Embracing change, president Dan Einwechter outlines the latest improvements to his operations in an exclusive interview.
CT&L: Last year you moved out of the confined quarters of your old building and into your new 125,000 sq ft facility. From a customer’s point of view what does this new facility allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
Einwechter: The new facility has improved our efficiencies in various aspects of our business. For example, the possibility of drivers picking up the wrong trailer or spending 15 minutes looking for the right one is always a problem that wastes valuable time for any fleet with more than 50 trailers. With our new Yard Smart trailer management system we know exactly where a specific trailer is in our yard and we can tell our drivers exactly where to get it. Also, our highway drivers can use one of three bays in our indoor fuel building and have an automated tire reader read the tire pressure and temperature of each tire on their truck. The truck is then driven over a pit with an alignment pad, which will indicate if the tires are in alignment on the tractor and trailer. Previously we had drivers fuelling their own trucks. Now they can start their paperwork while their trucks are being checked and fueled. These are all little things on their own, but they add up in combination when you are trying to make more efficient use of driver time to deal with the more restrictive US and Canadian hours of service regulations. From a security perspective, which is also becoming increasingly important for shippers exporting to the US, the entire facility is well lit, with a secure guardhouse, and specific security zones. And from a maintenance standpoint, we just completed an analysis of our costs-per-mile and we are doing extremely well. Our maintenance costs have come down despite the fact we’ve grown our fleet and we think that is at least partially attributable to the new building. Finally, we all know about the industry’s problem with high driver turnover. This facility was designed with a focus on improved time management, efficiency and safety, and we think it will help us recruit and retain a more motivated and trained workforce running safer equipment. That’s pretty good for the customer.
CT&L: A key feature of the new building is the sizeable investment you made in a driving simulator. Have you noticed an impact on your operations resulting from the driving simulator?
Einwechter: Our learning curve with the simulator was longer than initially anticipated but our plan is to put one driver per hour through it, 16 hours a day. Every new recruit that comes in, we put him in there in addition to their road test. New drivers face challenges in several areas, such as backing up in tight spots. We let them try it in the yard first and then place them in the simulator to correct their mistakes before putting them back in the yard again and it’s amazing to see the transformation in their abilities. We are also using it to train experienced drivers, including providing remedial training on identified problem areas. We can even recreate accident scenes if we need to. Although we have not had the driving simulator long enough to properly analyze its financial impact on operations, we do know that it has highlighted many issues with new recruits in a safe environment prior to them going out on their first trip. With improved driving skills and the ability to handle many different road conditions we expect to see fewer accidents .
CT&L: You also place a heavy emphasis on technology in making your operation more efficient and improving customer service. What’s new the last couple of years and what’s in the works?
Einwechter: We are continuing to roll out our business analytics to all levels of the company so our managers have quality information to help them make the best possible decisions. We are building specific modules that are geared towards areas such as operations, recruiting and shop activity The user can see quickly how they did yesterday or last month against their KPIs. For example, this quick, visual method of viewing information assists our operations in their planning. It allows them to get a better handle on any shortages and implement the necessary corrective action. The other major initiative is the roll out of our yard management system to our warehouse. This will help us better organize and prioritize inbound deliveries.
CT&L: Last year you were looking at growth in your western operations. Where do you see growth coming from this year?
Einwechter: We now have a strong presence in western Canada, Alberta and British Columbia in particular. Our stated plan is organic growth instead of acquisition, but if the right strategic player came along we wouldn’t rule that out. We have been presented with a lot of opportunities to buy other companies because they are in an unhealthy state. Fixing those problems could cause us to take our focus off the operation over here and we don’t want to do that.
CT&L: Legislation can have a great impact on carrier operations and the service they are able to provide. Any concerns on the legislative front?
Einwechter: I would like to see the hours of service issue resolved in the US and Canada. The legislation is being challenged again in the US. We also need to put the speed limiter issue in the right perspective and accept it as the right thing to do because it makes sense to limit the speed of trucks on our roads. I really believe shippers have been far too passive in support of our issues. At the end of the day we are only meeting the demand they have and any legislation that impacts us will fall back on their shoulders in terms of either costs or delays in transportation. Shippers need to realize we need their support on such issues.
CT&L: Capacity concerns among shippers appear to be a long-term issue. Is Challenger boosting its capacity in 2006?
Einwechter: We will be adding more than 400 new trucks this year, with about 170 representing growth. We will also be adding 450 new trailers and that could go up to 600.
CT&L: This is the fifth year you have been part of 50 Best Companies Award. Yet a lot has changed in trucking over the past five years 9/11 and border security, fuel costs, capacity shortages, etc. What’s key to consistently being able to run a profitable company while at the same time not compromising customer service?
Einwechter: It’s being prepared to accept change on a continuous basis and be willing to look at things from a new perspective in order to continue to manage effectively. Our team is good at that. Anybody can make mistakes but it’s how you choose to deal with the problems that sets apart the good companies from the bad.