You’ve probably heard it about 100,000 times before: pick a lane and stay in it. But the old driving platitude doesn’t just apply to life on the road—it’s also great advice for growing your fleet.
Earlier this year, I attended the 14th Annual Recruiting and Retention Conference in Nashville, Tennessee (read my recap here). For three days, along with representatives from 150 fleets nationwide, I learned about the myriad strategies companies of all sizes are developing to find and keep drivers in an industry afflicted by extraordinarily high rates of turnover.
Since February, one theme I’ve continually returned to in my thoughts and conversations with fleet owners is specialization. It was a key takeaway from a workshop entitled “How to Grow Your Fleet and Not Just Fill the Trucks You Have Today.”
The workshop tackled a pervasive issue in the trucking industry: If you have 100 trucks on a given day, you’re probably going to have 10 of them empty, so how do you get beyond that cycle and actually grow your fleet?
Here’s the answer Rob Hatchet, Vice President of Communications and Recruiting for Covenant Transportation Group, gave to the room:
“There’s only one Walmart. Kmart tried to be Walmart and actually went out of business. Big Lots is a low-end Walmart. Target was not doing well and then they rebranded themselves to be a high-end Walmart. … But what you see more of is niche retail stores. You see Bed Bath & Beyond and Babies”R”Us saying, ‘We sell the same stuff as Walmart—we’re just the specialist. It’s our niche. This is our area.’”
That analogy applies to transportation [as well]. There are several different carriers that can really be the Walmart—all things to all [people]. We said, ‘Hey, we’re the Bed Bath & Beyond. We do 2 or 3 things and we do them well and we’re going to focus on that and stop just taking freight.’ … We basically did away with all [our over-the-road trucks] and we just went down to dedicated car parts and we’re up about 25% in the last 15 months in terms of truck count. And it’s because we said, ‘We do one thing. We do one thing well and that’s what we’re going to specialize in.’ …
When you do that, it’s so much easier. Recruiting tells one message, and then operations tells the same message, and safety and payroll all talk that same thing because you’re focused on your niche.”
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about how consistent messages and systems make recruitment and retention—and by extension, compliance—easier for organizations of all kinds. What I appreciate about Rob’s perspective is that it applies the same logic to the entire business from the top-down. It’s one of a number of ways owners and executives can communicate thoughtfulness about their companies’ futures and more meaningfully involve drivers in those futures.
Additional methods to grow in tandem with your team and show drivers that they’re an integral part of your company often come down to time-honored common sense: design your recruiting program to meet candidates where they are (increasingly Instagram and Facebook), demonstrate value for the drivers throughout their careers (and not just during hiring and onboarding), and track your progress.
One great idea I heard from Brad Vaughn, VP of Recruiting for Maverick Transportation, was to create a Facebook group for drivers’ spouses. This kind of online community can boost morale as well as provide real support for employees and contractors out on the road. In fact, Brad shared a story about how one spouse drove to a local hospital so that a woman could FaceTime with her husband, who had fallen off a flatbed trailer and landed in a hospital bed thousands of miles from home.
If you also attended the 14th Annual Recruiting and Retention Conference and would like to connect—or if you missed it and could use some fresh recruitment and retention strategies—I encourage you to find me on LinkedIn.
And for more ideas on scaling your fleet effectively and sustainably, make sure to read our 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Recruiting and Retaining Drivers.