For months we’ve been watching the crisis unfold and responding to changing conditions and unprecedented challenges. It’s hard to say that the dust has settled or that things have calmed down—after all, tens of thousands of people become infected every day and thousands succumb to the virus. But statistics suggest that we’ve reached a plateau and that it’s time to begin thinking about what comes next.
Throughout it all, the trucking industry has been central to the efforts to mitigate the spread and care for those who’ve become ill. We’ve moved vital medical supplies to where they are needed most and kept store shelves stocked with essential commodities. As the discussion turns to how and when the economy will begin to open back up, it makes sense to take stock of the opportunities and challenges that confront small- and mid-sized fleets.
Whatever comes next, staying healthy will be the most important and most challenging task facing fleet managers. We will continue to struggle with the difficulties that arise as we try to keep drivers, technicians, and administrative staff healthy while they get the job done for our customers. At the same time, we will have to find new ways to do more with less as we safeguard the health of our businesses in these uncertain financial times.
There is no roadmap for the territory that we’re rolling into. The great recession of 2008 had different causes and effects than the current situation. The last time that we faced a global pandemic of this magnitude, the trucking industry was still in its infancy. Every fleet will have to make decisions about how to proceed in a way that is right for their team and customers but some common elements should be on every fleet manager’s mind as we feel our way forward.
There are five elements that we think are vital to navigating the uncertainties and challenges that we’ll encounter on the road ahead. Fleet managers that inform their decisions with insights from each of these areas will be able to identify opportunities and overcome obstacles so that their fleets emerge from the current situation stronger and poised to prosper. They are:
- Human Resources
- Global Supply Chain
- Critical Assets
- Connections and Partnerships
5 Keys to Triangulating Your Position During COVID-19
Where your business is at right now and what the last month or so has been like for your team depends a lot on how your business worked before the country began shutting down to mitigate the spread of the virus. If your team worked for clients in industries that have been deemed essential, then you’ve probably been struggling to respond to a sharp increase in demand. If your fleet’s focus was on parts of the economy like retail or construction then you’ve had to shift to finding work for your team.
In times of uncertainty and upheaval, it helps to find a solid foundation—to break things down to whatever you can count on and build your plans from there. We know that trucking will continue to play a central role in the response to this crisis in every phase that we move through to get back to normal. We know that small- and mid-sized fleets that seize opportunities and avoid pitfalls can emerge from this period in better shape than they were in when it began—bigger, stronger, smarter, and battle-tested.
One of our favorite sayings at FleetPal is: “Those that ‘stay ready’ don’t need to ‘get ready’”. We help fleets manage their preventive maintenance programs and connect with service providers so that they’re always ready to go and ready to deal with anything that comes up when they’re out on the road. We think that small- and mid-sized fleets can apply the same approach to scanning the horizon and finding the best path through the challenges that lie ahead.
The first rule for any business is that you need to take care of your people. The fact that the challenges we are facing are caused by a potentially fatal virus only serves to underscore the importance of putting your team first. There are jobs within the trucking industry that can be done from home if your fleet has the right tools in place but technicians can’t maintain your tractors and trailers over Zoom and drivers have to go to all of the places that the rest of us have been told to avoid as much as possible.
Can the drivers in your fleet communicate with the rest of your team to make sure that the repairs and maintenance their trucks need will get done? Can you and your staff monitor and coordinate the work while working from home offices? Can your maintenance staff communicate with each other to respond to the fleet’s needs in the safest and smartest way possible?
Taking care of your people while tackling the essential tasks of running a fleet is a big challenge for fleet managers. Getting it done right is the best way to take care of the team members who work out of your hub. But taking care of drivers is a separate challenge. Do they have the information they need to stay safe out on the road? Can they share information with you and with each other to make sure the team gets smarter and better over time?
Global Supply Chain
It’s hard to predict what the rest of the year will look like from a macroeconomic perspective. We live in a world that is defined by global supply chains and so a return to normal depends on more than just a return to normal here. Some Asian markets are beginning to resume operations as their countries emerge from months of quarantine aimed at mitigation. At the same time, there are countries that play vital roles in both the supply side and the demand side of the global economy that are struggling.
The disruption in global supply chains has ripple effects on national economies. That forces fleets to respond to shifts in demand to keep their businesses running. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, which means that we will likely see capacity crunch become more of an issue as fleets move away from port cities where demand is down and into areas where it is higher. Without a coordinated approach to how we respond to these shifts, some areas may see an oversupply of capacity.
It will be easier to stay on top of shifts in the global supply chain if your fleet works within a particular vertical. If you find yourself trying to read the tea leaves on multiple supply chains at the same time, it might be worth considering a temporary alliance with a broker who can keep your fleet rolling until the clients who form the foundation of your fleet’s business resume normal operations.
While small- and mid-sized businesses in many other industries are applying for the loans that are available under the Paycheck Protection Program, trucking fleets are more likely to struggle with finding drivers to haul loads and trucks to put those drivers in. Typically, the best advice in times of great uncertainty is to err on the side of caution and ride out the upheaval. But for small- and mid-sized fleets, the present crisis demands a more nuanced approach.
The trucking industry is playing a vital role in the response to this crisis. That means that fleets have an opportunity to contribute real value to their communities, their regions, and the nation. It also means that fleets have an opportunity to show their employees and the industry who they are and what they stand for.
It has been said that the way companies navigate this crisis will determine the future of their brand for decades. Of course, small- and mid-sized fleets who rise to the challenge on the first two opportunities will be in a great position to seize the opportunity to grow through the current challenges and emerge as a better, stronger team.
Financing is cheap right now and there are a variety of federal and state programs that make loans available to small businesses. There is always a risk involved in debt spending and there is always safety in having cash on hand. Fleet managers will have to make wise decisions about where to seize opportunities and when it is better to keep their powder dry.
Taking care of your equipment will continue to be an essential element of managing your fleet. Preventive and Predictive maintenance is even more important in an environment where you can’t depend on business as usual from the service providers who help you keep your fleet rolling.
Supply chain disruptions could lead to shortages of some essential parts and supplies that we rely on for routine maintenance. The easiest way to make sure your fleet doesn’t get caught in a bind is to stay ahead of the game.
Communicating needs and monitoring workflow will be more challenging than ever as we try to balance hands-on work with social distancing and disrupted daily routines. We need to be flexible and adaptable to the “how” of getting work done without lowering our expectations on “what” gets done or the standards that remind us “why”.
Connections and Partnerships
In all likelihood, the “new normal” will be very different from the normal that we left behind. That will likely mean that the trucking industry will have to adapt to changes as we move in that direction.
The trade associations and industry groups that speak for our industry will play a vital role in making sure that new federal and state regulations create conditions that are favorable to the industry and the fleets that work within it. Becoming a more active member of those groups is a great way for you to shepherd your fleet through those changes.
At the same time, it will be important to forge new partnerships and solidify the ones that you have relied on in the past. The service providers who help us take care of our fleets are facing the same uncertainties that we are. Working with them to find a way through to the other side is a great way to make sure that valuable partners will be there for the foreseeable future. We’re all in this together and we need to take care of one another.
One Foot in Front of the Other
We talked about five important elements that fleet managers need to focus on as they steer their teams through the challenges of the Coronavirus crisis. We also promised to help you figured out how to triangulate your position. FleetPal Connect is a tool that can help you maintain critical assets and manage partnerships in ways that will make a real difference to the human resources challenges that your fleet faces.
It takes three points to triangulate a position and our cloud-based software and mobile app can deliver those three points. That will free you up to focus more on the shifts in the global supply chain and questions about how to use financing to position your fleet to respond to those shifts. That gives you the best chance of staying ahead of the game and charting a course that will allow your team to flourish during this period of uncertainty and emerge better and stronger.
Contact us today to find out how FleetPal Connect can help your fleet respond to the challenges you’re facing.