Archive for September, 2015

I Got the Trucker Blues… Lord, What Can I Do?

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happysad

Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck,
I wouldn’t have no luck at all..
Booker T Jones

Ever had a bad day in trucking? Did you expect anything different? The reality is that truck driving is a difficult job which requires a lot of discipline, patience and perspective. When I speak to an orientation class, I always ask “Have you ever had one of those days that started off bad? Perhaps a dispatcher or shipper said something that hit you wrong? Perhaps you had a problem at home?” In every case, all the drivers in the class can relate. I then ask, “What happens with your little problem as you drive the next 500 miles?” Again, everyone in the class knows the answer. The problem gets bigger and bigger with each passing mile until, at some point what started as a little problem, something that is a part of life and a part of trucking, has become so big that the driver no longer controls the problem…the problem controls the driver. I have even seen situations where this went on so long that the driver becomes unsafe, because he is distracted.

Why are drivers more prone to this than others? The answer is that they just have too much time to think, and overthinking can lead to real stress, loss of perspective and loss of judgment. Do you worry a lot about the fuel mileage on that last load? Do you find yourself worrying about that rude driver you saw two hours ago? Do you find yourself stewing about that one shipper that held you up? Are you getting upset that a driver manager didn’t get back with you? This leads to tunnel vision. When you find yourself thinking about things such as these, you may be overthinking.

keepcalm

Put things into perspective. We all will experience bad things… it is a part of life. Zoom out and look at the big picture. How are things going on average? How was your MPG that week or that month? How were your miles that month? For the year? I have seen drivers with good miles stressed out over one load and they don’t even know they had good miles. Sometimes drivers really stressed over one bad day, when on the whole they are doing real well. Some get mad and quit, some quit badly, like abandoning a truck. What happens to their problem now? They leave a company they know, waste time in orientation with a company they don’t know and get a bad reference on their DAC. I have learned a good lesson to live by, that is, whatever you do when you are mad is always wrong… always. And if you have a problem with overthinking and stress, changing jobs won’t help you. You’ll just end up taking your thinking habits with you and the cycle with repeat.

If you find yourself in this vicious cycle, here are some things you can try:

  1. Look at the big picture. Zoom out from the issue stuck in your mind and see how things look from a broader perspective.
  2. People tend to vent to someone who can’t help them. Maybe they complain on the CB, or on Facebook or to other drivers. What good does that do? Nothing. Communicate with those here whose job it is to help you.
  3. Go over your long term goals and plans.
  4. Fix it. Separate the world into two lists: one list is something you can fix and the other is things beyond your control. If something is beyond your control, let it go. Your worry is wasted energy. Redirect that energy on solutions to things you can fix.
  5. Get moving. Sometimes it’s best to do something to break the overthinking cycle. Take a walk, read, do something.

The best thing you can do is recognize when this is happening to you. Get away from blame, denial and excuses. These are success killers. Call us. We are here to support you.

Happy Trucking! -Tom

Pinching Pennies

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pennies1

In trucking, we think a lot about pennies. We charge our customers in cents per mile, and our drivers are paid in cents per mile. Sometimes, it is easy to get into the thinking that “It’s only a penny.” A penny may not seem like much, but added up over a fleet our size over the miles we run; it is a lot of money. For a driver running 120,000 miles per year a penny is $1,200. Last year, our trucks ran almost 32 million miles. Do the math … each penny spent is $320,000, and conversely each penny saved is $320,000. This highlights the truth behind Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” It is the job of everyone on the ACT team to make our pennies and to save our pennies.

The largest expense in trucking is fuel. We purchase approximately 5,300,000 gallons of fuel per year. Each penny saved on a gallon of fuel represents $53,000 per year. If we save a lot of pennies that adds up to a whole lot of money, which keeps the company financially sound.

Why do you care if we are financially sound? You should. We have a lot of stakeholders that require good financial performance. Investors don’t invest just for the fun of it. Every company has investors. They expect a return. If they do not get a return, they consider putting their money elsewhere. Trucking is a capital intensive industry. Buying the trucks and trailers for a company our size requires a whole lot of money, much of which is borrowed. Lenders require periodic financial reporting. If your financials are good, they want to loan you more. If your financials are not good, they get worried. Employees require good financial performance. We all want to work for a solid company. The last recession was in 2008. Recessions occur every 6 to 10 years. We are a lot nearer to the next one, than we are to the last one. Solid financials are an advantage in a recession. Companies that are weak are very threatened by a recession. It is so important in trucking to get the hay in the barn during good times. I have seen so many trucking companies who didn’t do well in good times, fail during recessions.

fuel

Every employee is a steward of company resources. One way we can be good stewards is to save fuel. Our trucks will get 8 miles per gallon and much more if the driver drives it correctly. The difference between a driver getting 6 miles per gallon and one getting 8 miles per gallon is 5,000 gallons per year….for one truck. What is the difference between these drivers? Drivers do control mpg. Slowing down, shifting correctly, checking tire inflation, balancing the load, closing the trailer gap, refraining from idling and other tricks make all the difference in the world. Drive bobtail as if you were loaded. 5,000 gallons multiplied by 300 trucks represents a savings of 1,500,000 gallons per year. So please understand when we expect improvement if you are a low mpg driver.

Another way to save company resources is to use the fuel optimizer available to all drivers. We have fuel discounts negotiated with Pilot Flying J and Love’s throughout our operating territory. The discounts are different from stop to stop and change each day based on fuel prices. We get the better of a discount off the street sign or a price based upon costs, whichever is better. There is no way a driver can know what we pay by looking at the sign. But the computer does tell us. I had a driver in orientation ask why it sometimes asks a driver to stop for a small amount of fuel and then fill up a few hundred miles away. This is because the program is looking down your route, all the way to your destination and finding the best price. The intermediate stop is to get you just enough fuel to get you to the real savings. So far this year, we have saved an average of 40 cents per gallon. For owner operators who use the system, the savings at the pump are passed directly on to them. For one driver using the systems saves $6000 per year for that truck. 40 cents times 5.3 million gallons represents a savings of $2,120,000 per year. So you can see why we emphasize this program to drivers.

ACT truck

These are just a couple of examples of how pinching pennies can make a real difference in the company’s financial performance. We want to be a leader in the market pay in employee and driver pay. We want to continue to be a good financial performer for our investors, lenders, employee and contractors. We want to continue to be in a position to weather and take advantage even of the next recession. Your attention to pennies helps get us there.

Happy and profitable trucking!

-Tom

Do You Have Any Control Over Your Miles?

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When I speak with new drivers in orientation I always ask the question, “Do you have any control over your miles?”  I ask this because a lot of folks in orientation left their previous company over miles.  The answers I get are always mixed.  Some say, “Yes,” and some say “No.”  Miles are important to ACT and its drivers.  We charge by the mile and our drivers are paid by the mile.  We all want miles.  To some extent you do have control over your miles…and to some extent you don’t. Let’s analyze this important question.

open-road

As long as I have been in trucking at ACT we have had drivers who always get good miles.  We always have drivers who get poor miles, and we always have the averages.  So when a driver claims, “I can’t get any miles,” I don’t buy it because I know that many do.  A friend, Robert Low at Prime, preaches to his people, “Blame, Denial and Excuse are your enemies.  They will defeat you every time.”  This is so true.  One thing I have noticed over the years is that those who do poorly on miles always blame the company, they have excuses, or they are in denial, living paycheck to paycheck, not even knowing what miles they do get.  This goes on until their spouse can’t pay the bills, there is a blow up, and they quit.  Of course, they take their same attitude and poor habits to the new company and the cycle repeats itself.  The high mile drivers are always challenging and pushing themselves and asking what can they do to get better…and they do.  These folks are winners…and high milers.

So what can you do to maximize your miles? I have found one calculation to be true.  Performance= Ability+Attitude+Training.  Remove any of these factors and you will not see performance.  If you don’t have the ability to do this, none of us can help you.  You’ll just have to settle into a budget of lower miles.  I would think this would be a rare situation indeed.  You do control your attitude.  Do you want high miles?  Are you willing to do what it takes?  This article will help you with the third factor, training.  It will provide you with the knowledge you can use to reach your goals.

 

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American Central Transport

What are the differences we have seen between high milers and those who aren’t?  Let’s start with the basics.  Some people work harder than others.  It is a fact of life.  Hard workers get more miles.  Have you ever noticed while going down the road the same truck passing you two or three times?  We all have.  What is that driver doing?  He is stopping at truck stops, wasting time, not working, absorbing and spreading negativity, and then speeding and wasting fuel to catch up.  These drivers will never get miles, their companies will notice how much time and money they waste, and their CSA record will keep them from getting on with the good companies.  Lower milers look at trucking as a voyage.  They bounce around, with no plan or discipline to their day, wasting time and then wonder why they can’t get miles.  High milers look at trucking as a job.  With electronic logs they know that time is money (and miles) and so they don’t waste it.  It is hard work to get up, plan your day, drive 8, 9 or 10 hours, shut down and do it again the next day.  But this is what high milers looks like.

High milers don’t cherry pick loads.  They take it all, long and short, heavy and light, east and west, north and south, into the sun and with the sun at their back, and in all kinds of wind and terrain.  They know that they don’t have the information that planners are dealing with and that cherry picking is a gamble.  The gamble may pay off with that perfect load, but it contains the risk of turning down miles to sit if that perfect load doesn’t exist.  High milers are runners.  They know that every system has all kinds of freight, good, bad and in between and they take it all.  They know that taking all loads means they are moving and getting miles.  They trust that people in the office are doing everything they can to keep them running…and most of the time, they are.

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High milers get hazmat, tanker endorsement and every other kind of endorsement they can.  They want to be qualified for any freight that comes their way and in slow times this really pays off, not to mention that company drivers earn 2 cents per dispatch mile more for having the hazmat endorsement and contractors 6 cents per loaded dispatch mile more.  With the number of dispatch miles over the course of weeks, months, and years those additional pennies can add up.

High milers take the time to do thorough pre-trip and post trip inspections.  In terms of miles, violations at the scales and out of service orders represent a lot of lost miles.  Taking the time to do things right to begin with saves a lot of time later.

High milers get their preventative maintenance done on time.  Taking the time to have this done correctly and inexpensively at our maintenance facility in Kansas City can save a lot of miles when it saves unplanned breakdowns on the road.

High milers deliver loads on time.  They have a good reputation, are proud of their reputation and are trusted in Operations.  When freight is slow and that hot load is ready, who do you give it to?  The driver you trust?  Or the one you don’t?  The answer should be obvious.  Trusted drivers who do their jobs professionally and correctly get more miles.

High milers do their computer work and always send daily check calls before 10:00 a.m. along withaccurate arrival, loaded and empty calls. They keeptheir ETAs and PTAs current and up to date.  Why?  This puts the information in the computer and helps planners get them more preplans, which helps the driver plan a day or two ahead and keep running.

High milers know the customers and use this knowledge to get more miles.  Job jumpers never stay around long enough to get it.  What kind of information do you learn on the job that will help you? Does a customer let you park at their facility?  This information can save you a lot of time.  How well do you know the person at the guard shack?  Good relations here can get you some favors.  Do they sometimes go ahead and get you loaded ahead of your appointment when they can?  Do you know how to get to the customer?  Directions in the Qualcomm are sometimes wrong.  We have over 100 customers withdifferent locations throughout our system.  Tenured drivers get more miles.  Why? Because they know the customers and the system and can use it to their advantage.  How long does it take to learn a new system?  A minimum of 3 months is needed and probably takes closer to 6 months.  Job jumpers spend too much time in orientation and never stay long enough to learn any company’s system.  Then they complain they can’t get miles.  They need to take a long look in the mirror.

 

ACT Driver

ACT Driver

High milers know the freight flows.  The ups and downs are analyzed extensively by trucking stock analysts and are the same for all companies.  We follow these and compare them to our freight.  In most cases we see the same flows here as everywhere else.  No trucking company has cornered the economy.  We all are subject to it.  In trucking, paychecks are never the same from week to week but bills are.  To be successful we need to plan and budget to anticipate when freight is busy and when it is slow.  The better you are able to do this, the more miles you will get.  A smart strategy is to use more home time when things are slow, and to be out more when freight is busy so you can save up for the lulls.  We see drivers leave us when freight is slow, but you know what?  If it is slow here, it is slow everywhere.  Changing jobs changes nothing except it puts you in orientation in an unknown company for a week and you start all over learning a system.  High milers not only know the flows of freight in this country but they plan for it and use it to their advantage.  These types of drivers always do well.

Here are some general rules.  Our highest numbers of deliveries are on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  If you deliver your first load on a Monday, you will have a good week and your miles will be higher.  However, if you are late out of the home and deliver your first load on a Tuesday, odds are your miles will belower and you will have a bad week.  Going home is important, but high milers leave home on time and have a secure place to leave a truck and trailer, so when the opportunity presents itself, they can go home with a load.   The first week of the month tends to be the slowest.  The last week of the month tends to be the busiest.  The first month of the quarter is slowest – January, April, and July.  The best months are the last month of the quarter – March, June, andSeptember.  From October until a couple weeks before Christmas is peak season.  This is a good time to stay out and make some money to get you through the slow winter months of January and February.  Holidays are always tough on miles.  Think about what the customer is doing on Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.   Answer…not much.

You can maximize your miles by planning home time with your family to happen when it is slower and staying out more when it is busier.  Home time affects miles.  Home time is important but recognize that you don’t get any miles at home.  Every person’s situation is different.  Some need home more, some stay out a month at a time.  These people that stay out longerget more miles.  The more you are home, the fewer miles you will get.  The more you are out, the more miles you will get.  Money is not everything.  Family is.  I can’t tell you which is best for your situation but please understand the consequences of your decisions and discuss this with your family.  You must plan to meet your family needs and your financial needs.

The last thing I would recommend is planning, planning and more planning.  In this day of electronic logs, you cannot stop your clock once it starts.  Lost time is lost miles.  The high milers plan their day before they log on.  They choose loads that work with their hours.  There is so much information you can use on a computer or smart phone, including traffic, congestion, construction, weather, fuel recommendations, routing and more.  When planning before you leave, you will use your time more efficiently and get more miles.

There is a lot more.  But you can see why some drivers who plan and are disciplined always get more miles that those who aren’t.  We want you to be a high miler. Ask for help if you need it.

Happy Trucking!

Tom