Manual for a downturn: How to keep your operation above water.

| May 27, 2009

Even with a weather-shortened season on the West Coast last year, he grossed $108,000 in four months, he says. “Throughout my [32-year] career,” he says, “I’ve stuck to a particular approach. I don’t go around looking for work – I set up a deal, and I pretty much run it as far as I can.”

Even so, as his freight markets change, he’s contemplating taking the seasonal variable out of the mix and focusing on more year-round work at Florida juice plants. Rather than running tomatoes into June, he says, he may try for a juice contract right at the tomato season’s height to demonstrate he’s in it for the long haul and to come in when juice manufacturers need reefers the most.

“If you drive leased to a carrier,” says Amen, “make sure you’re treating your carrier like your customer.” Stay on time and safe, above all else, and treat the carrier’s shipper customers like your own.

Revenue is only half of the profit equation. Cost is the other half. While you might keep only 35 cents from every dollar in revenue, a dollar in cost-savings goes straight to the bottom line. Following are several cost-saving recommendations.

LIMIT IDLE TIME Idling requires about a gallon of fuel per hour, which can cost you around $120 per week if your truck idles eight hours a day. Idling can cost $3,000 or $4,000 in fuel per year.

BUY THROUGH A FUEL NETWORK If you’re leased, take advantage of a fleet’s fuel plan.

CHOOSE YOUR TRUCK WISELY Your bottom line will show whether you chose a truck with too big of an engine and too much chrome versus a truck spec’d to your business needs.

THINK AERODYNAMIC To make your truck more aerodynamic, add features such as roof fairings, chassis fairings, cab extenders and aerodynamic mirrors. Snug the trailer tight to the tractor.

PERFORM REGULAR MAINTENANCE Check often enough to catch low oil, a dirty air filter or an air compressor leak. Check your current miles per gallon at each fill – if it falls off, determine the reason.

MAINTAIN TIRE PRESSURE To maximize fuel economy and tire life, check the pressure in all 18 tires and fill them up at least weekly to the manufacturer’s specifications.

USE SLOW STARTS AND STOPS Moderate acceleration and deceleration consumes less fuel and extends the life of your equipment.

SHIFT WISELY Don’t drive by engine sound but by rpm. If you’re not absolutely sure about your engine’s sweet spot, ask the manufacturer.

CUT OUT-OF-ROUTE MILES Cutting your out-of-route miles – typically 6 percent to 10 percent – by 3 percent will save an extra 3 percent on fuel and other variable costs.

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