The amount of money spent every year on recruiting and training new drivers is astonishing. Yet we have drivers everywhere complaining that their employer is starving them to death and doing everything they can to keep them from making any money. I want to share with you some of the things I have learned over the years, and give you some very real experiences of my own that I hope will help you to understand how most drivers completely miss the boat when it comes to understanding how one succeeds at this rewarding career.
I honestly believe that a lot of new entry level drivers coming into trucking completely miss out on the subtle things that help one to succeed as a truck driver. What's even more alarming is that many of the long time drivers I meet are just as ignorant of the little nuances that make for success at this career. Have you noticed how many whining and complaining truck drivers you can find online in the various social media outlets? It's much more like a “gripe fest” than anything even close to helpful information for those hoping to learn about trucking.
You can put me down as one guy who is having the time of his life out here on the road. I am making good money and loving this career. I hope it shows as you read the things I write about it. Every day I crank this Big Rig up and point it down the interstate I am excited to be here, and those feelings haven't diminished in the least. If anything, they have increased as I've learned how to be more successful at it. There's really not too many careers like this one that afford a person the freedom and liberty to make their own choices and decisions on a daily basis, each of which have a direct bearing on their success.
Why do we constantly hear drivers complaining about their dispatcher or their company treating them not only as if they wanted them to fail, but literally forcing them to fail? Just the thought of any business being run that way should cause red flags to fly all over the place in your mind as you read something like that. These modern day trucking companies have been doing this for decades now, and many of them are some of the best managed companies around. They have to be, or else they would go under quickly. This is a very tough business environment where every penny counts. The commodities business environment is “dog eat dog,” and only the dog that has some fight in him will ever survive.
These companies want successful drivers. They need successful drivers.
Early on in my career I learned that each of us are in a competition with the other drivers. This applies not only to those who drive for our competitors, but also to those who are on our same fleet. I've shared this before, but I want to point it out again. Pay heed to this quote from our operations manager on the dedicated account that I serve. Keep in mind this is an account for experienced drivers. Once, while discussing some of the problems associated with our account he said this to me,
“Out of every fifteen drivers on my board, I may end up with three who really get it and know how to be successful at this.”
Now consider how those three drivers are treated by that dispatcher. They get the best loads. They get the most consideration when it comes to things like extra time off when requested, or anything unusual that they may need.
You may wonder why that is, or if that's even fair. It seems like the dispatcher is showing favoritism so maybe it's no wonder these drivers are successful. They are being pandered to.
Here's the reality of this career – the strong survive. That dispatcher simply cannot afford to lose those drivers who know how to make things happen out here. They understand the subtleties of success and they practice those things on a daily basis. They get the lion's share of the work simply because they have established themselves as movers and shakers who make things happen every day.
Here's the very first experience I had that showed me we were constantly in a competition with other drivers, and we could never ease up at giving it our best effort each and every day.
I was a brand new driver with my trainer and I believe it was maybe the start of our third week together. We were in Maine and we had a load assignment to pick up a load of lumber. As we entered the mill and drove up near the guard shack, the trainer says this to me, “I want you to go inside all by yourself and see if you can handle this transaction with no help from me. This will be your first chance to do this on your own, and I want to see how you do with it.”
I was thinking, “Okay, I can handle this. I'll just give them my pick-up number, and they will tell me where to park and then we'll get loaded.” Here's the conversation that took place between the security guard and myself...
Security Guard, “Sir, I recognize your truck number, but it is usually a different driver in that truck. What happened to the other driver?”
Old School, “I'm not sure what you're talking about. That's not really my truck, I'm just a trainee. My trainer is inside the truck and he wanted me to come in and handle this by myself so that I can learn the ropes.”
Security Guard, “Well, fortunately for you, I'm not having to deal with him. I had already decided that he was going to sit here and wait awhile. He is a royal pain in the butt each time he comes here. He's always throwing fits and making demands, insisting that we do things his way. Go ahead and drive around back. Park in between the two yellow lines on the pavement. The forklift operator will be out there shortly.”
When I got back in the truck, the first words out of my trainers mouth were, “Well, what did they say?” I cranked the truck and simply told him that they said, “Drive around the back and park between the yellow lines.”
He was incredulous.
He simply couldn't believe it went that easily. He told me what a pain they are to deal with every time he comes here. I thought about what the security guard had said. Already on numerous occasions I had seen my trainer acting like that with several of our customers. I contemplated the whole scenario for several days and came to the conclusion that we were even competing against each other in the way we present ourselves out here when dealing with our customers.
Professionalism beats being bullheaded everyday.
Here's another example of this same thing that I experienced after I was running solo in my own truck. Again, I was at a Lumber yard. I was in Houston, TX delivering a load of plywood. You had to have an appointment, and I showed up a day early even though the explicit instructions in my dispatch orders told me not to. This was early in my career, before I had learned to change my own appointment times.
As I walked into the receiving office there was a heated discussion going on between a driver and the clerk, a young Hispanic lady. She was obviously frustrated with the driver who was literally screaming at her for ruining his day by not letting him in early. She stood her ground as he berated her for causing him to run out of hours, blah, blah, blah, and giving her a ton of grief. He stomped past me and slammed the door on his way out.
I stood there pensively contemplating my next move, as she paced around facing the other direction trying to cool off before she talked with me. I put a grin on my face and stepped up to the counter. When she approached I said with a light and friendly tone, “Well, how are you doing today?” It eased the tension in the room, and she smiled at me, thankful for my lighthearted approach to the whole situation. Here's how our conversation went...
Old School: “Well, I think I already know the answer to my question, but somehow I ended up getting here a day early. My appointment is for tomorrow morning at ten, and I will be glad to come back if you can't take me.”
The young woman, now smiling, looked at me and said, “Hold on just a minute, and let me check our schedule.”
As she pecked away at her keyboard and stared at her computer screen, I began to have some hope that I might get in there after all. After a few minutes she said, “If you can wait for just about an hour, I will work you in. We should be able to get you in here in a little while. Give me your truck number, and I will have the fork lift operator come get you when he's ready. Thank you sir, for being so patient.”
Old School: “Thank you young lady. You have just made my day, and I sincerely appreciate it.”
There is competition going on all the time out here. I do my best to be the first one in the gate at many of my customers. It just makes sense to beat them in the gate and get myself unloaded first. It puts you ahead of everyone else when getting your next load assignment.
Why would you want to wait until the end of the day when dispatchers already have their mind on getting home to their families? Dispatchers are at their best early in the day before all the problems start piling up on them. They have loads that need to be handled, and the drivers who had the foresight to get emptied out early will reap the rewards. Those who took their time and finally got unloaded late in the day will probably be very low on the dispatcher's priority list.
When I speak about competition it has nothing to do with having the fastest truck or cheating your logs so that you can outdo everyone who is obeying the rules. It is all about how you present yourself to the people in the offices, and your customers, and how well you can make and execute a plan each day that will put you in the best position for the next load. So many drivers make themselves out to be the hind side of a horse simply because they think the world cannot rotate without them. Somehow this mentality that thinks “If I stop, the world stops,” has ruined many a potentially good drivers.
We hear about high demand for truck drivers and then we think we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, we really are in high demand, but only the types who can get along well and make things happen out here are going to experience the rewards that come from that demand.
You simply cannot demand that you be in high demand.
You have to prove your worth, and that is really where the competition is at. It's not in how fast your truck will go, nor is it in how long you can stay in the driver's seat. It is all about you and how you conduct yourself. It is how well you manage your time and understand how to make things happen when others can't get things to go their way.
You will set your own bar in this career. I still remember when my current dispatcher had been kind of feeling me out as one of his new drivers. He wanted to see how I would do on some easier runs. That had been going on for longer than I wanted it to, but I knew exactly what he was doing. He was testing me, and so far I had not messed up anything.
So, one day when we had the chance to see each other at the office, I told him, “Hey, I think I'm ready for you to put me on some longer runs now. I'm comfortable with the way we do things around here, and I would like to get put on some better loads.”
He just grinned at me, and said, “Okay, if you are ready, I've definitely got some things I could use some help on.”
They put me on my first run up to Connecticut, a very typical load for me nowadays. My first stop was in Riverdale, New Jersey, and I arrived there in the middle of the night after two full drive shifts. I was one day ahead of my appointment. When I returned to the plant in Louisiana the head of the shipping department and my dispatcher cornered me and said, “Dale, you just set the new standard for that load. No one has ever gotten to that customer like you did. Now that we know it's possible, we are going to be expecting everyone to do it that way.”
That's what I mean about setting your own bar. We get paid for how much we accomplish out here. Our pay is performance based. The drivers who consistently outperform their peers become the top choice drivers on their dispatcher's load board. When my dispatcher has something that is going to be a tough assignment he has about three drivers that he will choose from. Guess what? Those guys who manage to make it happen on the tough loads get most of the gravy loads too. They are consistently dependable, and they have proven themselves repeatedly. They continue to win the competition. If you are not even aware that there is a competition you cannot play the game to win.
There is so much more that I could say about this part of our job, but in the interest of brevity I'm going to leave it at what you have here. I hope I've triggered something in your mind that helps you understand the competitive nature of this career, because I want to see you enjoying success at this.