Driver Hospitality

By Randy Grider
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Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call from a trucker complaining about long waits at a loading dock or poor treatment from a shipper or receiver. Some say the revised hours-of-service rule has helped somewhat, but loading and unloading problems are still rampant in the industry.

Just as bad, many drivers complain about a lack of respect shown to them by some shippers and receivers. Too often drivers are simply treated like second-class citizens.

But there are shippers and receivers who realize that it’s in their best interest to create a system that is both efficient and trucker-friendly.

Case in point is ElkCorp, a maker of building materials. Operations Service Manager Randy Hughes says his plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has “gone overboard” to make truck drivers want to haul their products. The West Alabama city struggles with a lack of available trucks for outbound freight. “A lot of truckers delivering here had no problem deadheading 50 or 60 miles to Birmingham to get steel,” Hughes says.

So a couple of years ago, with new HOS regulations looming, Hughes convinced officials at ElkCorp’s corporate office in Dallas to let him revamp the distribution system. He launched a policy of “30 minutes or less” – the most time a truck driver would wait while loading at the plant. He also worked with his customers to guarantee the same practice at the receiving end.

His philosophy sprang from the fact that the average wait for a truck driver at a shipper or receiver is at least two hours. “We are giving the truck drivers back three hours,” Hughes says. “That’s one additional load per week.”

Hughes says in addition to performance goals set for his employees to keep drivers moving in and out of the plant, he has worked to instill a mindset that the truck drivers are just as important as regular employees. “We treat the truck drivers who haul for us like human beings,” he says.

During recent expansion of the Tuscaloosa facilities, ElkCorp kept its truck drivers in mind. The driver break room was remodeled, complete with satellite television, vending machines, free coffee and ice. Hughes says he also worked with vendors to keep the cost of soft drinks and snacks moderately priced. In the summer, drivers are provided with complimentary bottled water on ice. Twice a year, the company gives drivers a free meal.

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The company also made truckers arriving after hours feel welcome by providing better lighting for secure overnight parking in its staging lot. Last summer, Hughes began giving truck drivers a Walmart gift certificate for every 10th load he or she picked up at the plant.

It’s no surprise that Hughes reports the changes have been a win-win for his company and the truck drivers who transport its freight.

ElkCorp is not alone. “The best place I have ever been to is Current Check Printers in Colorado Springs,” says driver James Maxwell of Chillicothe, Mo. “They have showers available. Then when you are presentable, they will allow you to eat in their cafeteria, which overlooks the Rocky Mountains. By the time you are all done, your load is, too.”

Marten Transport driver Tom Wills says Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer in Madison, Wis., stands out. “They have a real nice employee cafeteria where drivers can go to for a nice meal,” says the Mondovi, Wis., driver. He also mentions the company’s policy of letting the driver sleep while his trailer is loaded and hauled to the drop lot.

All this shows that simple respect could do more for this industry than all the trucking rules put together.