CCJ Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges. If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact CCJ Editor Jeff Crissey at email@example.com or 800-633-5953.
Cedar Rapids Steel Haulers opened its doors in 1955 hauling metals from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago. Eight years later, the growing company topped the $1 million annual revenue mark and began diversifying into the general freight and refrigerated markets.
By 1980, CRST eclipsed $50 million in revenue. Immediately after the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 deregulated the trucking industry, CRST acquired Three “I” Truck Line (now CRST Dedicated Services) – an acquisition 17 years in the making – and Malone Freight Lines (now CRST Malone), augmenting the company’s flatbed, less-than-truckload and dedicated options.
Those two acquisitions, along with the original CRST (now CRST Expedited), would propel the company to become CRST International, one of the largest privately held transportation companies in North America and currently No. 17 in CCJ’s Top 250 annual ranking of for-hire carriers.
In the last seven years, CRST International has been in acquisition mode again, purchasing Specialized Transportation Inc., BESL Transport, Pegasus Transportation and Gardner Trucking to enhance its final-mile, overdimensional, temperature-sensitive, specialized and dedicated capabilities.
As a large transportation provider with a highly diversified mix, CRST International has been served well by its decision to have its subsidiaries maintain separate identities and operating structures.
CRST’s seven trucking operations offer a wide array of driver jobs. In addition to the student group run through CRST Expedited, CRST’s asset-heavy division (Pegasus, Dedicated Services and Gardner Trucking) is comprised primarily of solo and team company driver positions, while lease-purchase and owner-operator positions are available in its asset-light division (Malone, STI and BESL).
“With the bevy of services we have, in our new model we should be able to offer a potential candidate any opportunity they are interested in,” says Chris Thomas, director of enterprise marketing for CRST.
Until recently, each trucking company also operated with separate recruiting departments and budgets. However, this resulted in additional costs and missed lead opportunities.
If company A advertised a position for a company driver out of Texas and company B was looking for owner-operators in the same area, each company had to purchase the same lead. Company A scrapped the lead if the driver candidate decline
d an offer because the job description didn’t meet his or her expectations, even though the driving job at company B may have been exactly what the candidate wanted.
The current driver shortage and subsequent hypercompetitive recruiting market have caused CRST to look for new synergies to lower its recruiting and advertising costs throughout the organization and ultimately generate more driver hires.
“The problem we are working to solve is how we can get our recruiters connected with more potential candidates and find the role that best aligns with their needs,” says Thomas.
The catalyst for change started earlier this year when colleagues from separate divisions wanted to test the hypothesis that CRST could improve lead conversion rates by synergizing their recruiting departments to offer any job that interested a driver candidate.
Those early efforts led to higher conversion rates, and CRST now is realigning its recruiting marketing to increase hire rates across all its trucking companies. CRST now is combining its separate applicant tracking systems into a single dashboard.
CRST trucking companies still maintain separate recruiting departments, but all recruiters have visibility into job positions posted by sister companies. If a candidate declines an offer at one company, the recruiter can actively cross-sell the candidate on another opportunity at another CRST carrier.
“If a BESL recruiter has a driver [candidate] that comes in and isn’t a perfect fit, instead of saying, ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have what you are looking for,’ the recruiter now can pitch Malone or STI,” says Thomas. “Having the opportunity to sell a lease-purchase driver a dedicated route at STI vs. an overdimensional driving job at BESL hasn’t really happened before.”
The same recruiter that cross-sells a lead on another CRST carrier sends the candidate a confirmation email to re-sign the application for the other carrier and can even take the driver completely through the hiring process and get them scheduled for orientation.
CRST’s recruiting realignment also helps find homes for drivers where they can be successful regardless of individual circumstances.
“If you think about how many people we go after that are looking for an owner-operator role but may not be able to qualify, that person still has a CDL and driving experience,” Thomas says. “Instead of saying, ‘There’s nothing we can do for you,’ that recruiter can pitch them with a company role and walk them through that process as well.
“I think the really cool part is the opportunity as a carrier to have a driver [candidate] call in, and we can do everything within our power to offer the driver whatever he or she is looking for,” he adds. “As we transition to this new model, we want everyone to understand that if you want to drive, be a student, an owner-operator or lease-purchase, we have a path for you.”
In the name of science
CRST recently has started applying data science to its business operations to support driver recruiting and retention. While the project remains in its infancy, the company says it will help identify trends and lead to better business decisions.
“We live in a data-driven world, but transportation is an industry that hasn’t adopted data the way many other industries have,” says Tyler Marrs, CRST data scientist. “The biggest issue right now is driver retention. We can now use data to better understand what events, circumstances or behaviors are most likely to influence retention and manage them proactively.”
One of CRST’s initiatives uses data science to improve driver success rates by measuring personality traits to ensure a driver is a good fit for a team operation.
“Team-based driving is significantly different than solo driving,” says Marrs. “Having insight, through data, to the traits and characteristics that are most aligned with and most in conflict with a team-driving position can help ensure a satisfying and successful driving career.”
CRST collects demographic data from the application process and conducts surveys to identify personal characteristics and uncover key traits that can help identify team driver candidates.
CRST also is applying data science and prescriptive analytics to identify drivers at risk of terminating their employment with the company. It gathers driver behavior data from telematics and electronic logging devices.
“CRST is a trucking company, and the company will not prosper without safe, successful drivers,” says Marrs. “We are trying to predict and manage the decisions and behaviors of those critical team members. Data science will enable us to identify behavior patterns that are predictive of driver dissatisfaction and turnover so that we can provide the support needed to avoid decisions to leave CRST.”