private fleets do not differ substantially from those in the for-hire sector, and every one of those expense lines needs to be carefully measured and managed. The ability of the fleet manager to find innovative ways to reduce costs while maintaining service is what differentiates the shining stars from the also-rans.
While impressing the fleet’s contribution on senior management is important, smart fleet managers also know that they need to cultivate a cost-control partnership with their driving force if the fleet is to remain effective.
Involve your drivers
The benefits generated from such a partnership are much greater than any derived from the old boss/subordinate relationship.
In seeking opportunities for cost-control, many fleet managers overlook what may well be the most important source of help available – their drivers.
And yet this is a partnership that can pay significant dividends.
Drivers know better than anyone else in the fleet where operational costs can be reduced.
They know about poor routing decisions, about the customers that hold them up regularly and cause backups in the entire system. They know how to make the trucks they drive more fuel efficient, and what type of equipment is best suited to the business. Drivers also know about additional backhaul opportunities, and often are close enough to shippers to persuade them to put that backhaul on your truck.
All you need to do is ask them, listen to them, make them your partners and empower them to help you make the business as efficient as possible.
But it’s not a one-way street. Fleets need to invest in drivers, and that involves more than money. Time spent at the front end to ensure that you hire the best available drivers; time spent in ongoing training; time spent inviting advice; and time spent monitoring and rewarding performance are some of the best investments any fleet manager could possibly make to ensure high performance and low turnover.
So, I’ll leave you with two words to consider when thinking about how to develop a partnership with drivers that will help in tough times, and beyond: Empowerment and Investment.
– The Private Motor Truck Council is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. Your comments or questions can be addressed firstname.lastname@example.org.
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