May 27, 2013 5:30 AM, EDT

Reducing Wait Times at Loading Docks Can Boost Driver Retention, Survey Says

By Rip Watson, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the May 27 print edition of Transport Topics.

Shippers can best help trucking fleets retain drivers by taking steps to minimize delays at loading docks, a new survey of drivers found.

Nearly 80% of surveyed drivers said the quality of their experience at a shipper’s facility was the most important factor in their decision to stay with a carrier. That included reduced detention times and respectful treatment.

The survey done at Ventura Foods, based in Brea, Calif., included drivers at seven fleets, four of which are on the Transport Topics 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada. The results compared how drivers felt they were treated at Ventura, which makes salad dressings, margarines and sauces, with other shippers.

The survey, including drivers at fleets such as C.R. England Inc., No. 20 on the TT 100, found that shippers other than Ventura need to better handle driver paperwork, make signs clearer and communicate information more accurately.

“There is a lot of talk from shippers about being driver-friendly,” said Steve Gordon, chief operating officer at Gordon Trucking. “But there has not been a real groundswell of activity that looks at their processes.”

Gordon Trucking, based in Pacific, Wash, ranks No. 62 on the TT 100.

“The survey was a unique approach to show what customers are doing right, and where there are areas of improvement,” said Gordon, who linked shippers’ approach to drivers and future capacity issues.

“Those who are the most user-friendly will have an easier time finding capacity at a reasonable pace,” he said.

The survey was made available exclusively to Transport Topics by consultant Strategic Programs, a little over a month before changes to the hours-of-service rule take effect July 1. Truckers have said the rule will reduce productivity, putting a premium on driver retention.

“With the new hours-of-service rules and the CSA program, detention and retention issues are becoming more and more problematic,” said Jay Green, vice president of business development for Strategic Programs.

He said Ventura Foods wanted an assessment of what steps it could take to enhance driver retention.

“The driver shortage has been on the table for a while,” said David Kodadek, Ventura’s director of transportation, who came up with the survey idea along with Gordon. “Throughout the supply chain, everyone has focused on being efficient. The one area we haven’t stressed is the driver.”

“We know the trucking industry spends about half a billion dollars a year on driver retention, even in a down economy,” Kodadek said. “We have been told by our core carrier base that we are a customer of choice.”

He added: “In the future, it is going to be all about efficiency — keeping people in those trucks so that we can move our products and we can get paid. Somewhere down the road, being a customer of choice is going to pay a big benefit for us.”

Chris Wood, director of pricing and contracts at No. 69 KLLM Transport Services, Jackson, Miss., said his company wants to apply the information from the survey to other customers.

“It is critical to our operation that drivers are respected and have the facilities they need,” Wood said. “When you have that buy-in from drivers, they will inherently do a better job.”

He and other fleet officials complimented Ventura for respectful treatment and driver-friendly facilities. Ventura was rated higher than the all-shippers group on all 12 questions to drivers. Other questions included parking availability, quality of driver facilities, helpfulness of staff and Wi-Fi availability.

The survey participants, which also included Core Carrier Corp. and Charles G. Lawson Trucking, haul 75% of Ventura’s shipments.

Jim Hamm, director of national accounts for R.E. Garrison Trucking in Cullman, Ala., said the survey showed that “we will have to work with drivers more.”

“We are all going to have to be flexible and give a little,” Hamm said. “We’ll learn quickly. We have to. We don’t have a choice.”

After the HOS changes, Hamm said, “a lot of customers will have to take a different attitude,” because they tend to give drivers a hard time today.

Kodadek said he wanted to do the survey to validate the company’s efforts, find other areas that could improve drivers’ quality of life and demonstrate the value of improved facilities to Ventura’s upper management.

“This study proves that the quality of the customer really does matter,” said Rim Yurkus, CEO of Strategic Programs, whose firm compiled the 158-page report.

He told TT fleets should consider a system of rewards and “punishment” of shippers to alleviate detention problems.