Nicky Hammerlane here. Seems no matter how hard I try to take some time off, either my son or grandson calls and asks me to haul "one more load." That was the case as I put the rod and reel and tackle box with all my favorite lures into the old pickup to head out for some trout fishing.
Note to self: Next time, turn the cell phone off and unplug the fax machine two days before departure.
So there I was in Barstow, at what used to be a main truck stop haunt of mine during the years I owned and operated the trucking company my son and grandsons now own. Not really a bad place, although truckers used to call this particular chain "Rip-off’s" before it was acquired by a much larger national chain.
I kind of miss the Huevos Rancheros with hot green chile sauce and hash browns, but I settled for the Longhaul breakfast of French toast, eggs, bacon, ham and sausage along with biscuits and gravy. So big it usually requires a to-go box and a wheelchair to get me to my truck after eating one.
While I stuffed my face, I caught a glimpse of a very large man making a beeline for my booth. In one of the deepest, booming voices I’ve ever heard (it gave the water in my glass white caps), the man says, “You Nicky Hammerlane?”
I looked up from my plate and stared right at his belt buckle. This was one very big man. I said, “Depends on what you think Hammerlane has done.”
The big man laughed. “It’s not what he’s done that concerns me. It’s what I need him to do.”
Yeah, I hesitated a little.
“Well, I’m Hammerlane, but I can’t imagine what an old guy like me can do to help you.”
The big man said, “My apologies. I never quite know how to approach a man for help. It goes against the grain. My name is Sam Little, owner of Little Trucking. Heard through the grapevine you’re the man that can get me out of a fix I put myself in.”
I stifled a laugh. Something told me this guy had heard all the “little” jokes he could take. I stood.
“Call me Nicky, Mr. Little,” I said as I stuck out my hand. His hand swallowed mine like it was a small child’s.
“Call me Sam. When I saw your white International with "N. Hammerlane and Son" on the door I knew all I needed to do was look for the black Stetson, and maybe, just maybe, my problem could be solved.”
I invited Sam to sit down.
“Coffee or breakfast?”
“Coffee, straight up,” Sam responded.
I signaled the waitress and then asked, “So what’s the problem?”
Sam looked down at his huge hands for a minute, then at me straight in the face.
“Truck drivers," he said. "I’ve got eight trucks I need to keep on the road to keep the cash flowing. I've got the customers to keep ‘em all busy, but I just can’t seem to hang on to the drivers. Seems I get four or five of them running without problems, but then the others are telling me I can put the trucks where the sun don’t shine. Then they just disappear.”
I sat there for a moment. It was as if this giant of a man felt he was failing somehow. His eyes glistened.
I leaned over and said, “Sam, you’re not alone. Nearly every trucking company has a problem with truck driver retention. The challenge is to find the magic formula that’ll encourage a trucker to stick it out, especially during slow times.”
Sam looked down at his big hands again, but time he didn’t look up.
“So you’re saying there isn’t a solution?” he said in a quiet voice.
“Sam, I’ve listened to lots of drivers and small motor carrier owners. I find there are two camps. One camp looks at the trucking industry as if the glass is empty and won’t ever be filled again. The other camp sees the glass as overflowing with opportunity and possibilities. What we need to do is work on helping you see the glass as half-full.”
Sam tilted his coffee cup, which was now only half-full. But that quick movement caught our waitress’ attention, and she was there in a flash, refilling his cup. Sam looked up and smiled.
“I see. It’s easier to refill something half-full than something half-empty. So my first step is to see the problem, next determine what caused it, and then it can be solved. Like a truck. You can’t fix it until you find what’s broke, and why. Simple common sense. So, Nicky, what’s the next step?”
I said, “The cause is fairly easy to find, and believe it or not, it’s not just about the money. Several factors contribute to driver churn, but its root cause is lack if communication from the very beginning. You’ve got to make sure both trucker and carrier understand each other’s needs and wants and how this is going to be accomplished within the business relationship.”
“Communication must begin during the recruiting process and continue through the entire time the driver’s a part of your company. The biggest complaint drivers have about the recruiting process is they aren’t told the truth about what they’re getting themselves into with a particular carrier.”
Sam raised his eyebrows, but I continued.
“If you want my assistance helping you figure out a driver retention solution, your first assignment is to make a list of how you’ll meet the needs every trucker has:
Sam pulled out a pocket notebook and started writing.
I then asked, “Where’s your office?”
“A few miles from here, back toward town.”
I told him, “I deliver in the San Fernando Valley tomorrow and I’m loading several LTL shipments over the next week in Southern California. I should be back through here some time next Monday. I’ll have a day or two to come to your office and see what solutions you muster. Then we’ll get to work. I think we can solve this in just a few weeks.”
Sam said, a bit indignantly, “I’ve been struggling with this for three, no, four years and you’re telling me we can solve this in a couple of weeks. If that’s true, you’re a miracle worker!”
“No, Sam, it’s just a matter of the right perspective, and a lot of common sense. You’ve got the common sense - you’re a trucker. You just need the right perspective.”
Then he asked, “What’s your fee for helping me do all this?”
I grinned at him. “Sam, if you have to ask, you can’t afford my fee. If you feel it’s worth it when I’m done, just make a contribution to your local Habitat for Humanity for their next house building project.”
“Sounds fair to me," he said. "Damn. I haven’t been given a homework assignment in years. I just hope my wife doesn’t hear about it. I won’t be able to watch any football until it’s done.”
Will he find a way to keep Sam's drivers on the payroll? Join Nicky next time for the conclusion of the Case of the Disappearing Drivers!
About the author: Timothy D. Brady is a speaker, business coach, and trucking industry guru. He provides training and educational presentations for small to large trucking companies, logistics organizations, and community groups. Learn more about Tim at http://www.timothybrady.com/