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Re-Evaluating How We Measure Success

'How many trucks you got?' Go to any industry function where there's a large contingent of fleet owners and it's likely the most common question you'll hear. For as long as I've been in the industry, ...




‘How many trucks you got?’ Go to any industry function where there’s a large contingent of fleet owners and it’s likely the most common question you’ll hear. For as long as I’ve been in the industry, the answer to that question has served as the primary indicator of a company’s success. The more trucks a fleet is running, the better they’re doing financially – at least that’s what one would assume.

But several years ago at an industry function out west, I learned an important lesson from a good friend who ran a very successful small truck fleet, serving a highly-specialized market.

He was a bit standoffish and uncomfortable when it came to mingling with his peers at industry events, and I asked him why?

His answer surprised me. To paraphrase, he said ‘At events like this, you’re judged by how many trucks you have. It’s the very first question anyone asks you: ‘How many trucks do you have?’ and that’s how they determine how important or successful you are.’

He resented that attitude, and said they might as well make everyone in the room remove their pants and establish a pecking order based on who has the most impressive…well, you get the point.

I found his comments to be interesting, and from that point on I made a conscious effort not to make ‘How many trucks do you have?’ my first question when speaking to a fleet owner. It had never occurred to me that the notion a fleet’s truck count is indicative of its success could be offensive to some.

Frankly, I had forgotten all about that conversation until recently. The other day, I was reading an interview that editorial director Lou Smyrlis conducted with Dan Einwechter, the outspoken president and CEO of Challenger Motor Freight.

This comment immediately caught my attention: “I just came from the Truckload Carriers Association conference in Orlando. The recurring theme I heard was that carriers are realizing they don’t need to have more trucks to be successful. They are going to manage the bottom line and not the top line and not be as concerned about growing their number of trucks. It used to be truckers would use the size of their fleet as their scorecard. That scorecard is going to change significantly.”

I couldn’t help but smile, and remember my previous conversation with that friend out west. I spoke to him recently and despite the recession, business is still going strong. His company resisted the temptation to add power units when the economy was firing on all cylinders, and it has not been forced to downsize now that demand has slowed in line with the economy.

Instead of adding tractors, the company has invested in its people. It recently finished building a new state-of-the-art, $2.5 million terminal that offers the very best in driver amenities.

It was refreshing to read Einwechter’s comments on how carriers are re-evaluating how they measure their success. We all know it’s better to run a profitable 10-truck business than a 100-truck fleet that’s bleeding money. It’s about time the industry acknowledges success is not measured by how many trucks you’ve got, but how effectively you manage them and your bottom line.

– James Menzies can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6896 or by e-mail atjmenzies@trucknews.com.


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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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