Make plans to grow

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The old saying, “bloom where you are planted,” conjures an image of a plant thriving in a hostile environment and aptly describes trucking companies who are trying to grow their businesses in today’s tough times. Dennis Dellinger, vice president of 270-truck Cargo Transporters in Claremont, N.C., says it’s time to move from talking about a flat economy to talking about growing your business in a flat economy. It takes an optimist to talk about growth these days, but Dellinger warns against getting stuck in the mindset of the moment. He says to set goals for growth anyway. “You can’t control fuel prices or insurance rates, so you look at areas of the business you can influence and try to improve where you can.” Some areas Dellinger targets for improvement are, driver recruitment, planning for slow times and communicating positive messages.

Driver recruitment. Dellinger’s goal is to attract two new drivers per month. It is accomplished by both a past history of treating drivers well and renewed emphasis on recruitment. The economic downturn has increased the pool of available drivers, but two new drivers per month is not an easy feat, especially with tough accounting practices. “It doesn’t do anyone any good to fudge your numbers. We count everything when we figure driver turnover. If a driver retires, leaves the business or dies, we count it. If you play with your driver turnover numbers, you end up fooling yourself.”

Planning for slow months. Use past information to plan for slow months, and it will give you the opportunity to compensate for what you know will be a down time. In Cargo Transporter’s case, summer months are slower, so it planned ahead to diversify its cargo during the low months. It actually had a better July this year than it did last year. “Measure everything,” Dellinger says.

Communicate a positive image. While it’s an oft, over-used message, Dellinger emphasizes the importance of focusing on the positives and believes that while it’s true that you can’t control many of the factors, you can influence your employees. “If they pick up doom and gloom messages from you, it may reflect back on their attitudes and work ethic,” Dellinger says. He believes the same philosophy applies to partners and customers and says it’s important to communicate a can-do message. “Real partnerships are solidified during these trying times,” he says.

Customers, partners and employees are all watching the way you bloom or wither during the drought. When the dust settles, how you managed will be remembered.

Chip magner is publisher of Commercial Carrier Journal.