Take your pick when it comes to economic forecasts — the worst is over, we're skipping across the bottom, or don't look for a recovery any time soon. There are economic indicators to support almost any position, and the financial tea-leaf readers are poring over everyone looking for the slightest sign pointing to good news or bad. The only sure thing is that business is slow these days, at least compared to the recent boom years.
We can all give our credit cards a workout or buy that dream house to help keep consumer spending and house sales perking along, since they're the only real bright spots in the economy right now. But all joking aside, there's little you can do individually or as a business to influence the overall economic picture.
However, that doesn't mean you can't turn your fleet's economic lemons into the proverbial lemonade. No matter what type of fleet you're managing, this could be the perfect time for some serious re-evaluation — for the hard, fresh look at your operation that's been long deferred by the external pressures of good business times.
I know that may sound like a bit of easy editorial preaching. After all, I'm not the one bringing news of low freight or sales volumes and high operating costs to stockholders, investors, creditors, corporate officers and other highly interested parties. But if you have any doubts, take a look at your competitors, and I'll bet you'll find some serious fine-tuning going on.
For example, I've talked to some of the best truckload carriers over the past few weeks. Every one of them is using the slack freight market to re-examine their driver pool, look at the profitability of all their accounts and freight lanes, come to grips with equipment and information-technology spending, rethink their leased and owned equipment ratios and generally get their house in order in anticipation of the inevitable upturn. The mood, if not the revenue, is positively upbeat at these companies.
A number of highly regarded private fleets are undertaking similar internal evaluations as part of overall efforts by their parent companies to deal with slow markets. Extensions of information technology system — wireless networks in particular — are getting special attention as many anticipate new demands for greater productivity from fleet and distribution operations. Relationships with lessors, contract carriers and other service suppliers are also open for re-evaluation, as is the very existence of private fleet infrastructures themselves.
Even municipal fleets anticipating lower tax revenues, and utility service operations facing stiff resistance to price increases are feeling the impact of the current slowdown. This is the right time for those fleets to take an objective look at equipment practices developed in days when money was easier to find.
As frustrating as it may be, the country's economic fortunes are beyond your control. The best you can do is look for the opportunities that open with each swing of those fortunes.