Driving retention

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More than 60 fleet executives gathered in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the 2006 Partners In Business Retention Forum sponsored by CCJ’s sister publication, Overdrive, along with American Truck Business Services, Freightliner and Castrol. The event included workshops and panel discussions on a variety of retention strategies, including information on how to help your owner-operators run more efficiently. Hot topics ran the gamut: lease/purchase program development, managing fuel costs, owner-operator educational programs and how corporate culture influences retention.

Expert speakers, including representatives from carriers with some of the lowest turnover rates in the business, shared some of their recruiting and retention solutions. Most of the interest revolved around helping owner-operators feel valued and be successful in their business.

One panel discussion covered the starting and running of a driver council. Schneider National’s successful model is an example of how a well-run council can increase retention: Their driver council was started in the 1980s to give drivers exposure to other members of the company, help them feel part of the decision-making process, and give feedback to the company on driver conditions. FedEx Custom Critical, based in Green, Ohio, also has a successful contractor council that meets regularly. All participants agreed that drivers working for fleets with councils feel less disenfranchised: They have an avenue to vent, address their concerns and ask questions. The costs of operating a driver council include lodging and meal expenses as well as lost time, but panel members said those relatively minor costs were outweighed by driver satisfaction.

Another panel discussion addressed starting a buying cooperative. Moderator Jeff Amen of ATBS stressed that owner-operators can improve their bottom line by focusing on reducing costs rather than worrying about increasing revenue. “Only 38 cents to 40 cents of each dollar in revenue will become profit, but 100 percent of every dollar saved by cutting costs will become profit,” Amen said. Savvy recruiters emphasize cost-saving opportunities such as buying co-ops to improve recruitment and visibility.

These are just two examples of some positive ways to attract high-quality owner-operators. The value of forums like this is in the exchange of cutting-edge information and ideas that can be generated when industry leaders get together. Based on the enthusiastic response, the Retention Forum will become an annual event.