Focus at MATS Turns to Technology, Driver Recruiting

Exhibit hall floor at the Kentucky Exposition Center during 2018 MATS
Attendees on the exhibit hall floor at the Kentucky Exposition Center on March 22 during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., March 21-24 (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The proliferation of technology for small carriers and a heavy focus on driver recruitment were among the leading themes of the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show, which went off with minimal disruption despite a major snowstorm prior to the annual event.

While the March 22-24 show was quiet in terms of major product launches from equipment manufacturers, it was packed with exhibits, events and seminars geared toward drivers, many of whom were adapting to an era where onboard technology is now the norm for carriers of all sizes.

The show’s “bread and butter has always been owners-operators and the small and medium-size fleets. That’s going to continue to be our focus,” said Toby Young, president of Exhibit Management Associates, which owns and operates MATS.

A major snowstorm struck the eastern United States in the days leading up to MATS, causing travel delays for some exhibitors and attendees that had planned to arrive early.

Louisville itself was blanketed with several inches of snow, but nearly all of it had melted by the time most attendees showed up.

“On the front end we had a few exhibitors that had to call and say they couldn’t make it because there were some flights delayed ... but the show must go on,” Young said.

Snow in Louisville, Ky., greeted early arrivals to the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

Kenworth Truck Co., Peterbilt Motors Co. and Mack Trucks Inc. had large exhibits in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center, but the remaining major truck makers had a smaller presence or did not participate in the show.

“We’d love to have all of the truck manufacturers here, but we’re very happy with the ones that we do have here,” Young said.

However, Mack was the only truck maker to hold a formal news conference.

Until recently, MATS was widely regarded as the industry’s biggest venue for major product launches and updates by truck makers and suppliers. But in recent years, many of those splashy unveilings have shifted to other shows and conferences, or to events hosted by the truck makers themselves.

But that hasn’t stopped MATS attendees from enjoying the displays and atmosphere at the venerable trucking show, founded in 1972.

For the past five years, Scot Coomer of Somerset, Ky., has made an annual tradition of attending MATS, and has brought his 7-year-old son, Colton along for the past two shows.

Coomer, a driver for the City of Somerset’s municipal fleet, said he enjoys the new technology and the concert for attendees, as well as some of the classic equipment on display, “like the old cabovers and older-style Peterbilts.”

A show visitor checks out a Peterbilt on display at the Kentucky Exposition Center during 2018 MATS. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“I just love it. Everyone’s friendly. It’s kid-friendly too,” he said as Colton ran from one polished truck to the next in the South Wing.

Bryce Sabin, a self-employed driver who hauls materials for event production companies, drove down to Louisville from Chicago to visit MATS.

“Everything you want for trucking is in here. You can find a job. The [Department of Transportation] is here to answer your questions. It’s a catch-all for everything you want to know about trucking,” said Sabin, who stopped to chat with Transport Topics while on his way to test drive a new Mack at the show.

Much of the buzz at the show centered on the federal mandate of electronic logging devices. Since late last year, the regulation has required most longhaul drivers to record their hours-of-service information electronically instead of on paper logbooks.

Increasingly, MATS has become a showcase for technology aimed specifically at drivers and small- and medium-size carriers.

While large trucking fleets have been using back-office software and telematics to enhance the efficiency of their operations for decades, some of these capabilities are becoming available to smaller firms, often through the use of mobile apps.

We’ve got 20 people from the company that are meeting drivers, talking to companies.

Shoaib Makani, co-founder and CEO of KeepTruckin

Shoaib Makani, co-founder and CEO of ELD vendor KeepTruckin Inc., first attended MATS in 2014. At that time, KeepTruckin had no booth and Makani was the company’s only representative on site, handing out flyers to drivers to download the free app.

Fast forward to 2018, and the tech firm now has a much greater presence at the show.

“We’ve got 20 people from the company that are meeting drivers, talking to companies, getting a feel for the market and giving away some T-shirts,” Makani said.

Digital freight brokers also made a significant mark at this year’s MATS.

Uber Freight greeted drivers and offered demonstrations of its load-booking app near the main registration area.

“It’s a great opportunity to talk directly to drivers,” Uber Freight’s director, Bill Dreigert, said of the show.

Convoy display on the exhibit hall floor. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

Convoy, which offers its own digital load-matching platform, made its first appearance at MATS this year.

The emergence of so many new technology developers in the trucking industry in recent years “shows how underserved this market has been,” said Kristen Forecki, Convoy’s vice president of operations.

Meanwhile, for some large fleets, the show served as fertile grounds for driver recruiting amid a tight labor market.

Heniff Transportation Systems, a fleet of about 500 trucks based in Oak Brook, Ill., was one of many fleets with a driver recruiting booth in the West Wing.

Steve Janiszewski, Heniff’s director of retention, recruiting and benefits, said MATS has been an “excellent” place to talk with drivers and increase their awareness of the company.

“Getting the name out there is the No. 1 thing,” said Janiszewski, who was handing out swag such as travel toothbrush holders branded with the Heniff logo.


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