The choice is yours and theirs

An effective, though unconventional, method of improving driver retention is to offer a choice of loads when possible, argued CCJ columnist and management consultant David Goodson in a recent column. Goodson points to Crete Carriers as an example of one carrier that puts this principle into practice and consistently ranks among the industry’s top carriers in profitability and low turnover.

Although the idea sounds novel, many executives will quickly disregard the notion that offering company drivers a choice in loads is a sound business decision. But Jacksonville, Fla.-based Landstar offers an example of how technology gives its fleet of owner-operators a choice in loads, improves recruiting and retention, while significantly lowering its administrative overhead.

Landstar posts its available freight online to give contractors fast access. Using the Web, its contractors can select loads and post equipment availability. Drivers also use the website to review settlements and manage cash advances; to find updates on road construction; to review tips for safety and loss prevention; and to contact Landstar employees and agents. The website has been available for about five years, says Pat O’Malley, Landstar’s vice president and chief safety officer.

Jerry Fritts, an owner-operator leased to Landstar’s Roadstar division, connects to Landstar’s online service via his laptop equipped with a wireless Nextel modem. Using the online service since last November, Fritts says he has increased revenue by 30 percent a day and 20 percent on a per-mile basis by having instant information such as rates, mileages and opportunities to combine loads – a partial with a regular truckload shipment, for example – to maximize revenue for each trip.

Fritts, who has worked for Landstar for 19 years, says the number of contractors that use laptops and wireless modems is still a minority. But not by much. Over 30 percent of Landstar’s business capacity owners have passwords to access Landstar’s available loads through a variety of wireless devices. O’Malley says that instead of using the website, many contractors can still select their loads electronically through automatic downloads to cellular phones or Blackberry devices. They dial into Landstar’s automated system and enter their location and availability.

Fritts has used that option as well. “If I don’t have a computer in the truck, and I’m riding down the highway, the cell phone rings, and I hit talk,” he says. “A voice comes on and says ‘This is a message from Landstar,’ and it gives the load origin and destination with revenue, miles and rate per mile. If you want to accept the load, you hit talk again, and it hooks you right up to an agent.”

Having access to Landstar’s freight online and other electronic venues fosters teamwork among his peers rather than competition, Fritts says. As Fritts is traveling towards his destination or finds himself in an area outside of Nextel coverage, he calls another contractor leased to Landstar to go online and check for available loads.

“There are 8 to 10 of us that keep track of each other,” Fritts says.

Today, contractors and even company drivers can access the Internet from the cabs of their trucks via high speed, wireless local-area networks known as Wi-Fi. These networks are growing rapidly at truck stops and many other frequently visited locations by drivers., for example, is actively working at signing up more than 3,000 truck stops and travel plazas, as well as weigh stations, fleet yards and other areas where mobile workers stop. will also be available on thousands of Sprint PCS 3G cell towers by the end of 2004, the company says.

As wireless, high-speed Internet access continues to become available at more locations, the Internet will become even more of a vital link between carriers and their drivers when it comes to offering a choice of loads. Few carriers have the size and technology capabilities to design a communication system like Landstars’ or staff 850 sales agents nationwide to solicit freight and enter it into a central database. But the reason why Landstar has been so successful at attracting and retaining contractors like Fritts is the instant communication and thus the choices it offers its contractors.

Landstar has “developed this to a science,” Fritts says. “Why would I work for anyone else? My miles are up, revenue is up, why would I go somewhere else with forced dispatch?”