What’s that, a photo, possibly in a public gathering, and no mask? Oh no, the nerve to dare breathe openly like that. Hello, and welcome to another edition to our quarterly Kentucky Trucker Magazine.
All kidding aside, if you’re anything like me, you’re more than ready for our lives and our industry to return to whatever resembles the new normal, old normal, or whatever. In short, I think I speak for all my trucking industry colleagues when I say we’re more than ready to keep on trucking! I may only be 52, old by my kids’ standards, but young by others, and I can attest to the fact that in my 25 years of being in trucking, never have I seen such industry displacement. Early on, as an industry, we felt fairly solid in our business, freight volumes and market shares.
Consequently, it didn’t take many weeks following mid-March to see our industry begin to take a hit. As you know, I work within the chemical, petroleum and bulk lubricants sector of the tank-truck industry. Although we remained strong in the chemical division, our petroleum and lubricants divisions fell gravely short of expectations and well below any margins reflecting profitability. In short, when people stopped driving and traveling, the petroleum industry came to a grinding halt. Chemicals continued to remain strong in areas of sulfuric acids, caustic solutions, and other hazardous materials.
The reason, of course, was with more people staying home, the consumption of water increased exponentially. For a chemical tank-truck company, that meant more loads to water treatment plants, etc. What about the rest of the industry? What about those pulling flatbeds, dry-vans, refrigerated units and specialized hauling? Each of those segments experienced more than their fair share of hits economically. Over the past two years, we’ve watched as trucking company after trucking company closed their doors, citing increased insurance rates, litigious societies and depressed freight rates. Along comes COVID-19 to the front door of struggling motor carriers, and, for some, it was coined the beginning to the end.
However, within Kentucky, we’re very fortunate to have some of the nation’s strongest motor carriers based in our state. While many of those experienced some tough times recently, all have survived, and all will come back stronger than they were before. As you’re aware, the margins within the trucking industry are so small, that often the slightest outlier from month to month in financial reporting can strike fear in those trying to keep things going. If you’re an owner, CEO, CFO, president, director, or whatever your title has been in leadership, the past few months have more than tested your ability. Your ability to remain steadfast in keeping your people employed all while trying to balance an entirely new world of trucking handed to you, not on a silver platter, but more like being handed a rattlesnake inside a Cool Whip bowl with someone saying, “Don’t worry, it’s in the bowl; it can’t get out of there.”
Moving forward, our association continues to see sharp comebacks within our motor carrier fleets. Some have restructured their businesses to accommodate a more demanding economic model, while others have cut costs through gained efficiencies in operations. In our organization, what we thought might not have been a good idea before, having so many staff members work from home, turns out to be one of the greater efficiencies we’ve gained from the pandemic.
Our office landscape certainly looks different now. It’s almost like we became a smaller version of what we were. However, that’s the exact opposite. We’ve found our support staff in billing, clerical, HR, and some operational functions are more efficient, productive, and focused than in the weeks leading up to mid-March. Maybe you’re one of those companies that also experienced this, and if it’s working for you, that’s great!
In closing, I extend a personal thank-you to each of my industry colleagues within the KTA and throughout the nation’s trucking industry. Thank you for your resilience, your unwavering commitment to see your people, your drivers, and your organizations through something we never thought we’d see in our tenure.
We’re often asked by insurance professionals, investors, and customers, “Does your company have a business continuity plan?” For many of us, we would candidly reply with, “Of course, we can keep things going.” Consequently, what did our version of continuity look like? In all honesty, a business continuity plan existed only in a “what-if” world that we gave little thought to if I had to speculate. Today, however, I bet if someone asked about your business continuity plan, you’d likely be able to serve as a beacon model for that question.
Thank you for all you’ve done for our industry, all you’re going to do, and for the things you do that many people will never see. That’s where we, as the trucking industry, shine — behind the scenes.
Dr. David Guess
David Guess, Ph.D., SPHR, Chairman
Kentucky Trucking Association
Usher Transport, Inc.