Drivers hate random decisions. They may love freedom of movement and self-supervision, but they crave knowing what the rules are and that those rules will be applied across the board. Consistency allows drivers to thrive.
The Eggleton family, father Mike and sons Daniel and Michael Jr, along with their partner, Kaz Wrobel, understand that drivers hold the key to truckload operations and that making drivers successful makes the company successful as well. The Eggletons and Wrobel run Raider Express, a refrigerated truckload carrier, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
The first step toward giving drivers the tools to succeed requires providing them with equipment that includes pride of ownership along with the assurance that it will perform without fail. New equipment fulfills half that requirement; maintaining equipment original performance specifications takes care of most of the rest.
“At Raider Express our number one focus is driver retention,” says Mike Eggleton, president. “Like most trucking companies today, our biggest battle is drivers.”
In today's environment, winning that battle involves understanding driver needs. Do that, and the problem becomes much smaller.
“We believe that there is not as big a driver shortage as most people say that there is,” says Michael Eggleton Jr, vice-president. “The biggest problem is that most companies focus on recruiting drivers, not retaining drivers. We have two in-house recruiters who spend the majority of their time retaining the drivers that we already have. Why focus the majority of your time trying to recruit drivers if you already have the majority of your trucks filled? Why not maintain the good, qualified ones that you already have?”
Raider Express has been able to maintain a core of drivers. Of the fleet's current drivers, 39% have been with Raider Express for more than a year. Management appreciates that stability, and its driver compensation reflects it.
“Our top driver last year made over $85,000, and the mean for all drivers was $46,000,” Michael Eggleton Jr says.
Equipping the fleet
Raider Express operates a fleet of 105 tractors and 180 trailers. After a stint running equipment for extended periods, management has replaced its fleet with new equipment that is helping attract new drivers and retain those who are with the company.
“We are back to running a new fleet,” Eggleton says. “At one point, we had 2000- and 2001-model tractors — some of which had a million miles on them. We replaced them in 2005 and 2006.”
At last report, the oldest tractor in the fleet has been driven only 125,000 miles. Raider Express now operates all 2007 model tractors equipped with 2006 engines.
“We will try a few trucks with 2007 engines,” Eggleton says. “We will grow a little. We will meet that growth with the new technology.”
The company has been growing approximately 10% annually, growth that Eggleton attributes to growth among the customer base.
An attractive option
The new fleet has helped Raider Express address the driver shortage.
“The new fleet really has helped us hire and retain drivers,” Eggleton says. “It has helped eliminate the adversarial situation that arises when drivers believe that management is providing them with trucks that are past their prime. Our drivers know that the trucks that they will drive are reliable.”
The fleet runs Freightliners powered by MBE 4000 engines and straight 10-speed transmissions. The company tried auto-shifts, but considered them too expensive. The 2001 models also spent too much time in the shop, Eggleton says.
The company's trailers are a mix of Utility and Great Dane models.
“We don't have any special specs for our trailers,” Eggleton says. “Trailers built to standard specs have performed well. For example, we have really liked our 3000R reefers. Their floors hold up well — and so do their resale values. Plus, we have a great relationship with our Utility dealer in Houston.”
Each trailer is equipped with a GPS tracker that provides its location.
“It allows us to provide our customers with location info, and helps us monitor trailer pools,” says Michael Eggleton, Jr. “However, the reefer monitoring system is more valuable. We are able to monitor set point and actual temperature. If a trailer exceeds the set point range, we are immediately sent an email. Each dispatcher has two computer screens, and one man per shift has the system up at all times. We routinely catch problems before they become issues.”
“Soon to come is fault-code monitoring and temperature setting ability,” adds Dan Eggleton, maintenance director. “It gives our customers an additional level of comfort that their product is going to arrive in the best possible condition. And it is helpful in scheduling maintenance needs.”
Keeping them rolling
Even new equipment needs some maintenance, and Raider Express considers proper maintenance another key component in driver retention.
It's a basic truth, but one way to make sure equipment remains in good shape is to make it a point to inspect it regularly.
Raider Express makes it a point to make regular eye contact with its equipment, scheduling inspections once a month.
“We inspect tires, bearings, and seals,” Eggleton says. “And we replace shoes after they are two-thirds worn. We also make it a point to require oil changes a little more frequently than the manufacturer suggests — just so that we can get our equipment into the shop regularly so that we can see it often.”
Raider Express is shifting its trailers from leaf springs to air-ride suspensions. About 40% of the fleet is now equipped with air-ride suspensions. That ratio would be somewhat higher were it not for the used trailers that Raider Express bought.
“We sometimes have to buy used trailers just to cut the lead times we are quoted for new trailers,” Eggleton says.
Maintaining the fleet
Raider maintains its tractor and trailer fleet at the maintenance shop located on the Fort Worth terminal. A strict adherence to an oil change and “B” level inspection interval of 15,000 miles for tractors and 1,500 hours for reefer units is followed.
Any tractor or trailer that enters the terminal is given a safety inspection by a member of Raider's maintenance team even if it had an oil change the prior day.
“There may be a cost-cutting advantage to extending oil drain and inspection intervals, but the potential for missing a hazardous condition or not catching a major component failure outweighs the alternative,” Dan Eggleton says. “You only save on extended intervals up to the point that an unforeseeable event causes a breakdown or failure that wasn't caught because the truck or trailer wasn't pulled into the shop and a mechanic didn't get his hands on it.”
Raider utilizes a maintenance software system developed by Collective Data to capture and track all data generated from its tractor and trailer fleet both in the Fort Worth shop and over the road. All Raider Express tractors are equipped with Network Car tracking units that plug directly into the J1708 receptacle and relay all diagnostic and performance data — including fault codes from any ECU the tractor is equipped with — along with location data in real time. Raider takes advantage of a working partnership between Collective Data and Network Car to not only stay updated on an hourly basis on the operating condition of its tractor fleet, but also give the mechanics advanced notice of any diagnostic issues with the tractors before they even pull it into the shop.
Every two hours, Network Car automatically updates ECM mileage for the entire fleet. At the same time, any fault code data automatically triggers Collective Data to create a repair order request for the corresponding tractor. This results in the technician having to only click on an icon to be able to see not only what current active fault codes the unit has, but also any possible intermittent issues the unit had while on the road.
Setting up shop
The company has a four-bay service facility at its base in Fort Worth.
“We have room for four tractors and trailers,” Mike Eggleton says. “We are set up to work on trucks, trailers, reefers, and tires.”
Replacing its aging fleet with new models has had a major impact on the shop.
“We sometimes have warranty issues, even with new trucks,” Eggleton says. “But even if the trucks are under warranty, we have found that it sometimes is easier to fix them in our shop than it is to take trucks to the dealer for warranty work. We can get them in and out faster, without tying up our drivers for as long.”
Raider Express changes oil every 15,000 miles and adjusts valves every 60,000 miles.
“We are doing a valve adjustment just about every day,” Eggleton says.
Of course, the state of equipment is only part of what drivers consider when they sign on or stay on at Raider Express. The company has an extensive program designed to attract the driver and then to help him through that critical adjustment period as he becomes part of the company.
“Our retention program follows the driver from the first phone call to inquire about our company through his or her first 90 days at Raider,” Michael Eggleton Jr says. “Most companies adhere to this retention process; however it is what is done after this process that we feel sets us apart at Raider.”
The mileage pay is only one facet of driver pay at Raider. Eggleton says bonus pay is what keeps the drivers at Raider and keeps their families happy at home.
Here are a few of the bonus programs that Raider offers its drivers:
The “Raider Cup” is a point system designed after the NASCAR Nextel Cup. The idea is to reward drivers based on every aspect of a driver's performance; including logs, fuel management, safety record, and production. The top ten drivers are rewarded every month with bonus checks. At the end of the year the top 30 drivers make it to the “Race for the Cup” which runs from October to December. The driver who wins the “Race for the Cup” is rewarded with a check for $3000.00. The top driver in points overall for the entire year is awarded the “Driver of the Year” award and given a check for $2000. “Overall we pay out over $28,000 in total bonus cash for the “Raider Cup” over the entire year,” Michael Eggleton Jr says.
Fuel Bonus. Each driver has a chance to earn a bonus which is paid out quarterly to drivers based on idle time and miles per gallon. There are two tiers of this bonus that range for .04 cents a mile to the top tier drivers, and .02 cents a mile to the second tier drivers. The performance criteria make the bonus very attainable, Eggleton says.
Quarterly Safety Raffle. Each driver is given raffle tickets each quarter for the different safety aspects associated with Raider Express. These range from the individual driver logs, ability to make safety meetings, to clean DOT inspections. The prizes every quarter could be an Apple iPod, satellite radio, or a $100 gift card to Wal-Mart.
Close to home
Raider Express is a fleet that operates nationally, but the company strives to manage routes in ways that enable drivers to be home as much as possible.
“Some of our drivers like to make the 700-mile round trip to Amarillo,” Eggleton says. “Others prefer road trips to West Texas or to the meat patch. We probably make about 75 trips to the Panhandle each week.”
The company handles 1,000-1,500 loads per month, many of which involve direct-store delivery in Texas, Colorado, and Arkansas. About 30% of outbound loads from Fort Worth are to major grocery chains. Finished products to distribution centers in surrounding states constitute about 20% of dry-freight deliveries. From there, Raider Express moves fresh and processed commodities primarily to the eastern two-thirds of the country. It then balances those with similar shipments primarily back to Texas.
“Our longhaul drivers enjoy the predictability of the operation,” Michael Eggleton Jr says.
In addition to its headquarters in Fort Worth, Raider Express also operates a terminal in Andover, New Jersey, from which it makes daily deliveries to Brooklyn, New York, and to surrounding areas.
Most of the Raider Express drivers are solos. The company does have a couple of husband-wife teams.
“Our goal is for our drivers to drive about 3,000 miles per week,” Eggleton says.
Serving the customer
Ultimately, however, driver retention cannot be the end-all goal for any fleet. As important as drivers are, they are still the means by which a fleet achieves its ultimate goal — serving its customers.
“Customer loyalty is paramount to us,” Eggleton says. “We build customer loyalty by offering specific services designed to meet their needs. The customer has to come first, and our administrative functions have to make that happen. Performing on any given load is more important than any sales call we can make.”
For additional Refrigerated Transporter feature stories, visit refrigeratedtrans.com
Refrigerated Transporter editor dies
Gary L Macklin, editor-in-chief of Refrigerated Transporter, died unexpectedly at his Houston home February 16.
Gary dedicated his entire career to the refrigerated transportation industry. He began writing for the magazine in 1972 and was appointed editor in 1973. Of the 42 years that Refrigerated Transporter has existed as a magazine, he was editor for 34 of them.
This story on Raider Express was Gary's final effort. His death is a monumental loss, and we are not sure at this early date who specifically will edit the magazine. Please be assured, though, that our office and our corporation are committed to the future of Refrigerated Transporter. We will continue to serve your industry.