The power of information

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Chip Magner is publisher of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail Lmagner@eTrucker.com.

There’s so much going on in trucking right now that it’s almost impossible to make good decisions in a vacuum. That’s why Bill Arthur, fleet manager for L. E. Walker Transport in St. Thomas, Ontario, said he’s glad he attended the annual March Truckload Maintenance Council convention in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Arthur went to the TMC convention with a specific game plan. “I wanted to concentrate on everything that evolves around the October 2002 EPA emissions requirements. I wanted to know what the estimated cost increases would be for engines, chassis, oil, fuel mileage loss and operational costs. The trucking industry operates on such a slim profit margin that anything that could create an adverse effect is of major importance,” Arthur says.

He talked to other fleet managers, attended conferences and visited vendors to look at new products. He went with an open mind, determined to gather as much information as possible. Although he concedes that the jury is still out on exactly how much the engines and chassis will add to the cost of a new truck, he figured an educated guess would be about $6,000 per truck. With those figures in mind, he decided to place his new truck orders prior to October 2002. “It’s a decision based on as much information as I could gather and is shared by many other trucking company decision makers I spoke to,” Arthur says.

While EPA requirements dominated most discussions, trying to squeeze profits from bare bone operations was another subject of great interest to Arthur. His philosophy differs from some of his colleagues regarding what “not” to do in tough times.

“I’m simply not going to cut driver pay or safety programs,” Arthur says. He says that pay and benefits packages will not be touched and driver appreciation programs will continue. “Now, more than ever, it’s important to build driver loyalty and retain good drivers. If you build loyalty now, it flows right down the fleet. Happy, loyal drivers are your best source of customer satisfaction,” he says.

As far as squeezing out profits, he’s looking at creative logistics, negotiating with vendors and making his safety record good enough to give him leverage with his insurance company. While most costs will come under a microscope, the cost of attending conferences like TMC is – in the words of a famous advertising campaign – priceless.