The very first column I wrote for Truck News expressed my suggestion that large and small trucking companies would be better served by working together instead of constantly butting heads. I’d like to suggest another way large and small carriers could work together in a very beneficial manner.
Recently, many small trucking companies have been closing up, but not for financial reasons. The owners are just fed up and sick of beating their heads against the proverbial freight rate wall, all while unable to hire good drivers and being further buried under often unnecessary and constantly changing regulations.
The financial and planning talents that exist within most successful small companies, out of sheer necessity, is often lacking in many large companies. I have some prime examples of wasteful behavior I’ve seen at large companies that, if a small carrier owner was looking over department managers’ shoulders, wouldn’t have happened.
I get bored easily, so sometimes I mentally calculate costs, rates, etc., just to keep the fading mind active. Several years ago, a prominent carrier was on three- to four-year replacement cycles for power units. No thought was put into spec’s of the new tractors; they chose to have the manufacturer pick spec’s and became a fleet of trucks that would be easy to re-sell four years later.
Besides an insane TARE weight, every truck boasted 500 hp in a fleet primarily hauling tandem dry freight. A driver told me his fuel mileage, which I compared to one of our trucks.
If the fleet had spec’d smaller engines in even half the fleet, leaving the big power for the guys who ran the west coast, the savings would have been about $4 million annually, even factoring in a lower trade-in value. Even giving drivers a three cent per mile bonus for driving lesser power still would yield savings in the millions. A smaller carrier wouldn’t let that type of savings slide but this large fleet apparently did.
A driver with a large fleet was dispatched empty with his flatbed from Laredo, Texas to Saginaw, Mich. There was no freight in Texas and the company had a regular contract from Michigan. The dispatcher ran the numbers and decided this trip would still fit company-mandated revenue parameters. A small carrier owner, looking over the dispatcher’s shoulder, would have been livid. Driving that far empty isn’t efficient, it’s lazy.
Fuel is any fleet’s greatest expense. For years, large fleets put huge efforts into idle prevention. Drivers were often paid bonuses for reduced idle time. This effort strangely seems to have faded dramatically. Auxiliary heater systems are a proven money saver, in addition to keeping the truck compliant with anti-idling laws. If your drivers can’t be taught to properly use these basic systems, you’ve hired the wrong drivers. I often see drivers filling with fuel in certain states, only miles from another state which, even factoring fuel taxes, has dramatically cheaper fuel. The companies already dictate which national chains to buy fuel at, so a little more guidance as to which states or provinces are preferred would be wise and financially beneficial. A small carrier considers that extra $40-$100 per truck each trip to be significant, even with few trucks. It seems some department managers within large fleets have certain parameters to work within, and if the workload is heavy enough, looking for further efficiencies ceases.
There is likely not nearly enough interaction between department managers either. A go-between, with unilateral power to look over any shoulder would greatly reduce that. A transplanted small carrier owner, with enough powers and access would – while being universally detested by everyone but shareholders – save a typical large fleet millions.
Sounds like a fun job.
Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.