Owner-operators: Fleets want to woo you

June 16, 2004
To combat an increasing shortage of drivers in the face of rising freight demand, fleets are using a variety of tactics to get more owner-operators to sign with them on a full-time basis.

To combat an increasing shortage of drivers in the face of rising freight demand, fleets are using a variety of tactics to get more owner-operators to sign with them on a full-time basis.

“The owner-operator is a tough breed to find now. The last three years have been rough on them,” said Jack Sypolt, recruiting manager for truckload carrier Gordon Trucking Inc, at The Truck Show in Las Vegas NV. “But we’re looking for them because not just anyone can go out and buy a truck in this industry and make a living at it. There’s a lot of professionalism and experience among independents. That’s why we’re recruiting them.”

Sypolt said the incentives Gordon Trucking is offering qualified independents include paying them for fuel as well as for their licenses, permits, and insurance.

“Fuel (prices) right now are killing a lot of people,” he said. “So our offer to pay for their fuel is winning a lot of interest in us from independents.”

LTL operator Saia Motor Freight, however, is sticking to what it believes is the most tried-and-true method for recruiting truck drivers, especially independents: home time.

“It’s hard to find qualified drivers now because the demand for them is so large,” said Thad Puccini, regional sales manager for Saia. “But the single most competitive advantage we have is that we can offer our city drivers a job that has them home every night, with our linehaul drivers spending at maximum of just one night out on the road shuttling freight between our terminals.”

Being home as much as possible, Puccini believes, is one of the biggest advantages Saia has in recruiting. “This (LTL) situation offers them a good quality life with their family,” he said.

Yet truckload carrier Central Refrigerated Service is following a totally different avenue to recruit drivers: leasing them premium trucks at low payments with all the “bells and whistles.”

“We find that most owner-operators want quality equipment—that’s first and foremost with them,” said Cody Isaacson, Central’s manager of owner-operator programs. “But it’s hard for them to get the premium equipment they want. Realistically, they need to put $10,000 to $15,000 down just to buy the truck they want, and most can’t do that.”

So Central’s recruiting plan has centered on leasing high-end Kenworth W900s to its owner-operator corps. Isaacson said that program has netted the company 7,500 new drivers in just the past three months alone.

“We try to make the payments as low as possible to help these guys make money while operating the kind of equipment they would want to buy,” he said. “Now, this takes a lot of money on our end to do it, but we believe if we put the driver in a position where they are happy and can make money, the company makes money as well. It’s always hard and never easy, but it’s what you have to do to stay competitive in this market for drivers.”

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