Pulse: Several moves ahead

Slide the $787 billion stimulus package under a microscope, but you won’t find any of its countless line items funneling cash to owner-operators. A good thing, given that you don’t need to tarnish your hard-earned pride by slopping around in the federal trough.

Presumably your rig will take a little less punishment, thanks to 3.7 percent of the package going to roads and bridges. Beyond that, easier credit and possibly some small-business tax breaks, the potential impact for you will be indirect as the economy rebounds – assuming such reckless deficit spending actually spurs a turnaround, versus the recession simply playing out its natural cycle.

For now, though, it’s dire. Since the start of the current recession in December 2007, for-hire carriers have cut 106,100 jobs, reports the American Trucking Associations. Almost 25,000 of those were lost in January.

If you’re leased to a carrier that has to reduce its owner-operator force, will you still get the miles? If you’re independent and have been fortunate enough to maintain your key shippers, how loyal will they be if things get worse?
Overdrive’s 2007 Trucker of the Year, two-truck fleet owner Henry Albert, has never taken such matters for granted.

“The amount of freight available is falling away at the same rate as trucking companies,” says Albert, who recently stopped for breakfast at the T/A on I-59/20 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Overdrive is based. If Albert had to rely on brokers, he’d be getting “beat up” on rates, he says. Instead, long-term good relationships allow him to maintain rates with his shippers.

Albert’s done a lot to earn that loyalty, starting with forming a written business plan before he went out on his own. He wears a uniform shirt with an Albert Transportation logo. And a necktie. Shippers are impressed.

His current reading: “Value Migration: How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition,” by Adrian J. Slywotzky. I doubt many of his colleagues are plowing through a book published by Harvard Business School Press.

I noticed another book inside his Freightliner Cascadia: a dictionary. Albert says he uses it to keep his paperwork free of embarrassing misspellings.

Habits like these are a pain in the neck. Thing is, they work because they help set you apart from the competition.

Rates might fall when times get tough, but loyalty’s stock rises. If you haven’t sown seeds of good business practices, such as reliability and cooperation, don’t expect to make up for years of lost opportunities overnight. But now’s as good a time as any to start earning loyalty. Only you can make yourself stand out.
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Overdrive’s Dollars & Sense column, which I’ve enjoyed writing for eight years, will now be written by Kevin Rutherford, a former Overdrive contributor and expert source often quoted in our pages. Many of you know Rutherford from his satellite radio show, “ATBS Trucking Business and Beyond,” and as a presenter at our Partners In Business Seminars.

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