As I sit at my home in Nashville, TN, observing the aftermath of the recent tornados while playing witness to daily changes in the world, I had a thought. It occurred to me that there is an entire industry, and specifically a resource group, that ties emergency events together in a surprising way, one that is often overlooked.
This unique group of people has been tasked to help our country restore and sustain. They bring the necessary tools and materials to rebuild damaged houses and businesses, and play a vital role in feeding our families. Yet, they work in an environment where they’re often the source of frustration. They move at a speed that is slower, safer, and more environmentally impactful than we would like to go. But at the end of the road, they will be uniquely positioned to help facilitate the replenishment of items that help put our homes and our economy back together—things like building materials, hand sanitizer, medical supplies, and yes, even toilet paper.
Of whom do I speak?
The American truck driver. The last American cowboy
A timely example that shows these unsung heroes’ influence on our daily lives is hand sanitizer, a precious commodity in this day and age. What goes into hand sanitizer, and how does it get made? We’re not looking at formulas here. Before more bottles of hand sanitizer can be made, the plastic bottles, packaging, labels, and raw materials will need to be transported. After being manufactured, these bottles will need to be moved again to distribution centers, and then subsequently to retail locations so we can get this critical item in our homes. This chain of transportation is a vital link for all of us.
Not since Jerry Reed was singing Eastbound & Down has it been “cool” by most people’s standards to be a truck driver. This job isn’t for the faint of heart and takes a heavy toll on drivers’ health and their families well being. They sit for countless hours behind the wheel, dealing with individuals who are not happy with their presence on the road, all while trying to figure out where they will find a decent meal and a safe place to sleep for the night. Like Barbara Mandrell’s country song stated, truck drivers were and are self-isolating, long before self-isolating was the norm. Now, as we “self-isolate,” most won’t consider the truckers who are out, every day, working so that we can have the goods that make our homes safe and our economies run.
This begs the question: How will our hero rise? How does a nationally understaffed industry, with the average driver being between 54-56 years old, meet our needs on a national scale? First, as the FMCSA knows, easing the hours of service regulations will help. Without this under-resourced profession, we simply cannot react fast enough to get things manufactured and/or to those in need. The additional benefit, or unintended consequence, of us collectively sitting in our homes, is the decline in traffic.
Why is this relevant? We are looking at a 10-15% efficiency increase if trucks are not stuck in traffic. Imagine if all drivers were able to drive two extra hours a day. The simple math equates to a potential 16-20% capacity gain. Now add those two data points together, and you can see where our drivers have the opportunity to gain 26-35% efficiency.
This begs the question: Will they be able to obtain that much of an efficiency gain? In recent years, we have seen regulations and restrictions put in place that have negatively impacted the driver’s efficiency capability. I don’t believe we have ever seen a driver capability enabler like the above since deregulation hit the trucking markets in 1980.
What if even just half of this efficiency increase is possible? During a time when our lives are changing radically and where there is no real historical comparison, wouldn’t we be happy to see recovery in any case?
This is no small feat and won’t be possible without our last American cowboy or cowgirl. I propose we celebrate these heroes and help them put on their capes.
How do we get there?
For shippers and manufacturers: I would under normal circumstances advise, like Mike Regan from Tranzact Technologies typically states, “Be the shipper of choice”. What does that mean? Simply put, it means being a shipper or receiver that companies will want to pick-up and deliver to. But this isn’t just about rates. Let me say that again: It does not mean you have to pay high rates to be a shipper of choice. It’s how you interact with your carriers and brokers. It’s how your teams treat drivers when they are communicating with them. These dynamics matter even more in times of capacity tightness. Tight market situations are most likely coming again, and just like in 2018, they will undoubtedly affect your bottom line.
Market rate elevations tend to follow every natural disaster and will undoubtedly play into this global pandemic. There are many versions of this quote, but it’s summarized as ‘markets are like waves.’
You cannot control the waves, but you can control which ship you ride in on. Your carriers and brokers are your ships. In a market that has capacity tightness, you need to be on the right ship to withstand the waves.
Home Depot, as an example, isn’t competing for capacity solely against their natural retail competitors like Lowe’s or Ace Hardware. They are competing against everyone that loads a truck. This is why you will hear Home Depot speak about being a shipper of choice.
As another example: We are heading into produce season in the Southeast. It happens every year, and every year causes some degree of market tightness in a market that, nine months of the year, typically has capacity.
What can you do? How can you make a difference without hurting your already constrained budget? It could be as simple as offering a clean bathroom to a driver or allowing him or her to sleep safely on your property. Maybe it’s the offer of a fresh cup of coffee from a sanitary location to help the weary. It means getting trucks unloaded with priority and urgency and, subsequently, loading them with the same urgency. For every minute or hour they sit on your lot, they simply cannot be out making a difference for the greater good. Think about that hour as another hour someone lives in fear of not being able to eat or receive medical essentials. In isolation, this seems extreme, but taken in a collective and holistic approach, it is accurate.
What will this year look like? It’s to be determined, as is how you will respond. But I urge you, help these drivers and companies better support you, be a shipper of choice, and in this case, better support the greater good.
Challenge yourselves, and these things will be noticed
Of course, hero’s are out there right now. Whether you are on the road or on your own, our job is to support each other. And while these times and these examples are abnormal, there will come a time when the unusual becomes the usual.
As stewards of the greater good, we all need to strive to make our companies and our supply chains more resilient, efficient, and cost-effective. And if you need help, that’s where a company like Proxima comes in. We help you with the “thinking” and the “doing” on strategy, planning, and management as you adapt your supply chains and indirect procurement.
As for everything, there is a time and a place. The country and the world need to be working efficiently and we all have a part to play. For now, the times call us to appreciate and enable this group of cowboys and cowgirls to come out of the shadows and shine. You have the power to hand them a cape to succeed or to be the kryptonite that holds them back. I say we enable, empower, and appreciate these heroes.