Chrome is where the heart is

WALLENSTEIN, Ont. — The folks at Wallenstein Feed and Supply didn’t have a hard time keeping truckers around at their private fleet, but it didn’t stop the company from developing a custom driver retention program.

The plan was pretty simple: Get drivers involved in the spec’ing process.

So, whenever it comes time to spec out a rig in the 40-truck fleet, WFS seeks advice from the driver who will be at the wheel of the truck. As well as getting input on the cab and chassis configurations, the company also lets drivers spec out a few flashy extras.

“We believe in making our drivers happy, so when we spec out a truck we spend time with the driver making it right for them,” explains Rob Hall, transport and finance manager with WFS. “For them, it’s their office and they spend twelve or fourteen hours a day in there. As well as the cab and chassis, we allow them to spec a visor, bumper, lights and chrome, within reason of course.”

WFS has been customizing the trucks in its fleet for more than 10 years now and it has helped reduce driver turnover to pretty much zero.

“It was a conscious decision to do it as a form of driver retention,” notes Hall. “We have very little turnover, in fact, it’s non-existent with most drivers leaving only because of retirement.”

WFS’ history stretches back more than 50 years and the family-owned, independent operation has a big hand in feeding Ontario’s livestock. According to Hall, WFS produces about one-third of the feed supply for poultry in Ontario and the company also provides feed supply for hog and cattle.

There are three mills on-site in Wallenstein, Ont., which is about a half hour north of Kitchener, and another facility was ­purchased just down the road in Monkton in September 2009 to augment production.

Many of the loads coming out of the facilities are classified as dry bulk. Some of the feed is delivered as mush or pellets (similar to wood pellets for heating) and they’re products that can be fed to livestock right off the truck. The feed producer also has a premix product, which a farmer can add ingredients to after delivery.

In total, WFS delivers about 500,000 tonnes of feed a year and the private fleet brings back about the same weight in ingredients.

Because of the nature of the haul, the trucks and trailers WFS purchases aren’t just typical highway combinations to begin with.

“Our trucks are very specialized,” says Hall. “We have everything from a tri-axle bag bulk unit, to a lead and pony, to full tankers, and trucks for specialized premix.”

The cost of customizing the company’s fleet has been a bit of a moving target. Much of it will depend on the make and model, but also on what exactly the driver wants done.

On average, Hall says, the cost will range from between $2,000 to $7,000 per truck.

Compared to the cost of hiring a new driver, customizing a truck—even at $7,000—can be a bargain. According to the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council, it costs a fleet, on average, between $6,000 and $10,000 to hire a new driver, while other estimates have been as high as $12,000.

As well, a turnover rate of zero is significantly better than the industry average of 22 percent.

The cost of tricking out a truck and keeping drivers
happy can be less than the price of a new hire.

And although you can’t necessarily predict how long a trucker will want to stick around—even with a custom rig—how long the equipment itself sticks around can also be aided by a little customization.

At WFS, the company generally looks to move a truck out of its fleet when it reaches 700,000 km. By the time a replacement rig is properly spec’d out, some of the trucks will have 800,000 or 900,000 km on them.

Hall says the custom truck program not only helps the rigs make it to their resell point, but also lets the company get top dollar for them on the market.

“It gives them a sense of pride and ­ownership. It makes them want to look after the truck and the drivers are always ­polishing up their trucks,” says Hall.

“If it looks good, the driver will keep it looking good and it holds its value for us,” he adds. “Our drivers are very particular about their vehicles and maintenance issues are brought to our attention very quickly.”

Another benefit of the customizing ­program, says Hall, is that customers take notice, “it’s also visual advertising for us and it’s what our customers see.”

And who doesn’t like to see a nice bit of chrome?

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